marthawells: (Default)

This is a novella, coming out in ebook and paperback on May 2, from Publishing. The cover art is by Jaime Jones. There are preorder links on my web site here:

And here’s an excerpt:

Chapter One

I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don't know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.

I was also still doing my job, on a new contract, and hoping Dr. Volescu and Dr. Bharadwaj finished their survey soon so we could get back to the habitat and I could watch episode 397 of Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon.

I admit I was distracted. It was a boring contract so far and I was thinking about backburnering the status alert channel and trying to access music on the entertainment feed without HubSystem logging the extra activity. It was trickier to do it in the field than it was in the habitat.

This assessment zone was a barren stretch of coastal island, with low, flat hills rising and falling and thick greenish-black grass up to my ankles, not much in the way of flora or fauna, except a bunch of different sized bird-like things and some puffy floaty things that were harmless as far as we knew. The coast was dotted with big bare craters, one of which Bharadwaj and Volescu were taking samples in. The planet had a ring, which from our current position dominated the horizon when you looked out to sea. I was looking at the sky and mentally poking at the feed when the bottom of the crater exploded.
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Stuff About Me

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017 07:22 am
marthawells: (John Green Trees)
It's been a kind of rushed, busy December. I've been working on the editorial revision of The Harbors of the Sun, the last Raksura novel, which is coming out this July. There wasn't anything structural to do, just a few notes, but I'd written parts of it so fast and out of order that I found a lot of clean-up to do. Because of deadline scheduling, I ended up finishing the last read-through on Sunday, send it off to the editor Monday morning and starting immediately on the copy edit for The Murderbot Diaries: All Systems Red (coming out in May) and then getting it sent off so I could do a quick read of the edits for "Birthright," the short story I have in Mech: Age of Steel. Normally these things don't all happen at once.

But basically I got it all done. Now I need to get a Raksura Patreon story done for this week.

Yesterday seemed to be the day to get bad news about people we know, too. It's been a hugely stressful couple of months for a lot of people.

A couple of weeks before Christmas I started having pain in first one hand, then the other, which was getting continually worse and I was afraid it was arthritis. (Actually I was afraid it was anything from fibromyalgia to leprosy, I was hoping it was arthritis.) But I got sent to the orthopedist to get shots in my hands, which are painful and done with huge needles, but which really, really helped.

Oh, and we saw Hidden Figures on Friday and it was fabulous. I highly recommend it.

I did get to see the cover for The Murderbot Diaries this morning, which is awesome and I can't wait to show it to people. This is my first SF novella for, and it'll be coming out in ebook and a tiny adorable paperback. (It's up for preorder in various places, but the paperback in cheapest on Barnes & Noble. The ebook is only $2.99 everywhere.)

Here's the description again: A murderous android discovers itself in All Systems Red, a tense science fiction adventure by Martha Wells that blends HBO's Westworld with Iain M. Banks' Culture books.

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn't a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied 'droid -- a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as "Murderbot." Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

So that's what I've been doing in between anxiety attacks about politics, basically.

New Book Tuesday

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017 08:03 am
marthawells: (Reading)
* Bear Daughter by Judith Berman
Until Cloud is twelve years old, she is a neglected bear cub wandering the town ruled by King Rumble. Cloud’s unexpected transformation into a human girl, with no memory of what came before, enrages Rumble, and she is forced to flee from his malevolent wizard. Her only hope of survival is a terrifying quest to free the spirits of her dead brothers.

* Novella: The Hills of Meat, The Forests of Bone by Michelle Muenzler
Eran has been walking the Labyrinth since she was a child, learning its secrets. The endless backwater universes and lost cities offer a never-ending array of adventures, but she's been a successful exotics trader for years, and is confident she can hold her own with whatever the Labyrinth throws at her. The Labyrinth took that as a challenge.

