Friday, June 21, 2013

SFR Brigade Midsummer Blog Hop: Worldbuilding

"Setting" is vital to all fiction, but creating the world in which your characters interact is never more important than in science fiction and, by extension, science fiction romance, where that world must be made up out of the whole cloth of the writer's imagination.  After all, that world doesn't exist (yet, or at all, or hopefully ever) except in the author's mind, and it's up to her to make it real for the reader.

For this year's SFR Brigade Midsummer Blog Hop, two of Spacefreighters' regulars -- RITA-nominated author Sharon Lynn Fisher and Donna S. Frelick, 2012 Golden Heart Double Finalist,  consider "worldbuilding" in science fiction romance.

DONNA:  Well, you'd have to say the way we've done things so far in our novels couldn't be more different, huh, Sharon?  You have that beautifully evocative, eerily ALIVE Ghost Planet, and I have, well, Earth.  Mostly.  At least in my first novel, Unchained Memory, most of the action takes place here and now, with only a few scenes set off-planet to give readers a feel for the trauma my heroine has gone through at the hands of her alien abductors. I did have to invent a means of interstellar travel (through wormholes) and the whole galactic battle between slavers and their staunch (sexy) abolitionist opponents.

In my second novel, Trouble in Mind, more of the book takes place on distant planets in the series universe -- the aliens' home planet, particularly -- and on ships in space.  In order to write that one, I had to think through what kind of universe my Earth existed in -- not only one in which alien slavers took people from Earth regularly to use as they willed, and are opposed by our heroes, but also one in which there exists a colony of returned slaves (Terrene); several other alien races, with their own characteristics and home planets and languages (mostly curse words!); and a whole race of warlike telepathic aliens and their culture that is central to the plot.  Oh, and something about Navajo culture, too.

For the third book, Fools Rush In, I had to add more about ships and space travel, particularly traveling through jump nodes (wormholes) to various places.  That made my brain hurt.

Keeping all this straight is a challenge.  More than once I've though of actually writing a "Bible" for the Interstellar Rescue series universe.  Right now that exists in notes in my computer, on scraps of paper in my inbox and in random thoughts in my sieve of a brain.  Not so good!

SHARON: I think Unchained Memory's world was a great way to start your series, Donna. We've talked a lot on this blog and others about the level of acceptance for science fiction-y elements among the romance reading community. I think sometimes the perception is that our worlds will be too cold and uninviting, with too much tech talk. I think whether intentionally or not, you and I both kept our first-book worldbuilding pretty accessible. Though Ghost Planet is set off-world and has some seriously alien components, the world itself is earth-like and easy to visualize without requiring a ton of description (leaving plenty of room for developing the romance).

My second Tor book, The Ophelia Prophecy, has a near-future Earth setting. It's post-apocalyptic, which readers are familiar with thanks to the popularity of TV shows like The Walking Dead and the book and movie, The Hunger Games. Thanks to those previous works (and countless others) an author doesn’t have to really spend much time talking about what a post-apoc setting is like. Ophelia does have some fairly fantastical worldbuilding that is driven by science, but should feel familiar due to the fact it was inspired by artist Antonio Gaudi. 

I think it's a balancing act, though. Even if we choose to keep our worldbuilding accessible and force it to share the stage with character and relationship development, it's critical for it to feel rich and believable. 

Did you think at all about accessibility in writing your series, Donna? 

DONNA:  Ooh, Gaudi!  You mean the guy who designed the Barcelona cathedral, right?  That should be interesting!

Yes, I think about accessibility a lot, and if I happen to forget it for a moment, my critique partner, Linda, who is not an SF fan, reminds me pretty quickly!  The original idea of my series was to gradually lure readers new to SF further and further away from what was most familiar to them.  I felt if they liked the little bit of otherworldly stuff I gave them in Unchained Memory, they would be willing to accept the wilder stuff I gave them in Trouble in Mind.   By the time they picked up Fools Rush In, they would be willing to head out into space with me.  

This premise, though, is all founded on the solid foundation of my characters and their stories.  If my readers don't love them and want to follow them, I'm sunk!  All of my books are companion novels, with characters who show up in more than one book.  You can read them in any order, really, but if you like a secondary character in one book, chances are that character will get his or her own book some day.

I agree with you that the post-apocalyptic future is one many readers are familiar with.  Did you have trouble setting a romance in that kind of a bleak world?

SHARON: I think that's a great strategy. Once a reader connects with an author's voice, I think they are likely to follow them anywhere. Or at least that's what we hope! The Ophelia Prophecy also is heavier on the SF elements, with a slower-to-develop romance. But definitely has a big payoff at the end.

