Science Fiction World Building

In science fiction, the story sometimes takes place on a world or galaxy we don’t know. Other times, it takes place on our world (or includes our world), but it’s set in the future and the rules have changed. Either way though, the building of the world for a good science fiction story is key.

To create a world or galaxy from scratch, like George Lucas did with Star Wars, is pretty amazing. I remember when Episode I came out, and I got one of those picture encyclopedia things about the movie. I was fascinated to learn that Amidala’s hairstyle, clothing, makeup, all stood for something in her culture. It wasn’t just random, but there was this whole other story behind what she wore and the rituals she performed. I didn’t know it yet, but I was intrigued by world building.

Queen-amidalaSome stories that use our world also create new worlds and alien species, such as Star Trek, Babylon 5, and Ender’s Game. Sometimes they choose to focus on one other species, like Ender’s Game, and in this case, they are viewed as an enemy. In Babylon 5, there are more species, and a handful of them are ones Earth has made peace with, though unfortunately there was war before peace when it came to some, and still quarrels within the alliance they have formed. And then with Star Trek the number of species out there seems as infinite as the galaxy, from the Klingons to the Vulcans to the Cardassians to the Breen to the Xindi, some who are friends, some who are foes, some who have played as both.

The Xindi are especially unique because they have five different species within their own kind.

But there’s more to the world building than the aliens, of course. They create Earth histories that gap the period of time between now and then, and these gaps always seem to include wars. World War III is a common one to be seen, but there’s also wars between us and aliens, and then one that I find particularly fascinating in the Star Trek universe: the Eugenics War. Which if you think you know about Khan from Into Darkness, check out The Original Series’ episode “Space Seed” and the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to learn more about his past and his involvement with said war.

khan-crewThen there are the stories that feel closer to our time and that take place on Earth, but society has changed. The Island and Gattaca are two great movies (that will be discussed in more detail in a future post) that answer “what if” questions. Fringe focuses on strange things happening in our current world, and leads both the characters on the show and us to believe that there could be a lot more to what’s possible in our world than what we think of on the surface.

Some creepy creature the Fringe team found.

Then there’s Firefly, which doesn’t focus on aliens but humans, but they travel in space and have been spread across the galaxy, and war has separated people to either side with the Alliance or with the Browncoats. The story has a Wild West in space feel to it and Chinese and American cultures, as the only superpowers left, have blended, which also adds an interesting element to the world of the show.

kaylee-parasolAnother great thing about science fiction is the technology. It can play a significant role in the world of the story, and even influence the technology of our world Who doesn’t want a lightsaber or wish they could just teleport to their destination? Star Trek, and I’m sure other science fiction stories as well, have actually influenced our progression of technology, which I think is awesome.

star-trek-techBut I feel all this barely scratches the surface on world building elements, as well as the great worlds seen, in science fiction stories. So I ask you: What science fiction story’s world building has captured your attention the most? What elements of world building in science fiction do you particularly enjoy seeing?


16 Responses to Science Fiction World Building

  1. Oh I ADORE Gattaca! It’s definitely due for a rewatch. I found it a bit disturbing because it’s entirely plausible we will be going that way in the future. Nothing I remember seeing was too outlandish to become real.

    I feel like Firefly actually isn’t that far-fetched either. When we do get ourselves into space on a regular frequency it will totally be just like exploring and settling in the Wild West all over again. Chinese and American cultures being the only ones to survive, and blending out of necessity, is also something I can totally see happening. Other than the absolutely lovable cast and awesome space adventures, I think that’s why Firefly ended up working so well for me. It may seem completely different than our life now on the surface, but underneath it’s like Whedon is just showing our future to us.

    I love good world-building but I actually haven’t read or watched very much sci-fi. I’ll have to go and think on what my favorite would be and get back to you. 🙂 (As of right now I could probably say Firefly!)

  2. I love it when there are shows set in our world/time but like Fringe show the strange and unusual things going on. But then I also like good world building too. I love the world building in shows/films like Star Trek too!

  3. Mass Effect has amazing depth in the world building. Not since Star Wars have I seen as much detail into alien subspecies, cultures, planets, and politics. Truly a new universe to be lost in. The books are good and the game series is one of the best I’ve ever played.

  4. I agree with Anthony about the Mass Effect world building! It’s wonderfully done, I’ll be discussing the series at the end of next week =)
    It’s such an important factor in science fiction: building a believable and exciting world. I can think of so many great examples, several of which you named. Sometimes they’re completely different from our world, sometimes they’re really quite similar (e.g. Firefly).
    I’ve just started watching Fringe so I’m excited to see where that goes =D

  5. Awesome post, Amy! You definitely hit on some of the major themes often seen in sci-fi stories. A lot of them are futuristic, and I think it’s kinda sad (in more ways than one) that often there is either WW3 happening or WW3 HAS happened, at the time of the story.

    I love that you started off talking about the little elements like the clothes and makeup and how they all actually have MEANING in that character’s culture and society. Little things like that make such a big difference and really make a fictional world come alive for me.

    • Yes, exactly! I love it when an author/screenwriter/director/whoever puts in those little details to make the story that much richer, and like you said, real.

  6. Star Wars!!! I know most prefer the original trilogy…but for me it was the prequel because this was the one that I grew up on. And I really went online, then, to look up on all the stuff about the world, characters, the names and of course like you mention the costuming (a lot of them were Asian inspired and I love looking at the original ethnic costumes that inspired them) and Amidala had the best eye catching costumes. And by the time of the third movie, even the new Naboo’s Queen makeup change to reflect the more grim situation.

  7. Probably Star Trek has caught my attention the most. I’m a fan of The Next Generation and just love how every planet and race they come across has their own history and culture. It’s always nice to see and learn about new places/people.

    • I know, I think that is a great touch to the series, because it’s something that you can see happening, but you also know it won’t be happening overnight!

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