* Preorder Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee
Captain Kel Cheris is possessed by a long-dead traitor general. Together they must face the rivalries of the hexarchate and a potentially devastating invasion. When the hexarchate's gifted young captain Kel Cheris summoned the ghost of the long-dead General Shuos Jedao to help her put down a rebellion, she didn't reckon on his breaking free of centuries of imprisonment – and possessing her. Sequel to Ninefox Gambit

* Upcoming Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor
Follow up to Akata Witch

* Out of this World by Catherine Lundoff
Eleven tales of the queer fantastic by award-winning author Catherine Lundoff. A bookstore clerk goes on a quest for the Norns while a couple of mercenaries wake up to some big surprises at their favorite inn. Shakespeare’s sister, Judith, forms an alliance with playwright Christopher Marlowe. A witch attempts the wrong love spell and a young prince meets an irresistible monster. Swordswomen, ghosts, the Queen of the Fay, the occasional gentleman of the evening and other unforgettable characters populate these stories rich and strange. Includes the Gaylactic Spectrum Award finalist “At the Roots of the World Tree” as well as several other stories not previously collected.

* The Voices of Martyrs by Maurice Broaddus
We are a collection of voices, the assembled history of the many voices that have spoken into our lives and shaped us. Voices of the past, voices of the present, and voices of the future. There is an African proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates as “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” This is why we continue to remember the tales of struggle and tales of perseverance, even as we look to tales of hope. What a people choose to remember about its past, the stories they pass down, informs who they are and sets the boundaries of their identity. We remember the pain of our past to mourn, to heal, and to learn. Only in that way can we ensure the same mistakes are not repeated. The voices make up our stories. The stories make up who we are. A collected voice.


Friday, December 30th, 2016 10:38 am
marthawells: (John and Ronon)
Just an update on me. Over the past two weeks or so, I started to have pain and stiffness in my right hand, which then increased rapidly and spread to my left hand, to the point that on the day after Christmas, I couldn't make a fist with either hand, it was hard to pick things up, etc. I've been to my doctor and he's tentatively diagnosed arthritis, maybe with a side order of mild carpal tunnel. I'm making appointments with specialists to try to figure out a treatment. The pain varies a lot throughout the day and night, but at this point I can still type. So. That's how I am, how are you?

New Book Wednesday

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 09:06 am
marthawells: (Miko)
New Book Wednesday is actually on Wednesday this time, go figure.


* The Nature of a Pirate by A.M. Dellamonica
The Nature of a Pirate is the third book in acclaimed author, A.M. Dellmonica’s high seas, Stormwrack series. The Lambda Award nominated series begins with Child of a Hidden Sea. Marine videographer and biologist Sophie Hansa has spent the past few months putting her knowledge of science to use on the strange world of Stormwrack, solving seemingly impossible cases where no solution had been found before.

* New Worlds, Old Ways edited by Karen Lord
"The Caribbean has a powerful, modern tradition of fantastic literature that’s on full display in this anthology of original fiction by writers from Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and Bermuda . . . None of these writers is likely to be familiar to American audiences, but all are worth getting to know. Readers who love the writing of Nalo Hopkinson, Tobias S. Buckell, and Lord herself will savor this volume."
— Publisher's Weekly, Starred review

* Dreams of the Eaten by Arianne Tex Thompson
The stunning conclusion of this extraordinary trilogy. After trials by fire and thirst, Appaloosa Elim's quest to bring home the body of the crow prince is finally nearing its end. But the coffin is missing, the funeral party is hopelessly scattered, and the fishmen are hell-bent on revenge...

* Oathbreaker by J. Kathleen Cheney
From the world of Dreaming Death, we follow Amal, Lady Horn as she and her guards try to preserve one of the great secrets of Larossa: an abandoned Fortress. Amal, the chief of the Oathbreakers, is one of only a handful of people aware of the true dangers the abandoned Fortress of Salonen presents. The Cince Empire wants its secrets, and will do anything to get someone inside. Now the Horn Family must decide whether to wake the sleeping Fortress so it can defend itself against the Cince…or kill it forever.

* Free short story: The Evaluators: To Trade With Aliens, You Must Adapt by N.K. Jemisin

* and I highly recommend Will Do Magic For Small Change by Andrea Hairston, which I just finished reading and loved.


