I Planet Stories

Monday, January 11, 2010

It takes a delicate hand to do certain things in writing, especially in the realms of science fiction and fantasy. Aside from character development, plotting, dialogue, description, pacing, and theme, science fiction and fantasy must overcome the additional hurtle which is world building. As an aspiring writer, I can tell you that world building is tough. Never mind how easy the other guys here make it look. Never mind all the wonderful freelancers we work with, or the submissions for RPG Superstar or Pathfinder Society Open Call—these people are all conspiring to get you to believe the lie that world building happens at the drop of a hat.

It just doesn't work that way.

Not to say that good world building isn't rewarding, both for the creator and the consumer. Who can say they don't enjoy a fantastical world? And yet, as difficult as it is to write good science fiction or fantasy, some authors choose to take on an additional challenge; to marry the two together in an attempt to weave a seamless narrative of swords and spaceships.

Illustration by Kieran Yanner

Piers Anthony's Steppe takes on this challenge with bravado (though more sword than spaceship), using a future simulation of the past to explore both history and imagination. In his imagined year 2332, society revolves around the "Game" of history, where players have to reenact genuinely historical battles without having access to knowledge of that history. Literal twenty to thirty year chunks of time are periodically erased from the society's history in order to facilitate fair play. Enter, Alp: our Ender-Wigginesque (though created before Card was milling about) middle-aged battle-trained warrior from a 9th century mid-Asia steppe (hence, the title) with a really cool horse. How's that for hybridization?

I began reading Steppe for a few reasons (not least of all, the fact that a free copy of the book was among my compensations as an unpaid intern). Additionally, having read little other than academic theory for the past three years (graduation, you elusive tunnel light you!), I was thrilled both by the newness of this 1976 gem, and by the fact that all the research into finding the text had been done for me already; by the wonderfully conceived Planet Stories line. This is cultural archaeology at its finest, folks. It brings light to the shadowy places that academic canon does not reach into. And if nothing else, it opens us up to traditions we didn't know existed (to say nothing bad of Asimov or Clarke, it's nice to mix things up a bit).

Therefore, I can say with certainty that when my time here ends (and I stop getting free stuff), I'll be picking up a Planet Stories subscription for these exact reasons.

Matthew Lund
Editorial Intern

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Tags: Kieran Yanner Piers Anthony Planet Stories Steppe
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