A reader at NYCC asked me — not in an accusatory way if you’re wondering — why I spend so much time on social media talking about world events, social justice issues, health care, etc. I’m an SFF writer, after all; why don’t I just spend all of my time talking about writing?
What I told her, basically, was this: when I talk about those things, I am talking about writing. How can I manage good characterization if I don’t understand the complexities of human behavior, and their motivations? How plausible will my fantasy worlds be, if they don’t demonstrate the power dynamics and cognitive fallacies which shape our own societies — i.e., what readers will expect to see, given their own likely experiences? Apart from the fact that the stuff I retweet and comment upon affects me personally — e.g. race and gender issues, gaming, Amazon vs Hachette — these things are also story material. In The Kingdom of Gods, Dekarta’s personality is shaped by being a mixed-race person who cannot pass as Amn, in a society that has privileged and applied value to Amn “purity” for generations. That’s not a personal experience for me, but when you read enough stories like this about supposedly-loving parents who nevertheless consider their child’s brownness to be a “loss” for which they should be compensated… well. It’s easy to extrapolate. In The Broken Kingdoms, when Oree knows better than to expect justice of Shadow’s system of law enforcement — that part is personal experience, and also reading a thousand news articles about how police victimize and disproportionately target the poor and people of color and trans people and so on. Many of the scenarios in The Shadowed Sun are drawn from everything I’ve read and lived on how sexual abuse is handled in societies which are in denial about having a problem with sexual abuse, and which simultaneously point fingers at other “more barbaric” societies. And so on. Sure, it’s all fantasy… but I’ve always been firmly of the opinion that the various whoppers of fantasy (e.g. dream-stalking ninja priests) go down easier if they’re coated in realistic human structures and interactions.
That’s the whole point of speculative fiction for me, really — playing the “what-if” game. What if, all other things being equal and people being people, the apocalypse happened every few hundred years? What if, all other things being equal and people being people, gods lived among us, and were sometimes real assholes? Those what-ifs don’t work without the people being people part. Which means I need to understand people, in the real world, in all their glory and grotesquerie.
So, for those of you who get frustrated by how often I post about Ferguson, or bigotry in video games, or whatever, and who wish I would just stick to writing… well. I get that you might not be interested in the stuff that interests me. But you might want to expand your definition of what’s relevant to writing, is all I’m saying. For the worldbuilder, all the world is necessary fuel.