My Books

New: The Murderbot Diaries: All Systems Red a new novella from, is up for preorder in ebook, and will be released in ebook and paperback on May 2, 2017.
Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Amazon Kindle, Kindle UK, Kindle Canada, and all other international Kindles.
(ETA: So it looks like the paperback is also up for preorder! It's cheaper on Barnes and Noble: &

* The Harbors of the Sun, the last Raksura novel, is up for preorder in hardcover and ebook.

* The Edge of Worlds is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook, and up for preorder in paperback.
marthawells: (Default)…/9780765397522/

A murderous android discovers itself in All Systems Red, a tense science fiction adventure by Martha Wells that blends HBO's Westworld with Iain M. Banks' Culture books.

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as "Murderbot." Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

It looks like you can preorder the "The Murderbot Diaries" novella soon, as soon as the various retail outlets update. It'll be out on May 2, with the sequel to follow in January 2018

(no subject)

Saturday, December 10th, 2016 08:19 am
marthawells: (Default)
Washington Post: Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House

According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.

McConnell’s office did not respond to a request for comment. After the election, Trump chose McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, as his nominee for transportation secretary.

The BTHOHate Protest

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016 09:34 am
marthawells: (Default)
Last night, me, my husband, and a couple friends went to a protest against the Nazi Richard Spencer who was speaking on the TAMU campus. An outside group rented the room for him to speak in, and there were several counter protests plus an Aggie Unity event in Kyle Field with speakers and music starting at the same time. (BTHO means "Beat the hell out of" and is usually directed at rival football teams.) We posted some film on my facebook timeline, too.

Here's the local news on it:

B&N and Links

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016 07:50 am
marthawells: (Teyla)

There was a problem with the hardcover preorder link at Barnes & Noble for The Harbors of the Sun, but it's fixed now The preorder for Nook is available now too.

* Here's info about Liberation Library Liberation Library provides books to youth in prison to encourage imagination, self-determination and connection to the outside worlds of their choosing. We believe access to books is a right, not a privilege. We believe books and relationships empower young people to change the criminal justice system.
You can donate books directly from their Amazon wishlist, send money, etc.

* And here's a helpful post from Captain Awkward: #917: "How to set boundaries with people who think boundaries and hurt are manipulative? AKA Help implementing boundary advice?"
marthawells: (SGA Team)
Well, it's been a fucking horrible year. But here's a round-up of stuff I wrote and read:

Things Published

December 2015

"The Dark Gates" The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft, Journalstone Press.
Reja and her companions Fletcher and Tamith solve a mysterious disappearance.

"The Potter's Daughter" audio reprint at Episode 86 of the podcast Far-Fetched Fables, read by Diane Sieverson.
Kade Carrion before the events of The Element of Fire

January 2016

"Night at the Opera" audio reprint at Podcastle.
A noble Rienish family asks Reynard Morane to thwart a sorcerous blackmailer, and he recruits a reluctant Nicholas Valiarde to help.

April 2016

The Edge of Worlds Night Shade Books, ISBN 9781597808439. Hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Reviewed by the New York Times:
"The venerated pulp spirit in science fiction and fantasy has dwindled since the golden age of the 1920s to '50s. Yet an atavistic craving for adventure remains, and it is this need that Wells's books in general and the Raksura books in particular satisfy. The stories are straightforward adventure, but what makes Wells's "new pulp" feel fresh is its refusal to take the easier storytelling routes of its forebears. Rather than thinly veil an existing human society as alien others, for example, Wells - a master world builder - creates a multicultural world of humanized monsters...The result is breathtakingly surprising and fun. So for readers who missed earlier entry points to this delightful series, now is the time to get on board."
- New York Times

Forthcoming in 2017

January 2017

"Birthright" Mech: Age of Steel, Ragnarok Publications, ISBN 978-1941987858.

April 2017

The Edge of Worlds Night Shade Books, Paperback edition.

July 2017

The Harbors of the Sun Night Shade Books, ISBN 978-1597808910.
The last book in the Books of the Raksura series.

Also forthcoming: The Murderbot Diaries: All Systems Red, a novella from in ebook and paperback and the sequel.

