Wonder what makes your favorite SF authors green with envy when it comes to creating strange new worlds? Now's your chance to find out, as the site SF Signal asks twelve prominent writers - including our very own Jeff VanderMeer - just what kind of world-building sets their mind-a-tingle.Amongst the more expected selections - Ursula LeGuin's The Dispossessed, Larry Niven's Ringworld and Frank Herbert's Dune all get shout-outs - Orson Scott Card manages to bring up a name that you probably didn't see coming:
For years, I have told my writing students that the best example of world-building in fiction is James Clavell's "Shogun." When you read this book, the world-creation is so thorough that you think you can speak Japanese. You can't - but it feels as if you can.
L. E. Modesitt, Jr., on the other hand, plays the role of the buzzkill:
I'm not going to be terribly enthusiastic about most world-building that I read, because my non-authorial background is rooted in analyzing the building blocks of societies, especially from environmental, political, economic, historic, and technical points of view. In this regard, few authors deal well with economics, fewer still with environmental or technical/engineering issues, and almost none with any sort of politics except copying feudalism, corrupted democratic systems, or monarchies. That doesn't even take into account trade, climate, social history, disease, and a few dozen other items. In the end, most so-called world building is the verbal equivalent of "Houdini-ism," where the reader tends to think more is there than is because of the distractions of a few well-placed details and props... and, for most readers, that's exactly what they want.
For those who like to see (extremely) minor controversy, you should also check out the comments section where a fan complains about the lack of non-white-male writers on the list and is promptly told to shoot themselves by Jeffrey Ford. What are the Best Examples of SF/F Worldbuilding? [SF Signal]