On Worldbuilding and Comparative Politics

One of the fun parts of creating a new story world is, of course, worldbuilding: deciding what’s going on and how all the pieces work.

One of the fun-but-actually-a-trap parts is skimming over parts of worldbuilding. Don’t know how that alien species organizes its society or what might have had to change to adapt to a cold planet with an extremely dense atmosphere? Don’t need to! They’re only in one scene anyway!

When you’re writing a one-off, this is less of a problem. When you’re writing a series, it comes back to bite you in the nethers fast.

Which is why I spent my last two weeks-with-the-flu on comparative politics.

I minored in political science in undergrad, but I haven’t thought seriously about international or comparative politics since 2003 (2005 if you count the class in transnational law I took in law school, which I do not as I did not think about it all that seriously while I was in it).

Even from my professors in these classes, I heard very little about how understanding politics was cross-discipline-arily relevant.

And I never took any class in “how thinking for a while about inter-political-subgroup politics can fix your galaxy-sized sci-fi plots.”

How the Bloody Hell to Start Thinking Politically

Here’s what I spent my flu time reading, in between scribbling notes:

  • The SparkNotes guide to international politics. My minor, summarized. Great for reminding me what I paid for back in the day. There are subguides on topics like international agreements and war, as well.
  • The History of the Standard Oil CompanyIda M. Tarbell (link is to Wikipedia but the full-text pdf is available from multiple sources online). I had to memorize the title and author in 10th grade history class, but the book itself is way more interesting. On top of being a primer for the creation of the most notorious monopoly in U.S. history, it’s just straight-up entertaining.
  • Raven StratagemYoon Ha Lee. The sequel to Ninefox Gambit and an outstanding example of how “worldbuilding past Book 1, particularly when you want to get political about it” works. And frankly just plain one of my favorite sci-fi novels ever.
  • My own drafts and notes. I’m maddeningly vague about some points, like who exactly the Devori are and where the hell they come from. I’m maddeningly specific about others, like the precise number of languages spoken on Viida (4,612 at the last census). Making sure I get my own facts straight is a big deal.

And various things I found on Google, like the ten largest companies on the planet and what they’re into (retail, energy, cars, and tech, in that order).

Because I’m writing about a fictional 24th century, almost none of it is directly applicable. But all of it tells me what’s being done, which makes it easier to figure out what might be done.

Next time: some results.

I write faster on coffee. You can buy me one for more entertainment and advice.




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