Words written in 2016: about 163832

Some of My Favorite Books:

Dreaming Death by J. Kathleen Cheney
The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson
A Useful Woman by Darcie Wilde
Court of Fives and The Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Unquiet Land by Sharon Shinn
A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson
Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? by Paul Cornell
The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch
Sacrifice by Cindy Pon
marthawells: (Miko)
* Unquiet Land by Sharon Shinn
In the latest novel in Sharon Shinn’s Elemental Blessings series, a woman is confronted with the past she left behind—and an uncertain future...

* Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom by Juliet E. McKenna
Imaginary friends should be a comfort when other consolations fail. But what if these longed-for companions think different? What if they're none too pleased to be summoned? What if untamed magic can spawn creatures from daydreams or nightmares? Could something eerie half-glimpsed in a shadow actually be there?

* Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
In the much-anticipated sequel to the “magnificent fantasy epic” (NPR) Grace of Kings, Emperor Kuni Garu is faced with the invasion of an invincible army in his kingdom and must quickly find a way to defeat the intruders.

* Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland
A teen who is half-god, half-human must own her power whether she likes it or not in this snappy, snarky novel with a serving of smoldering romance.

These next two books are up for preorder. Both are by great authors who you are going to want to see more of:

* The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden
a near future thriller set in South Africa in which a diverse set of characters imbued with supernatural abilities by a street drug called Godsend must band together against a disenfranchised goddess who intends to remake their world and change the fate of humanity forever. More info:

* Substrate Phantoms by Jessica Reisman
The space station Termagenti—hub of commerce, culture, and civilization—may be haunted. Dangerous power surges, inexplicable energy manifestations, and strange accidents plague the station. Even after generations of exploring deep space, humanity has yet to encounter another race, and yet, some believe that what is troubling the station may be an alien life form. I've heard the beginning of this one and am really looking forward to it. More info:


Friday, November 11th, 2016 08:06 am
marthawells: (Default)
This is what I posted on Facebook:

Here's the thing. If you're a Trump supporter, I don't want to come together with you. I don't want to talk to you or acknowledge your existence. I don't think you have a right to your hatred, ignorance, and bigotry. Don't bother telling me you'll stop buying my books or burn my books or burn me. I don't want you to have my books, it disgusts me that you read the words I put down on paper and ever thought we had anything in common. And I won't appease your attempt to justify your bigotry, so don't bother to shit your hate on this post. I'll block you with a happy heart and I'll never look back.

Count me among the Resistance.


I'm not allowing comments, because the same thing goes here.
marthawells: (The Serpent Sea)

The next (and last) Raksura book, The Harbors of the Sun, is starting show up for preorder in ebook on Kindle and Kobo. (It should also be showing up on Kindle UK, Kindle Canada, France, Germany, etc, just check your local Amazon.)

The paperback of The Edge of Worlds will be out in April and is up for preorder on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

If you've already read The Edge of Worlds, please consider leaving a review or rating on Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing, etc. It really does help, and it's all the advertising the books will get. And it's very much appreciated.

New Book Wednesday!

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016 07:57 am
marthawells: (Reading)
* Wolf At the Door by J. Damask
Housewife, ex-teen vigilante…and shape-shifting wolf…Jan Xu has enough problems without adding her sister’s to the mix. Marianne is returning to Singapore and she’s filled with strange ideas. She’s also not alone. She’s coming home with a new boyfriend who has a dark agenda of his own.

* Preorder: The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes. But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

* Our Lady of the Ice by Cassandra Rose Clarke
In Argentine Antarctica, Eliana Gomez is the only female PI in Hope City—a domed colony dependent on electricity (and maintenance robots) for heat, light, and survival in the icy deserts of the continent. At the center is an old amusement park—now home only to the androids once programmed to entertain—but Hope City’s days as a tourist destination are long over.

* Faller by Will McIntosh
Day One: No one can remember anything—who they are, family and friends, or even how to read. Reality has fragmented and Earth consists of an islands of rock floating in an endless sky. Food, water, electricity—gone, except for what people can find, and they can't find much.

* Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno Garcia
Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is busy eeking out a living when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, must feast on the young to survive and Domingo looks especially tasty. Smart, beautiful, and dangerous, Atl needs to escape to South America, far from the rival narco-vampire clan pursuing her. Domingo is smitten.

