Earlier this month I attended my first meeting of a local book group that specializes in historical mysteries. The current mystery was Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun. Huh? What does a story set far in the future share with stories set fifty or five hundred years in the past?
Lots, I soon realized. Readers explore an unfamiliar world through the eyes of characters already at home there, who rarely pause to explain what’s going on. Interspersed with the puzzles in the plot is the puzzle of figuring out how an alien society works. It's like foreign travel without a guidebook or interpreter. As a reader of historical novels, I may try wrapping my mind around futuristic science fiction more often.
Writers' workshops on “world building” attract historical novelists and science fiction writers alike. As an author, how do you convey the sounds, smells, customs, technology of an alien culture? Its assumptions, habits, day-to-day relationships? Because of the need to build a world, novels in both genres are typically longer than most other fiction (see sample word counts here and here). The need to keep a mystery moving adds a delicious challenge.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.