Tag Archives: worldbuilding

Vironevaeh: 19 years of love

Like so many of us sci-fi-ers, I grew up on science fiction television. I remember watching Star Trek Next Generation in a high chair, and later I watched Babylon 5 and Voyager. I feared the space under the bed because my brother told me it contained a black hole. I drew aliens, made up planets, and wrote in codes. Once a friend cut the bridge of my nose with a hardcover book during horseplay, and I was delighted to declare myself Bajoran.

In 5th grade, we had the city project; we had to invent a city, describe its economy, design a model of it, and write a small essay. It was my catalyst. I created a city called Vironevaeh, set on a distant planet, colonized by humans from Earth in the distant future. My languages, my maps, my characters, my aliens now had a focal point.

That was 19 years ago. Once a year, I like to look back and celebrate all the fun I’ve had since. Dreaming about world building made me look at our own world in odd ways.

For now, Vironevaeh is just my little place. Maybe someday it will be something different, but more than anything, I love the journey.

Trips down memory lane

Below are a pair of landscapes, one from years ago and one from last year. My longing to depict Vironevaeh forced me to draw for a purpose. The pencil drawings was one of my first landscapes ever. The poster was an homage, and and another experiment in new territory: art nouveau and posters.

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Maps

Maps are a simple staple of scifi and fantasy, but drawing maps made me ask a lot of questions. What kinds of geology could happen on a planet that could still sustain humanoid life? Or non-humanoid? Where should lakes, mountains, deserts, and oceans be in a realistic environment? What kinds of names would places have? What names would be linguistically compatible? What kind of linguistic range could I expect on a planet–how much would it vary in a place with a global culture versus one with regional cultures? What kind of stories would I tell about the people on such planets based on the map, and for the people whose stories I had already imagined, what kinds of maps would that require? Maps seem dry and factual on the surface, but I found myself asking a million such second-level questions. I love maps.

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Storytelling

Vironevaeh filled me with stories, but I struggled to express them as I felt them. I have written my stories so many ways. Nowhere is that more rapidly evident than in my portraits. Below are four portraits of a character over six or so years. I had to learn to get the details right and be honest with myself where it wasn’t right. As ever, it’s a work in progress.

Places for the people

Maps and people weren’t the end, I wanted to know how the streets looked. That’s really hard! There’s architecture and materials, and then there’s imagining the landscape and how such things would fit in. I studied pictures of streets from around the world. I find this aspect the most challenging, but maybe also the most rewarding.

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Stories of a new world

As I told stories about a new world, I wondered about their stories. And when I told them, I found that they fit everywhere. How many references to the garden of Gethsemane exist in western literature? A new place would have new Gethsemanes. Below are two images from mythology about a mouse, and new people finding that mouse in new constellations.

It’s never the end. Next year I’ll have new thoughts to share. Every year I am a new person, and Vironevaeh is a new place.

The slow and steady

Over six months ago, I challenged myself to do 100 illustrations of my city of Vironevaeh, the fictitious city that is the unspellable namesake of this website. I would build my world in myriad ways, practice art, and create some beautiful scenes. On Thursday, I finished the fiftieth color image. I have images of city streets, markets, pets, agriculture, constellations, architecture, pastimes, clothing, family, and weather.

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Eventually, I will have descriptions for each of them, and a place on the map. Eventually there will be at least 50 more. It’s a lot of work to do for something that probably won’t mean much to anyone besides me. But Vironevaeh is a city at my side for over 17 years, and it will mean a lot to me. I am so pleased with my progress. Here are a couple of my favorites:

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A man showing a child constellations in the sky. These constellations are of Abenn the hermit and Peep the mouse, who hid away on Neva the spaceship. These legendary figures are the subject of my recent and free fairy tale The Lonely Man on the Ship. Sharp eyes may note that the people here are blue and green.

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Children running with a kite in the countryside. A pretty typical scene even here on Earth, except for the lovely purple Vironevaehn sky. Also the fact the fog in the valleys behind them could be brain-eating. All in normal day!

Soon I’ll bind up a little fun book of my favorite ten illustrations, but for now, I’m basking. Onto the next milestone!

Cityscapes

Whenever I travel, I bring my camera. It remembers the little details I can’t. Then I come home and the photos take me back to those places. They are also great resources for illustration and imagining. Last week I posted some word building illustrations. When I try to imagine and build what doesn’t exist, photos of what does provide invaluable insight. Between my photos and google searches, I work toward my vision for each piece of each illustration. Below are a few favorite cityscapes I pulled out of my files. Whether from street level or from above, each provides a window into the culture of each city.

Cabo san Lucas waterfront.

Cabo san Lucas waterfront.

New York City from the Rockefeller Building.

New York City from the Rockefeller Building.

On the street in Portland, OR.

On the street in Portland, OR.

Ghent, Belgium.

Ghent, Belgium.

Bergen, Norway.

Bergen, Norway.

Prague, CZ (a place called nazdrazi holesovice, if my notes are to be trusted).

Prague, CZ (a place called nazdrazi holesovice, if my notes are to be trusted).

Cesky Krumlov, CZ.

Cesky Krumlov, CZ.

Baltimore waterfront.
Baltimore waterfront.

 

Science Fiction Worldbuilding

One thing I love about science fiction is worldbuilding. When you go to a new place, you take in the architecture, the language, the food, the weather, how someone enters a house, how someone insults another person… These things exist in any culture, but they vary, sometimes radically. In science fiction, the creator tries to imagine these things in a logical and consistent manner for a time that hasn’t happened yet, for planets unknown, with the very constants of life such as gravity and oxygen subject to change. And yet the end product, when successful, is similar to travel–we visit a place that is deeply familiar in the fundamental ways and yet different in ways that provoke thought.

(Some people think that there is too much worldbuilding–I don’t agree. I think the author can tell too much of their own personal worldbuilding process and not consider the reader enough. However, I speak from a place of no authority, so take my opinion for what it is worth.)

In the last few weeks, I’ve been working on illustrations of street life in my city inspired by Hiroshige’s 100 views of Edo. Even after 17 years working on this world, I see many new things this way.

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On the hill in the background is the outline of an old storm tower, shaped a bit like a lighthouse. The old fortifications stood high on the hills with thick walls to withstand the storms.SONY DSC

The view west from a storm tower, to give early warning of storms. In the early days of the city, storms caused flash flooding and devastation.SONY DSCGleaming cities often have unsavory hidden parts, sometimes literally lurking around the corner.

So far I’ve done about 20 illustrations. I’d like to do at least 100. In each one I feel more comfortable with previous details. I’ve looked up references of European and Moroccan and Japanese architecture (mostly the European showing in these three samples). Now I’ve started incorporating old sketches over a decade old. The city feels all the more real to me (it’s great inspiration for story ideas and details), and the work is great fun.