* A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson
Aqib bgm Sadiqi, fourth-cousin to the royal family and son of the Master of Beasts, has more mortal and pressing concerns. His heart has been captured for the first time by a handsome Daluçan soldier named Lucrio. In defiance of Saintly Canon, gossiping servants, and the furious disapproval of his father and brother, Aqib finds himself swept up in a whirlwind gay romance. But neither Aqib nor Lucrio know whether their love can survive all the hardships the world has to throw at them.

* Hen and Chick: The Marauders Island by Tristan J. Tarwater
Azria is a mage of Miz, trained to wield the magic her country is famous for. When her estranged mother, alleged pirate Captain Apzana of the Hen & Chick, shows up on her 16th birthday offering her adventure, Azria leaves the life she knows for the promise of riches, renown and danger at her mother’s side.

* Daughter of a Nation A Black Suffragette Historical Romance Anthology
The fight for suffrage was long, hard, and carried out on many fronts. In Daughters of A Nation, Kianna Alexander, Alyssa Cole, Lena Hart, and Piper Huguley bring you four novellas full of spirit, hope, and, most importantly: LOVE.

* Preorder: The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier
Gulien Madalin, heir to the throne of Carastind, finds himself more interested in ancient history than the tedious business of government and watching his father rule. But Gulien suspects that his father has offended the Kieba so seriously that she has withdrawn her protection from the kingdom. Worse, he fears that Carastind’s enemies suspect this as well.

* Unquiet Land by Sharon Shinn
In the latest novel in Sharon Shinn’s Elemental Blessings series, a woman is confronted with the past she left behind—and an uncertain future...

Story: Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies by Brooke Bolander

Story: We Have Always Been Here, Motherfucker by Monica Valentinelli

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 31st, 2016 07:49 am
marthawells: (SGA Team)
* I wanted to remind everybody that the price for World Fantasy 2017 in San Antonio goes up on Nov 1, so this is a great time to buy your membership. I'll be toastmaster, so you should totally go to the con.

* Halloween photos:

* I can't remember if I posted this here or not: The TAMU newspaper did an article on the worldbuilding talk I did for the Hal Hall Lecture Series:

* Congrats to the World Fantasy 2016 winners! Excellent award list all around!
marthawells: made by ltlj (Indeed)

I've sold two new SF novellas to the novella line, and the first one The Murderbot Diaries: All Systems Red will come out next summer in ebook and paperback. Yay! I'm really excited about this.
marthawells: (Reading)
* Story: A Cup of Comfort by Stephanie Burgis

* Dark Claw by J. Damask
Gabriel Sutherland, scion of Lord Kevin Sutherland, returns to Singapore, to deal with the resurgence of the Dark Claws, a splinter group of ultra-conservative drakes. Tragedy strikes and he becomes Lord Sutherland, leader of a clan of drakes. Along the way, he also discovers a long-lost sibling.

* The Immortals of Meluha by Amish Tripathi
The only hope for the Suryavanshis is an ancient legend: When evil reaches epic proportions, when all seems lost, a hero will emerge. Is the unexpected, rough-hewn Tibetan immigrant Shiva that hero? Drawn suddenly to his destiny, duty, and by love, Shiva will attempt to move mountains and lead the Suryavanshi to destroy evil.

* Story: The Witch of the Orion Waste and the Boy Knight by E. Lily Yu

* Story: A Moment of Gravity, Circumscribed by Fran Wilde

* Story: Anything That Isn't Winter by Margaret Killjoy

* The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan
With a foreword by Neil Gaiman and an introduction by renowned fairy-tale expert Jack Zipes, this stunning gallery of sculptural works will thrill and delight art lovers and fairy-tale aficionados alike.

* The Starlit Wood edited by Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien
An all-new anthology of cross-genre fairy tale retellings, featuring an all-star lineup of award-winning and critically acclaimed writers.

* Rose and Thorn by Sarah Prineas
After the spell protecting her is destroyed, Rose seeks safety in the world outside the valley she had called home. She’s been kept hidden all her life to delay the three curses she was born with—curses that will put her into her own fairy tale and a century-long slumber. Accompanied by Griff, the handsome and mysterious Watcher, and Quirk, his witty and warmhearted partner, Rose tries to escape from the ties that bind her to her story. But will the path they take lead them to freedom, or will it bring them straight into the fairy tale they are trying to avoid?

