Two: Character-based World-building

1

The book presents a broad setting, with many different cultures and subcultures. This world-building is generally shown through the crew members’ backgrounds and experiences.

  • What did you think of presenting the setting in this way?
  • What parts of the setting did you particularly like or dislike? Why?
  • Were there certain characters you particularly liked or disliked?
  • The crew of the Wayfarer are not the central, motivating figures of this setting. They are simply people doing a job. How does this working-class perspective influence the way we see the setting?

Comments

  • 1

    I think this is my preferred method of world-building - to show, not tell, about the world by means of the character's behaviour, rituals, acts, and so forth. I don't really want long expositions from the author, though at time this is welcome as a break from the other method.

    That said, there weren't really any parts of the setting I especially liked - it felt very much like the SF equivalent of generic fantasy to me. And since I really think that was the goal, the book is probably not to be faulted for it - i'm just looking for something more outside the box. That said, I did quite like how some of the cultural specifics of the various species (not races, I don't think) were brought to the fore at times, and how they drove conflicts among the crewmembers.

    I didn't particularly like or dislike any of the characters, except perhaps the engineer who was so cliched it was painful. I feel like every cop/spy/SF show since the 90's has had a socially awkward savant technical guru and I can't take it anymore. It's like a bunch of media people suddenly decided nerds were a market, then when trying to figure out how to cater to that market, they decided all this described all nerds were socially awkward tech savants, and have included the token SATS ever since. It's nerdsploitation, is what it is. And now I think people just do it because they think it's expected.

    I tend to think of the working class as the unsung central motivating figures of the world, so I'm not sure I agree with you here. Having the characters be working class didnt make the setting feel any less trite for me, though.

  • 1

    I liked all the characters. They seemed like basically good people, like Canadians! Then again, I like a lot of television, so there is that. Basic pedestrian tastes!

    I loved the whole idea of the people who make the wormholes! Awesome! I want to game that! That everyday people thing is what is at the center of SF gaming! And "show not tell" is definitely the best way to present a strange future! The whole fleet of refugees human thing is also cool! I love it! Lots of good gamable stuff!

  • 1

    Actually, I did quite like Dr. Chef - he was an interesting character. Looking through @Michael_S_Miller 's notes on Goodreads, there's more to this book than I think I'm giving it credit for, but then again that's one reason I like this book club - I almost always get my eyes opened over the course of discussion and come away appreciating the books more.

    I didn't mind the cast being good people, or ordinary people.

  • 1

    I really like the world-building in this book. Part of that, I’m sure, is because the politics of the setting agree with my own. But also, I am not a big fan of setting exposition in books (or games, for that matter). I think that dividing the setting up between all the different crewmembers helps with that immensely.

    For one thing, it limits the amount of setting you’re dealing with at any one time. The book becomes a sort of interstellar road trip where you deal with one place, and then move on to the next one.

    Also, learning about the crew teaches you about the culture, and vice versa. The world-building takes the form of characters and their back stories, rather than dense info-dumps. And the setting details mentioned are often very pertinent to the problem at hand.

    It’s not surprising that I was fond of all the characters. @Apocryphal is right that Dr. Chef is a great character, with his tragic backstory and resolute cheerfulness and dedication to caregiving. If forced to pick a favorite, I’d like go for Rosemary. The way she worked to hide her backstory was very believable. I like exploring the idea of how people react to trouble that they really have no control over, as Rosemary had no say in her father’s weapon sales. And I liked the way she was able to use her skills to aid the crew, but I’ll say more about that in question three.

    @Apocryphal, I agree that the world revolves on ordinary people. But science fiction stories often don’t! Off the top of my head: Foundation is about the creator of psycho-history and those who lead his institution through the dark ages to the rebirth of civilization. A Mote in God’s Eye is about the very first mission of first contact. The Dispossessed is about the inventor of FTL technology. Dune is about some kid named Paul that grows up to be kind of a big deal. You get the idea.

    I found the working-class characters served to give the setting itself more weight. They can’t simply do anything they want, therefore the constraints that they have to live by feel more real. Their lives feel more relatable. I think that’s a good thing, although I can see how some folks may have had trouble dealing with the lack of drama.

  • 1

    No one ever complained about a lack of drama in their real lives, ever! :wink:

    There is plenty of drama here, but it is mostly small scale drama. Small, everyday life dramas.

  • 1

    @Michael_S_Miller - these are great posts you[ve made and I will respond - just tied up at the moment.

  • 0

    @Michael_S_Miller said:

    • The crew of the Wayfarer are not the central, motivating figures of this setting. They are simply people doing a job. How does this working-class perspective influence the way we see the setting?

    I'd have a minor quibble here and say that the crew are middle class, or at minimum artisans, rather than working class! They are all in their own way technically skilled and adept, and their off-duty likes and occupations fit with that. But that said, then I agree with the basic point being made. It's a bit like old-style fairy tales, where the starting character is often a woodsman or gamekeeper type figure, rather than a serf. CS Lewis says of his science fiction trilogy (esp That Hideous Strength) that he tried to do something similar, but made his central figures academics rather than woodsmen etc.

