A day before this posting, I finished reading Jon Mollison’s new novel, Adventure Constant, about an astronaut who gets stranded on an alternate Earth where battles are fought with swords and modern tech is nowhere to be found, but counterparts to the familiar modern nations exist. He befriends a Hawaiian warrior and agrees to help him rescue his kingdom’s princess, but little does he realize that the kidnapper has a more sinister plot in mind.
As I read this, I realized something about the tale: it forced me to evaluate settings in a new way and break out of staid thought patterns.
Adventure Constant is a story that cares so much about building a fun world that it completely junks wonkish world-building logic in favor of what sounds cool. No explanation is given for why counterparts to familiar Earth nations sprang up, you do not question why the existence of Carthage, the continued rule of the Pharaohs, and the failed colonization of Africa gave rise to similar historical events, and you do not care to hear about economic minutiae or extensive national backstories. You’re given just enough information to orient you, and the characters get back to the plot. It is yet more proof of a key tenet about fantastical tales: Worldbuilding does not matter.
Yes, you read that right. Worldbuilding doesn’t matter in the least.
The anime Dragonball Z had very little of it and went on to do very well. Pokemon has a very ad-hoc, thrown-together style to its world. There is evidence that much of J. K. Rowling’s worldbuilding was haphazard and after-the-fact, when the series was already a global phenomenon.
And we haven’t even got to the funhouse that is Marvel and DC.
One would say that only one of those is literature; it’s disingenuous to say that a video game, a line of comic books, and an anime show that detailed, Tolkien-style worldbuilding is unnecessary, especially since those properties have a worldwide reach that most works cannot hope to have. However, this does not matter; those works are enjoyed in spite of their worldbuilding flaws because they have something far more important than dull facts and figures: engaging characters (and in Pokemon’s case, engaging gameplay.) Creating characters the reader cares about matters a lot more than making sure a bunch of setting details line up because you are reading a story, not a textbook. Stories are about characters; textbooks are about information.
As Professor Awesome states, too many authors get so caught up in little setting details that they forget to make good characters, often treating them as an afterthought that can be dropped into the thick tangle of the backstory. It’s better to do as Mollison does and focus on the characters and their struggles, not the price of silver in the 15th year of Emperor Whocares’ reign. It will result in a better story overall.
I happily recommend Adventure Constant to anyone who likes an adventurous tale, well told. Buy it here on Amazon.