* The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu
Ella Patel – thief, con-artist and smuggler – is in the wrong place at the wrong time. One night, on the border of a demilitarized zone run by the body-swapping alien invaders, she happens upon a man and woman being chased by a group of assailants.

* Aerie by Maria Dahvana Headley
The stunning sequel to Maria Dahvana Headley’s critically acclaimed Magonia tells the story of one girl who must make an impossible choice between two families, two homes—and two versions of herself. Aza Ray is back on earth. Her boyfriend, Jason, is overjoyed. Her family is healed. She’s living a normal life, or as normal as it can be if you’ve spent the past year dying, waking up on a sky ship, and discovering that your song can change the world.

* The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
In the much-anticipated sequel to the “magnificent fantasy epic” (NPR) Grace of Kings, Emperor Kuni Garu is faced with the invasion of an invincible army in his kingdom and must quickly find a way to defeat the intruders.
marthawells: (Default)
I gave a lecture on worldbuilding in SF/F and did a question and answer session on the TAMU campus last night, as part of Cushing Library And Archives Hal Hall Lecture Series. It was a great audience of students and faculty, and I had a lot of fun.

Here's the talk I gave about worldbuilding:

What is worldbuilding? Briefly, it's the setting you create for a fictional work, including the type of landscape, the environment, the climate, as well as the people who live there and their cultures. It's the physical and mental space that your story occupies.

Worldbuilding is all about choices. Even if the setting is a real world place, (like the way The Avengers was set in New York) you will be making choices. Where do the characters live, what things do they need there, what is their income level, what is the weather, what is their community. That's all worldbuilding.

There are also settings that are fictional but are meant to be understood by the reader as real. One older example is in the book Raintree County by Ross Lockridge, Jr. It's a fictional setting inserted into a real world place, so seamlessly that readers can't tell if it's based on a real town or not. You can find the spot on the map where it's supposed to be, it's just not there.

But the kind of worldbuilding that most people think of when they hear the word, is in secondary world fantasy. That's fantasy that does not take place on earth, but in its own invented world. Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, are secondary world fantasy. It's sometimes called created world fantasy. Or just fantasy.

Worldbuilding is an element of a fantasy novel, but like all the other elements, plot, story, characterization, it can't exist in a vacuum. Who your characters are and what their goals and problems and agendas are is going to be wrapped up and inseparable with the world they live in. Worldbuilding can and should help drive your plot and be essential to your story. The best fantasy stories can only take place in the world that was created for them, they can't be removed from that context without changing things that are essential to the story and the characters.

For example: My current fantasy series is the Books of the Raksura. The main character is an orphaned shapeshifter who can transform into a flying creature who looks like what we would think of as a demon. He has no idea what species he is, but has to hide his ability to shapeshift because the species he most resembles are the predators that everyone is terrified of. He finds his own people by accident, and then has to try to fit in to a complex matriarchal culture that he has a very important biological role in.

The themes of that story are about identity, about finding your place in the world, finding a place where you belong when it's maybe a little too late for you to adapt your behavior to fit in. There are themes about gender roles, about sexual roles, and there's a lot of fighting and chasing and adventure. Those individual themes can be removed from that setting and put into a real world context, but the specific way this story uses them really can't.

Worldbuilding for fantasy can be realistic, which is where you think about things like how your magical floating city in the clouds gets its food, water, and the other necessities of its infrastructure, and how it deals with its sewers and garbage. The solutions to those problems can of course be magical. And you don't have to tell them all to the reader, unless they're important to the story. But knowing how the nuts and bolts of your magical city work can inform your worldbuilding with a sense of verisimilitude.

Some people believe that fantasy by definition has to take place in a kind of world that's basically a caricature of medieval England. It has certain inalienable characteristics. Everyone wears hooded cloaks, because it's always cold and rainy or snowy. Everyone's white. Women have limited employment choices. In fact they have two employment choices: princess or whore. Or sometimes nuns, if they're lucky. The government is a monarchy. Everyone eats stew and there are a lot of taverns to sit around in and meet the rest of your party.

