GB Readalong: Worldbuilding versus the real world
I have lent my copy of Lies of Locke Lamora to more friends than I can count, and all of them have had great things to say about the book. But one of them came back to me saying, "It was really entertaining, but the world building was so insanely detailed! The author kept describing things couldn't picture in terms of other things I couldn't picture. Like what the heck is Austershalin wine?"
Yes, Scott Lynch takes world-building to a whole new level in this series, but that's part of why I love it so much. I'll admit it was hard to keep the different customs and cultures of Camorr, Tal Verrar, and Karthain straight in my head, but I loved that the world was filled in with little details that seem insignificant but can have such a big impact on how you perceive land of the Gentleman Bastards.
Finding Yourself in a Fantasy World
It's one thing to create a world that is full of things familiar to you, and quite another to make a world that has something that any reader can find a bit of themselves in. Scott Lynch makes it clear that there are a wide variety of people in this world, differing in everything from skin tone and to accent to personality. We have shrewd and intelligent women in roles of power, we have nobility and merchants of every skin color, and we have people who have romantic relationships that defy convention. All of these things are just woven into the fabric of the world through minor characters or a passing detail here and there.
And the best part? No one bats an eyelash.
I think one of the hardest parts of creating a fantasy world is that you want it to reflect the real world without beating your reader over the head with all the problems we face in real life. We want to see ourselves in this world, but we don't want all the baggage that we already have to deal with.
Scott put it like this on his tumblr:
While the people of Locke’s world can certainly be vicious, short-sighted, and hateful, I’m squarely opposed to the notion that they need to display perfect analogs of our prejudices. I don’t believe our prejudices are permanent or inevitable....I have difficulty (to provide just one example) with fantasy milieus that, even in the possible service of trying not to ignore important issues, pound the oppression and sexual violation of women into every crevice of the text. This creates a sharp divergence in the reader experience; for readers like me the message is “you can be a central character in a cool adventure, go be brave!” and for people less forthrightly in possession of a Y chromosome the message is “everyone who looks like you might be raped or abused at every turn, go be nervous and agitated!”
It makes me enormously happy that Scott Lynch acknowledges that certain groups of people have real lives that suck, but he doesn't need to build that into his world. Often in the name of realism or world-building, we end up with societies that have all the same problems as ours. It's nice to know that in Camorr, I can be anyone from a badass pirate to a noblewoman who loves botany.
What else is coming?Completely unrelated to the topic above, but still about world-building. A reader asked Scott if there would be characters who are analogous to Asians in his world later on in the series. His answer?
There is an entire hemisphere to Locke’s world that we have not yet seen, and will eventually see, and much will be made clear when we do.
The series starts off as almost a light fantasy, with some magical tools and tricks but nothing all that magical. Then we start seeing things like the Bondsmagi and the alchemical poisons and hints about the Eldren (which I mistakenly referred to as the Elders earlier this week. Oops!).
What else does Scott Lynch have up his sleeve?
I honestly don't really know what else to expect! The city of Camorr has been described with such painstaking detail so far, so it's clear that a lot of planning has gone into it. But we haven't (yet) heard of anything beyond Tal Verrar, Karthain, and Emberlain. If there is a whole new hemisphere waiting for us to discover, who knows what else could be brought into this series! A new system of magic? Other magical races? More political scheming? And how will Locke Lamora find himself on the other side of the world?
All I know for certain is that I am ridiculously excited to find out.