Monday, September 29, 2008

Playing God

As I prepare to pack for Germany, I'm going through the hand-outs I use when teaching writing. One of these is a nifty monograph by Poul Anderson and Stephen L. Gillett called "How To Build a Planet." It starts with the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram of stars, with instructions on choosing one likely to have viable planets, and then goes through how to figure out such planetary factors as gravity, axial tilt, energy received per square foot, etc. These, of course, translate into seasons, weather, plausible biomass, and everything else that makes a believable world on which to set an SF story.

Poul Anderson published the first version of this article long ago in the SFWA Bulletin. Many authors wrote the Bulletin to express gratitude for the article. One person, however, sent the following letter, which was included in the next issue:

Dear Mr. Anderson,
That is not the way I do it.
Yours truly,
God

Well, maybe not. But since God's methods seem unavailable to most writers, we do it any way we can. The updated Anderson/Gillett article is a great help; I recommend it. And it doesn't even take seven days and seven nights.

3 comments:

bluesman miike Lindner said...

I read that, Nancy, and found it mighty. But don't most stories take place on something like Earth? What happens on the gas planets is anybody's guess.

WHAT IS THE NEW GOSSIP AMONG THE FOLK OF THE WATER PLANET? ARE FRANK AND EVA STILL TOGETHER?--VYTHHOT OF JUPITER (HAVE MANY IRON LIMBS--WILL TRAVEL)

Tim of Angle said...

I believe that Stephen Gillett expanded it into a book published by Writer's Digest called "World Building". I'm pretty sure it's still available; my copy isn't all that old.

gdtownshende said...

I've got a copy of that! Published by Rusch's Pulphouse Publishing, back in 1991. It was part of their WRITER'S CHAPBOOK SERIES. Chapbook #19. Still have it, in fact. Got it right in front of me. (I just had to go grab it, when I saw that you mentioned it.) I bought it in at the World SF Convention in San Francisco, back in 1993 (I was living in Sunnyvale, at the time). I bought four others along with that chapbook: SETTING and CHARACTERS, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, AUTHORS VS. EDITORS, by Stanley Schmidt, and HOW TO INCREASE YOUR WRITING PRODUCTIVITY, by Kevin J. Anderson.

Poul autographed a couple of his books for me at that convention: THE HIGH CRUSADE, THE BOAT OF A MILLION YEARS, and a third, which was either THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS or THE AVATAR or TAU ZERO. For the life of me, I can't remember which.

As I recall, I also met Marty Helgesen, the editor and publisher of RADIO FREE THULCANDRA, at that convention, as well as Ross Pavlac, who was very active in the conventions in Chicago.

What memories you've stirred up!