It used to be called "derivative" because the assumption was that the author didn't do research on the real Europe, the real England of the medieval, or any other, time period. They read other people's fantasy books and copied them. Derivative fantasy tends to be about as much like the real middle ages in Europe as New Orleans square in Disneyland is like New Orleans. Except everyone knows Disney New Orleans isn't real, isn't supposed to be real, and a lot of people think the faux medieval world of these novels is "historically accurate." (air quotes) That's an excuse, and it's the kind of excuse that's a lie.

That standard faux medieval setting is not real, it is not even close to the historic reality. It's a choice. It's a secondary world, a created world, made up of the author's choices. Making all the characters white, erasing the rest of humanity, and taking any kind of agency away from women characters are choices the author made. It doesn't have to be that way. But people who don't read fantasy assume, and will tell you, that those derivative worlds are all fantasy is, and they are wrong.

The not so secret key to fantasy is that your secondary world can be anything you want, and there are an inspiring and astonishing variety of worlds out there.

I'm going to talk briefly about three of them.

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

All three are secondary world fantasy novels with magic, all three were published last year, all are critically acclaimed and have been on various genre award lists. All three are examples of stories that would not be the same if they were removed from the context of their created worlds.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin takes place in a world where catastrophic seismic disturbances are commonplace. These disturbances literally destroy and remake the large portions of the landscape periodically, and it's a struggle for the various peoples who live on this planet to survive, and retain some grasp of the history of their world. There are people who are born with a kind of magic who can control these seismic disturbances. You'd think that would solve everything, but people being people, that is not what happens. As the book goes on we see more and more evidence that parts of their history have been deliberately concealed to manipulate their society.

The worldbuilding is told in what I would call a very spare style. We don't learn a lot about what people are wearing or what they eat. There isn't the abundance of lush material culture detail we see in other fantasy novels. The pace is fast, and we learn what this society is like by the way various characters are treated, what happens to them when they conform, and what happens to them when they resist. We're getting a glimpse of the history of this world, and it's that history and the radical changes that the world has undergone that help drive the plot. Through the worldbuilding we begin realize that there is a mystery at the heart of this world and the characters are just beginning to uncover it.

It's an example of the fact that fantasy secondary worlds don't have to be static, don't have to be pre-technological. All worldbuilding should drive the plot and the story, and this is a great example of that idea in action.

Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson is a short novel that was published as a novella, but which packs a huge amount of worldbuilding into a high concept, intense story. It's set in a place somewhat based on medieval Africa, with huge trading cities like Axum in Ethiopia or Benin City, but it's entirely original. As the story goes on, we realize the main character's magic is based on real science, in that he's magically manipulating his environment based on scientific principles. It's a short book, but the descriptions, the language, is intense and vivid. The author uses the main character's memories of his past to fill in detail as the characters travel to their destination. You have this world in your head in full color, and it's fascinating.

It's an example of how you can have all the swords and fighting and adventure and magic you want, without having to set it in the same boring rain-soaked taverns of white male faux-England.

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard is set in an alternate world version of late twentieth century Paris, except the world has been all but destroyed by a magical war. Parts of the city are controlled by Great Houses, using magic to protect their dependents and maneuver for power. The magical war has been just as devastating for the environment as it has been for the people, and we see a world where the Seine is black with debris and dangerous to even approach the bank. Dying angels occasionally fall to earth from heaven, and their bodies are broken up and sold as part of the magical economy.

It's an example of a fantasy setting that uses a real world place. You can follow the actions of the characters on a map of our Paris, but it's a Paris with magic and a different history. One of the main characters is Vietnamese, brought to Paris to fight in the war, and through his perspective and memories we get some idea of how different the rest of the world is.

This is an example of how to make a real world setting fantastical, and how adding magic and changing history can transform a real world setting.

So in conclusion, your worldbuilding will say as much about you as a person and as an author as any other part of your story. There's very little in the fantasy genre that hasn't already been done, but what makes it unique is you. There are no rules, no guidelines, just choices, made by you.


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