And yes, Gaudi is the Sagrada Familia guy. Which leads in nicely to answering your question: I managed the bleakness factor by setting the last two-thirds of the book in a world that is far from bleak. The genetically modified, conquering race has made Granada, Spain, (home of the Alhambra) their capital city. The ancient architecture itself is beautiful, but with the Gaudi-like embellishments the post-biowar city is transformed into something vibrant and whimsical.  

Okay, time for you guys to chime in!  Here are a couple of questions -- answer the one you like best.

  • Favorite type of SFR setting?  (ship in space, distant planet, alternate universe, near-future/Earth, post-apocalyptic)  
  • Favorite world? (SFR preferred, but SF works too!)


Spacefreighters is giving away a copy of Ghost Planet to one commenter -- print, Kindle, or Nook. Folks in the US or Canada have the option of choosing a signed print copy. If you want to be excluded from the drawing for this, please let us know in the comments. Thanks!

Following are the main blog hop prizes:  

1st Prize 

  • $150 Amazon or B&N gift card (winner's choice) 
  • An ebook bundle -- Ghost in the Machine, Bayne, Recast Book 1:Wither, Recast Book 2:Clash, Alien Adoration, Switched, Reckless Rescue, Wreck of the Nebula Dream, Keir, Terms & Conditions Apply, The Key, The Plan, Starburst, Marya, The Iron Admiral, Sasha’s Calling, Trouble at the Hotel Baba Ghanoush, Winter in Paradise, Once Upon a Time in Space, the Telomere trilogy, Winter Fusion, Blue Nebula, Demential, Wytchfire, Maven, Fires of Justice, Interface, Girl Under Glass, Breakout
  • Bonus books - Ghost Planet, The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy and Deception, Games of Command

2nd Prize

  • $50 Amazon or B&N gift card (winner's choice)
3rd Prizes

  • Four $25 Amazon or B&N gift cards (given to separate winners and their choice)

Don't forget, you must leave a comment with your email address AND sign into the Rafflecopter to win the prizes. And to increase your chances, hop along to the other blogs!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. The voice of a book is so important, I think it makes or breaks the story. That is why I have difficulties reading in pure omniscient. It takes me too far away from the characters.

    Now to answer your exam questions (LOL). My favorite type of SFR setting is the space vessel cruising across the galactic distances. My favorite world is Asimovs Robot series, though Weber's Harrington series is also well thought out. As for SFR, I like Linnea Sinclair's world.

  2. Oh, I agree! I recently read Neverwhere, and though I thought it was a charming book, all the head-hopping and slipping into omniscient kept me feeling like I didn't know the characters very deeply.

    Thanks for dropping by, A.R.!

  3. Near-future Earth or post apocalyptic
    Thanks so much for the opportunity!

  4. SFR setting: I like my SFR set on a space ship or far away planet/ world or both.
    Great interview!

  5. I just love space opera. So - a space ship, then a planet, more space ship... I loved Star Wars (still do), love Jack Mc Devitt's books, and I think Linnea Sinclair's world-building is second to none. Loved the parrots in 'Accidental Goddess'. Little details are so important.

  6. Well, there's one vote for near-future Earth (that's close, anyway!). Thanks, Misty! I think we all love space opera--it's how we all got into this, isn't it. STAR TREK, STAR WARS, Golden Age SF--love that stuff!

  7. SFR is my favorite. I loved Ghost Planet and hope whoever wins the copy will love it as much as I do.

  8. I love SFR! I'd say my favorite type is the alien planet story. Though I really like space ships too. Well, okay, I like them all. Variety keeps me from being bored.

    doxisrcool at

  9. Donna and Sharon,

    I agree that we need to bring new readers into the sci fi world gently, as many fear too much 'cold tech'.

    That said, my sci fi readers are reluctant to leave the genre. They're loyal!

    Cathryn Cade

  10. I'm really enjoying reading all these great responses. Thanks to everyone who has commented so far.

    @JC Jones I think Sharon's debut novel struck a chord because the premise had such a twist. Keep your fingers crossed for her and Ghost Planet for the RITA Best First Book Award in late July.

    @Greta "Loved the parrots in 'Accidental Goddess'."

    Wasn't that fantastic world-building, Greta? And then how they played into the story later. Genius!

    Accidental Goddess was the very last Linnea Sinclair book I ever read, even though Linnea had recommended it because she thought the hero was such a great character. She hit the nail with that. Mac was amazing. I LOVE military heroes when their thoughts and actions are so believable and real-to-life.

