Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured in anthologies and magazines. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for
Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor,
he’s edited a novels and nonfiction. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.
What is culture?
1. the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.; 2. that which is excellent in the arts, manners, etc.; 3. a particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation or period: Greek culture.; 4. development or improvement of the mind by education or training.; 5. the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.
me, the most significant of these for world-building purposes are
numbers 1 and 5. The others play a role, yes, but they really flow out
of 1 and 5. Artistic excellence comes from education, training, and from
behaviors and beliefs of an age, social or ethnic group. And the
determination of excellence various by your age, social and/or ethnic
group. Each of these groups has different influences and tastes. Number
3, stagesof culture, is a period, part of the larger, developing
picture. So, when I talk about culture in world-building I want to be
clear: I am talking about the qualities in persons or societies which
arise from concerns for what is excellent in arts, letters, manners,
etc. and the characteristic behaviors and beliefs of those persons or
societies, divided by age, ethnic and social group.
create a more realistic world, culure is essential because how people
react to different events, people and situations is dependent upon their
culture. Culture is an influence on how we life, what we value, and how
we view the world and everything in it. It affects our understandings
of joy, of meaning, of excellence, and of so much else. It affects how
we choose to spend leisure time an what we even consider that to be. It
affects our determinations of what is creativity and which results of
creative action applied are worthy of respect and admiration and which
The culture in the Borali Alliance of my Saga of Davi Rhii
novels (The Worker Prince, The Returning, The Exodus-forthcoming 2013)
has similar social divisions to many on Earth, particularly those of the
Western world cultures. The Boralians are, after all, colonists who
emigrated to the stars to escape fighting on Earth. The rich and
powerful are the elite. The middle class are somewhere between and are
workers. The lower class are the slaves and servants. There’s some
blending, yes. Your richest man’s servant may be paid wages that make
him or her middle class, for example. But along with this class division
comes a mindset. Not only the mindset of who your higher ups tell you
you are, but also the mindset of whom you think you are determine where
you fit. Some are on a fine line between groups. Others are more firmly
placed. But the level of comfort they have in their identity affects how
they live and react to various situations.
the same way, those who are wealthy are less likely to pursue artistic
pursuits. They enjoy art appreciation and funding the arts, not just for
enjoyment but also to claim they are generous or to act as benefactors
to society, thus improving their reputation and spreading their names.
But the actual artisans tend to be servant class, and, occasionally
middle class. It takes a special class and skill to do art that’s worthy
of admiration and there’s not much money in it, but it does elevate you
as you succeed in prestige, reputation and demand for your presence and
wealthy, especially those who serve in the governing group, the Council
of Lords and the Royal Palace, tend to think as if they are genetically
deserving, despite the fact these positions are elected. They support
this false impression by voting in each other’s heirs to positions and
thus helping to perpetuate the sense that you are born into power.
Artisans take on apprenticeships and endowments, etc. And many business
owners pass their business acumen and, they hope, their businesses to
heirs. I think you get the idea.
various goals and differences and understandings of place, role, and
opportunity to move up or down or sideways affect how each person in
each group relates to the others and goes about life and how they dream,
what they dream, how they live, etc. Thinking through these things is
vital to lend a sense of realness to your worlds because all worlds, as
we know them, tend to have hierarchies. And the characters must
understand the hierarchy and their place in it to be comfortable in the
world. We as readers must also understand to get a sense of the order of
addition to all of that, of course, and even some of these details
don’t necessarily get discussed openly in the novels due to space, etc.
but the story itself is affected by culture because at the heart of this
story, people are trying to move themselves from a forced grouping, as
Vertullians and slaves, into free, equal citizens, thus, those who are
wealthier want to join the upper classes. Only a few attempt and even
fewer succeed. Others want to join the middle class. And still others
move laterally from slave servants to free servants. But even that small
adjective affects how they view themselves and their rights. Davi Rhii,
our protagonist, drop a bit in class and that’s part of his arc, moving
from prince to slave in The Worker Prince, and then having to move from salve to free man and find his place in the middle in The Returning.
all that comes a sense of the value of education and the opportunities
it provides as well as its limits. The importance of art, money,
property, vehicles, etc. All of these things are different between
classes and individuals in many ways but form the heart of cultural
values and understandings in the world.
you thought through the implications of all of this for your world? If
not, you should. Even if most of it doesn’t go in the book directly, it
will be reflected in the relationships, attitudes and actions of the
characters and thus subtly portrayed for and understood by your readers.
So much of what we do in fiction is subtle and unspoken. Readers grasp
it based on their own education, class, social, ethnic, and class levels
and how their worldviews and understandings interact with the nuances
of the material. Without sitting down and being asked specific
questions, most would never likely be able to tell you what those
nuances are. They might not even be consciously aware of them. But if
they are missing from the text, they will be missed and noticed, at the
very least, subconsciously, and your world will, as a result, feel
incomplete. It will lack layers of reality they expect to be there, and,
thus, be weakened in those readers’ minds.
areas of culture have you concerned yourself with in your writing? What
are the unique approaches you’ve taken? Have you gone so far as to
define specific art forms, styles, genres, etc.? Or do you deal with
those more generally? Have you defined them by artistic terms, social
terms, age group or ethnic terms? What are your criteria? Thinking
through questions like these and coming up with the answers will be
invaluable to your world-building. Readers picking up your books and
stories will do the same. And if they corner you at a Con or event to
ask those questions, you’ll actually be able to give an articulate,
reasonable answer. Not a bad thing for the “god” of a world to be able
to do, right? For what it’s worth...
In Bryan’s second novel, The Returning
, new challenges arise as Davi Rhii’s rival Bordox and his uncle, Xalivar, seek revenge for his actions in The Worker Prince
putting his life and those of his friends and family in constant
danger. Meanwhile, politics as usual has the Borali Alliance split apart
over questions of citizenship and freedom for the former slaves.
Someone’s even killing them off. Davi’s involvement in the investigation
turns his life upside down, including his relationship with his
fiancée, Tela. The answers are not easy with his whole world at stake.