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Tuesday, 27 August 2013

On world building and the nature of televisual enjoyment

I have watched two things lately, the marvellous reviews by SF Debris and series 1 of supernatural. 
I enjoyed the first but not the latter. I assumed this was just because Supernatural was badly written, poorly acted and rather discriminatory but then I watched Buffy and I realised another factor: Genre Preference.

Now scifi and fantasy are so close as to be practically indistinguishable, especially at the pulp end that there's little actual difference between something like Doctor Who and something like Supernatural. Hell both have taken on shadow monsters and the only real difference is in the nature of the fictitious explanation "It's a ghost so we find its corpse, salt it and burn it" "You're smart, you can make that space suit walk so you can make it talk to, in which case I'm the Doctor and you're in the largest library in the universe, look me up"

The thing is though I don't actually think Doctor Who is that great a show. I owe it a great debt for turning my life around but what made me a whovian was the books, which did what the shows SF Debris reviews do: World building. 

Doctor Who the TV show is a genre machine but the Doctor Who books tell the story of a great and horrific universe one slice of time and space at a time. That's what I love. That's why I want to watch the post next generation Star Trek, that's why I want to watch Farscape and Babylon 5: World Building

I'm tempted to throw in a joke here about the reason I love world building being that I love The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy or make a pretentious statement that world building is just wonderful or a necessity but that's rubbish. The TV series of Doctor Who might sketch out a little of the world and accrue continuity over time but it doesn't need the kind of world building I'm talking about to be fantastic. Equally while I detest A Game Of Thrones for being an overly long, overly expensive, boring piece of drek that's insulting and vile the one thing it does do is world build.
No, the reason I love world building and find it adds to a piece is that I am sorely deficient in it as a writer. I am studying creative and professional writing at university, so my writing is a bit of a big deal for me and my problem has always been basically that I had this cracking idea for a multiverse but zero confidence about what to put in it. I want my series to be plausible and rationally explainable, if complex and screwy so I am very hesitant about putting alien races out there. 
I don't want my races to be insulting stereotypes made flesh and I'm torn between making aliens that are truly alien thus cool and realistic or aliens that are humanoid thus easy to empathize with and more plausible. Realistic here meaning 'likely to happen from a science perspective' and plausible 'expected to happen from a viewer perspective.
More than that though there's the issue of having multiple sentient races per universe butting heads with those that dwell in the multiverse. I want/wanted to write the next Doctor Who, a weekly problem of the week show that accrued continuity over time but a more adult series with serious character development. Fitting gags, character development, continuity build up and serious multiverse building is a huge task. A monumental, hide under the covers task. One I don't want to face head on.

Watching scifi shows with world building though shows me what I am facing indirectly. It lets me see where others have succeeded or failed in the own universes so I can begin putting things together in my own multiverse. I am not a great writer yet and it's arguable that I'm not even a good writer but through these great scifi shows I can become just that little bit greater and ultimately that's what Buffy, Indiana Jones and Supernatural lack, the benefit to my vocation.

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