  11. JC - Aw, I'm so glad you enjoyed it! :)

  12. ...and I just realized you're Jo Jones, one of my early Goodreads reviews. Thank you!

  13. I tried to bring my readers into the SF words gently - for example Keir starts on a medieval type of world, and like the main character we're yanked from that and into a high tech scientific base, so we kind of share his disorientation. Different worlds are my favourite settings, and I love to have contrasts. Though I'm not adverse to a cool spaceship or two.

  14. My SFR setting would be a distant planet where women rule and has sexy shapeshifting aliens around to take care of her every need.

  15. My favorite setting is the spaceship en route. That said, I like all of the settings in the hands of a good author.
    a dot charol at yahoo dot ca

  16. I think I like spaceship settings the best with occasional glimpses of various planets. Thanks for the giveaway.

  17. I Break for Space Heroes! yayyyyy happbeeeee SCFI blopping! thanQ!

  18. To me the setting is irrelevant -- I want characters I care about doing interesting things in a world that fascinates me -- without info dumps.

    Thanks for the amazing giveaway!
    elizabeth @ bookattict . com

  19. I brake for Space Heroes? LOL! And there's a lot to be said for that Planet 'o Sexy Shapeshifters! Thanks for the comments, y'all!

  20. "I brake for Space Heroes."

    Love that! There must be a bumper sticker for that. If there isn't, we should create one.

  21. The whole discussion was fascinating. I can't really say one setting is more of a favorite for me than another because I resonate with the characters first. It's also going to depend on my mood, no doubt - do I want space going excitement or an enticing planetary environment on any given day? Too much high tech turns me off though...

  22. great topic! And I agree wholeheartedly. There are some authors that are automatically a shoe- in for me because the way they write is just so engaging and easy to get lost in. And I mean, no matter what they write. And i love my SF on another planet. I read like.. 6 mars books in a row a couple on months ago. I was on a Mars fix. lol.

  23. I love a good space opera but I'll take a non-Earth based SF any day. I want a whole culture built, not just a world. Give me glimpses of history and social structures, language and mind sets.

    The Sagrada Familia is finally in its last phase of construction and is one of the most astounding pieces of engineering the world has ever seen. Whimsical? Only at first glance. Gaudi was far ahead of his time.

  24. The setting doesn't really matter as long as the book keeps my attention. ^_^

    Thanks for the giveaway!!!!

  25. I love futuristic worlds. We can imagine and play with the timelines and technology :0

    Imogene @

  26. I like spaceship settings, probably goes back to my love of Star Trek.
    skpetal at hotmail dot com

  27. Sandra - I love Gaudi. And yeah, I wouldn't necessarily call the basilica whimsical, though in this case I'm using the word synonymously with "fanciful." Some of his stuff just erupts with color and texture!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  28. You make a great point about mood, Veronica. There are so many times I pick up a book and put it back down, and it has nothing to do with the book itself. Just wasn't where I was at that day!

  29. I know what you mean, Ryan. British novelists Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, and Jane Austen are that for me -- I would read their grocery lists.

  30. I like all aspects of scifi, spaceships, other worlds and universes, and post apocalyptic is my total fav, don't have a fav world - regnod(at)yahoo(d0t)com

  31. Kathleen McGowanJune 24, 2013 at 9:00 PM

    My favorite settings are the ship in space or distant planets. Thanks for being part of this wonderful blog hop. kathleenmcg6 (at) msn (dot) com

  32. Great discussion, ladies.I don't have a dav setting type...I love them all and it depends what I'm in the mood for. Sometimes I want a deep space adventure and sometimes I love a futuristic Earth. That's the great thing about SFR (reading it and writing it) -- I get my cool new worlds and my romance!

  33. near future
    I'd say lord of the rings

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

  34. Oh,yeah. STAR TREK and LOTR--two of my all time faves!

  35. Hi! Awesome post! Your book sounds great!! I love them all. Each is unique and depending on my mood, id could go for all of them! :) Loving this hop! So many awesome authors! :) Thank you! Have a great day!

  36. Our winner of the copy of GHOST PLANET is Tawania! I'll contact you shortly to find out your preferred format.

    Thanks to everyone for dropping by and commenting!


Comments set on moderation - all spammers will be exterminated!

About Spacefreighters Lounge

Hosted by 5 Science Fiction Romance authors with 8 RWA Golden Heart finals and a RITA final between them. We aim to entertain with spirited commentary on the past, present, and future of SFR, hot topics, and our take on Science Fiction and SFR books, television, movies and culture.