Fantasy novels are known for their incredible detail and fantastic settings. From Middle Earth to Westros, stories often live or die depending on where they’re set. Martha Wells, who’s recently released the latest installment of her Raksura series, outlines how she builds her own worlds.
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Your latest book, The Edge of Worlds picks up in your Books of the Raksuraseries, the first three of which were published in 2011/2012. Why pick up the series again after four years?
Actually there have been two other books that are part of the series, a two volume set of novella and story collections. Stories of the Raksura I: The Falling World & The Tale of Indigo and Cloud, which came out in 2014, and Stories of the Raksura II: The Dead City & The Dark World Below, which came out in 2015.
I kept going with the series because I’m still having a lot of fun with the world. I love writing about my matriarchal bisexual polyamorous flying lizard-lion-bee people, and I’ve had encouraging words from a lot of readers who wanted to see more stories about them.
There were elements of the world that I had in mind since I started the first book that I hadn’t had a chance to explore yet, and I wanted to take the opportunity to take the story to the conclusion I originally had in mind for it.
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Your books have frequently received praise for your world building, and I noticed that you had studied anthropology in college: how has that figured into your writing? What’s most important when creating a new world?
I think that when I was trying to create imaginary worlds, it helped me to know how the real world works. Even if I was going to have a world with so much magic that physics and biology are affected and changed by it.
Studying how real-world cities worked at various times in history, and how cultures and religions change over time, and the kind of technologies that cities in the ancient world developed, and how different cultures interacted with each other, all helped fuel my imagination and let me create my own cultures and cities.
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Are there any particular cultures or religions that you’ve been drawn to when it comes to building new worlds? Who do you reconcile the lessons of modern cities and society and utilize them in a fantasy world?
I don’t think I’m drawn to any particular culture. I love looking at places like Mohenjo-daro or medieval Benin City, for example, with interesting infrastructure. One of the things I’m working on right now is a fantasy city using a lot of magical technology and figuring out how they would use it for things like mass transportation. There are a lot of strange and forbidding places in the series, but it’s also fun to come up with environments that people would actually like to live in.
Link to the rest at i09