It’s one of the great goals of a science fiction or fantasy author to create their own world and their own rules and then run with their story as far as they can. Look at Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” or J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Who wouldn’t want a work of fiction of that caliber to their credit? These worlds were different and captivating, in Tolkien’s case so captivating that a whole generation of writers chose to pay homage to his Middle Earth rather than write different worlds that might be overshadowed by his towering work.
Now there’s a whole ‘nother essay or two on the subject of being original versus being derivative, but that’s not exactly where I want to go today. Rather, I wanted to talk about why I’ve chosen to set Project Sumter in what is essentially the world we know, rather than attempting to write a story in a world that is built from scratch.
When you are writing a novel there are any number of reasons you might choose to set your story in the everyday world, or at least a world that is very much like it, with only one or two major differences. You might want the familiarity to help readers adjust to the more fantastic elements (after all, not all readers are ready for full fledged fantasy), you might not have a fully developed world on hand or you may just feel that some element of your story is heavily invested in the real world and doesn’t make sense if transferred over to one you create.
In the case of Project Sumter, the Helix and his friends occupy the real world for three basic reasons.
One, living in something like the modern day real world is part of the superhero genre. Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, Batman and, of course, Superman, along with legions of other comic book characters have always inhabited a world strongly based on the one we live in. While Heat Wave is obviously not a comic book, many of the elements it plays up find their modern day roots in comic books, and in order to emphasize that, one of the things that makes sense is to set it in a world virtually identical to our own.
Two, I am not yet confident in my ability to lay out the breadth and richness of a truly great original world. The kind of careful thought that creates a Middle Earth is breathtaking in its scope. Tolkien wrote about it for his whole life and, even after his death, the full backstory of the world was far from complete. I’ve considered writing my career for barely ten years. I’m not sure it’s reasonable for any author to be up to that kind of a work after such a short period of time. For now, the much smaller tweaks to history that come with writing fiction in the real world will serve to hone my skills. Perhaps one day I’ll have the necessary skill for an endeavor of the world building scale. We’ll see.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the story doesn’t demand it. Superhumans are nothing new in the history of storytelling. From Merlin to Hercules, stories about people with strange and wondrous abilities interacting with normal people are nothing new. If a story does not call for some radical departure from recorded human history to tell, it is probably better of told in the confines of our own world. A story that is made needlessly complex isn’t necessarily better, just more complex. And a complex thing is much harder to do right.
Heat Wave wants to be a piece of speculative fiction set in the real world and I want to do it right. The best way to meet both goals is to set it here in our world, with a slightly different past, perhaps, and see what happens. I hope that you’ll come along for the ride.