  • 0

    @Apocryphal said:
    I didn't particularly like or dislike any of the characters, except perhaps the engineer who was so cliched it was painful. I feel like every cop/spy/SF show since the 90's has had a socially awkward savant technical guru and I can't take it anymore. It's like a bunch of media people suddenly decided nerds were a market, then when trying to figure out how to cater to that market, they decided all this described all nerds were socially awkward tech savants, and have included the token SATS ever since. It's nerdsploitation, is what it is. And now I think people just do it because they think it's expected.

    Yup, totally agree. It's like the film cliche of the computer programmer working by rattling away on a keyboard at about 2000 keys per second, not looking at the screen, and never never looking up Stack Overflow or similar resources to find how on earth to do something :smile:

  • 0

    I think this is probably the discussion where I will talk a bit more about my general thoughts on the book.

    First, top line, is that I liked it, and thought it was a great attempt to present a future world. Especially because as I mentioned before, I have had vaguely similar thoughts about building a story round a group of people who are basically building futuristic roads. I would certainly give it 4* and could be persuaded by 5.

    The characterisation, and especially the inter-species stuff, I thought was excellently handled, especially the love scene between Rosemary and Cissix. A fabulous chapter.

    But...
    I felt that the author couldn't quite decide whether to write a book that was character centred, plot centred or context centred (by the last I mean a lavish description of society and setting). Some chapters do each of these, and do it well. But then there are awkward disjunctures between the three modes. So we never quite build up each of the characters, or focus on their internal worlds. We have strange plot holes (eg why did the Toremi open fire) and narrative gaps (we just jump over many months of travel in which, presumably, "nothing happened"). And we get to learn a bit about the culture as a whole, but never really enough to frame much of a sense of it. So I ended up feeling frustrated that none of these three strands were really built on, though the author seems easily capable of doing any of them.

    Also, I felt that there was an authorial desire to make everything end up happy. So the whole Corbin clone thing was elevated as a potentially massive problem, and then dropped again. Apparently all it took was a little bit of bureaucratic sleight of hand, and all was well again. Especially in the context of a series, I think that at least some of these situations could have remained as open problems.

    "If we have to kill off a character, let's make it the computer" - bah, that was just lazy. Sure we have a bit of reaction from Jenks, but as per the point above he's easily mollified really. That was in my view the single laziest and least persuasive bit of the whole book.

    So I found myself wishing that the book could have just been tightened a bit in a few directions, to move it from being good and enjoyable to great.

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    @Michael_S_Miller - these are great posts you[ve made and I will respond - just tied up at the moment.

    Kinky! :D

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    I think this is probably the discussion where I will talk a bit more about my general thoughts on the book.

    First, top line, is that I liked it, and thought it was a great attempt to present a future world. Especially because as I mentioned before, I have had vaguely similar thoughts about building a story round a group of people who are basically building futuristic roads. I would certainly give it 4* and could be persuaded by 5.

    (Clip a lot of good points)

    >

    So I found myself wishing that the book could have just been tightened a bit in a few directions, to move it from being good and enjoyable to great.

    I would ascribe a lot of this as being because it was a first book. This all seems an inexperienced author problem.

  • 1

    I kind of felt the 'computer dying' thing was inspired by The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which I felt handled it in a more interesting fashion.

    And speaking of The Moon, it's characters are ordinary people. Shevik, in The Dispossessed, is an ordinary person. A great many SF protagonists are ordinary people. What's different about ALWSP is not that the characters are ordinary, but they they don't get thrust into extraordinary affairs. This is true for a lot of PKD characters too though, and for a lot if SF in general - like A Canticle for Leibowitz, Mockingbird, Half Past Human.

    Which makes we realize one of the reasons didn't excite me that much was that it didn't really have a big SF idea. I mean, maybe diversity was the idea, but that's kind of pat these days, I feel. Everyone and their auntcle is doing it.

  • 0

    @Apocryphal said:
    Which makes we realize one of the reasons didn't excite me that much was that it didn't really have a big SF idea. I mean, maybe diversity was the idea, but that's kind of pat these days, I feel. Everyone and their auntcle is doing it.

    I think the big idea was the transportation one - this ship has to trail-blaze wormholes by a difficult and dangerous method, so that everyone else can just chuggle through them. Makes a nice change to both "we all have warp drive so we don't care" and "the wormhole routes are predefined so you just need a map".

  • 1

    I guess - the whole tunneling thing was pretty much in the background, though. My feeling is that the author mainly just wanted to tell a story in the style of Star Trek, and wanted to make sure it was up-beat. And she certainly succeeded. If the story was about tunneling, or even about tunnelers, it would have been very different.

    I the crew had been cosmic caterers sent to put on a banquet for the Toremi, would the story have changed much?

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