14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
"World-Building" is the volume in the Science Fiction Writing Series edited by Ben Bova devoted to constructing star systems and life-supporting planets. Stephen L. Gillett has a doctorate in geology, was the science columnist at "Amazing Science Fiction" and has written SF under a pseudonym. My doctorate is in rhetorical studies, so I am starting at ground zero when it comes to understanding or at least appreciating the mathematical equations for escape velocity, scaling tidal forces or Roche's limit. While this book thoroughly convinced me that I have no aptitude for writing hard science, I can see how it would be extremely helpful to anyone interested in being on a strong scientific foundation when it comes to writing their own stories.
Gillett's volume has eight chapters: (1) Why World-Build? looks at the necessity of using real science to create the requisite sense of wonder in your science fiction writing; (2) The Astronomical Setting covers the important differences between planets and stars in general and gravity, orbits, seasons and tidal action in particular; (3) Making a Planet details how the formation of a planetary system impacts the resulting planets and the options for story writing; (4) The Earth looks at the interconnected aspects that make interesting variations possible with the home worlds you create because of plate tectonics, water and air, magnetic field, colors, etc.; (5) The Ancient Earth deals with avoiding the "Cenozoic Earth Syndrome" (creating an alien world by making a few slight changes on ancient earth) by better understanding our ancient past as an inspiration for creativity; (6) The Other Planet looks at the wealth of data we have accumulated from our deep space probes as another source of inspiration; (7) Stars and Suns looks at how such heavenly bodies can supporting interesting planets as well; and (8) Not as We Know It discusses differences in volatile content (e.g., wetworlds, nitroworlds, brimstone worlds) as a final means of providing major scope for variation in words.
Hopefully this will provide you enough information to decide if "World-Building" will help you in writing your own Science Fiction. I appreciate that for some people this book does not go far enough, but certainly for the vast majority of us it gives us enough information that we will not thoroughly embarrass ourselves when it comes to creating new worlds for our characters to inhabit and visit.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 12 June 2007
If you care for the "science" in SF, this book is for you: When it first appeared on the market, it was sort-of-required reading for every serious SF writer, role-playing game master - and a very good introduction to the science of star systems and possible life-bearing planets.
That was in 1995 - and by a strange coincidence, that was exactly the year when the first planet outside the solar system was discovered. Since then, more than 300 exoplanets have been discovered. Our knowledge of exoplanets has been, and is, expanding very fast. That means a lot in this book is outdated - 12 years in an active area of science is an eon.
Then again, it still is one of the best, most accessible and complete introduction to the subject, and specifically with the SF writer in mind. Many of the ideas and points discussed here are still intriguing and not outdated, and most of the basic scientific assumptions are still valid.
After completing this work, you might consider Jon F. Zeigler's "GURPS Space", which includes the most accurate and up-to-date star system construction kit for gamers and writers alike. If you are truly ambitious and remember at least some of your high school science, you might even try university-level textbooks on astrobiology (the one by Horneck and Rettberg would be my favorite).
But even then: If you plan to use your knowledge to actually write good SF based on it, Stephen Gillett has a huge lot of good advice for you.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 17 August 2002
This is an excellent book, and really gives a superb guide to the variety of world that may be out there. The chapter on alien worlds is very informative and well considered. My two main criticisms of this book are that 1) it is a little out of date, we do now know of planets orbiting other stars, and 2) an appendix would be useful containing some more advanced calculations for those who want them. Don't be put off though, as this book really is worth the cost.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 August 1998
Last year I decided to get back into SF after an absence of over 15 years. I began a novel that I wanted to have the extra crackle of believability that comes from paying attention to simple physics. I wanted to use real star systems and design planets with orbits, years, and seasons consistent with their positions with respect to their stars. I had some writeups on how to do this (most skimmed from Web searches) but no systematic treatment.
Well, here it is, gang. Pick a nearby star from the Gliese catalog. (Not included...but it's on the Web.) Choose Earth-normal illumination, calculate distance from the star, etc. etc. All the equations are here, with worked-out examples. Just like a Schaum's Outline.
It's easy to read, easy to understand, and anybody who's gone through high school math and posesses a calculator can do it. I set up an Excel spreadsheet with formulas for the various equations, so I can change one value and see the changes that ripple through all the other values. Wonderful fun!
Even if you're not intending to write an SF novel, this book is an excellent popularization of stars and planets and how they relate, with interesting suggestions as to what sorts of "exotic worlds" might be viable and what sorts just wouldn't exist.
I had a blast with this book, and two years from now, if NO WAY IN HELL makes it into print, this book will bear a great deal of the blame, heh-heh.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 31 January 2000
I bought this book on a whim. I was writing a little sci-fi tale for a local writing competition. The tale was originally set on a futuristic earth but after a rewrite I thought it would be better suited to a totally alien planet and society.
Although the book covers a lot of subjects in detail. No book exists that can make you a successful writer. Having said that I found it an enjoyable and thought provoking read. I believe it's strengths lie in it ability to trigger your own imagination. Well recommended
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 1 August 1999
This is a superb guide to world building, firmly grounded in physics yet pushing the envelope of imagination. It contains a number of fascinating ideas which I'm sure will add richness to my SF writing, and at the same time provides lots of useful equations for working out the details. The chapter on planets which might bear life "not as we know it" is the most fascinating, though far too short. However, my one complaint is about that chapter. Gillett is repeatedly too quick to assume that the absence of fire and uncorroded metals would trap an alien race in the Stone Age forever. An imaginative writer could surely think of other routes to technology. Overall, though, a splendid book and an invaluable resource for the hard-SF writer.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 November 1998
I can not say enough about World Building. The whole Science Fiction Writing Series is fantastic, but World Building stands above them all. Stephen Gillett does a wonderful job of showing how planets, both exotic and ordinary, develop and how life would work on those worlds. I highly recomend this book to anyone writing science fiction!