Building your world

There are several definitions of Science Fiction and as a writer, a critic and a reader I have my own.

I would not be writing this post if I would not have seen the recurring 1934 definition of SF from people around me.

A definition of SF I use

SF is SF when

  1. The consequences of certain inventions and innovations (social, mechanical, political and otherwise) are visible all around the story world
  2. These elements can be considered “futuristic

The key element on which the switching point between “a story that uses SF elements” or “a story I call an SF story” is in world building: the construction of the world in which the story will take place (or already took place before you wrote it down).

When the world building is weak

Say you have a story in which:

  1. Someone invents a time machine
  2. Travels back and forward in time
  3. Has adventures
  4. Comes home
  5. But the world is still the same as we know it

While the time machine is most definitely an SF-element and time travel is not possible now as far as we know, the world building is weak if the invention of that time machine has no further consequences to the world in which the story takes place.

For example…


  1. Time travel (and the invention of…) involves a lot of knowledge in a wide field, the development of several possible theories and the development of instruments to measure certain processes that make time travel possible. This is usually not developed and researched by one single person.
  2. The spin-off of these developments (other things invented and found as a result) usually lead to other inventions. Say: instant communication with high bandwidth. And: teleportation of small objects over great distances as we discover how space and time are and are not real in other dimensional planes (for instance).

Then several other issues come into place:

  1. If time-travel is possible, how do you defend yourself from changes?
  2. What does time travel tell us about our universe and possible parallel worlds?

So: “Time machine” suddenly has expanded to:

  1. Instant communication with incredibly high bandwidth
  2. The possibility of parallel worlds (and possible communication with and to them)
  3. The possible development of teleportation (as time-travel is in a sense teleportation through time and space)
  4. The development of in-between inventions. Like (possibly) the ability to observe other time frames.

Let’s say time travel is indeed important and under development for whatever reasons, who will be doing it and what will be the implications?

  1. The military? Offering options to change history and adjust the future? Or to travel forward in time and observe multiple outcomes of a military action?
  2. Scientists? Researching it with governmental fundings and with the purpose to give it to the world?
  3. Commercial entities? Developing this to.. what?
  4. A mix?

So say in 2021 we start finding the first real evidence that “time travel” is possible. What if time itself is one single line so when you change the past, you change the future as well (instead of just starting another branch of reality)?

  1. What if time is infinite? Having all possible directions and branches of possible events?
  2. What if we are alone?
  3. What if we are one of many parallel worlds, each branching infinitely in time?
  4. What if time itself is resistant to change? So you can change the past, but your life is pretty much predestined
  5. What if changes in probability only affect local space? Branching only local reality? What if that creates “pockets” in time where all these branches are present? What if those pockets eventually merge again to “restore” calm and remove “strain” on the fabric of the universe?

Each of these possible outcomes can lead to totally different types of narratives and world views, influencing the way the people in your world perceive that world and their reality. You can ignore them mostly, ingrain some consequences from the knowledge of one or the other (alone, being just one instance of you) and so on.

The ripple-effect of change of reality

Let’s assume it takes 60 years to develop the first successful time travel. In that 60 years, all kinds of inventions are made to get closer to time travel and many of these inventions are commercialized to make spin-off profits.

Maybe levitation is discovered as part of the research to the question: “what is gravity?” as part of the question: “how does the universe work?” as part of the question: “how can we travel through time?”

Maybe some new fabrics are invented from the research on molecular levels or failed teleportations, leading to stronger building materials and unlimited possibilities for architects

Maybe some proof exists of parallel worlds.

So after 60 years of just research to time travel, we already have a world that can be completely different to ours in many levels, with the potential of floating villages and strange buildings we would otherwise not be able to create with weaker materials. Maybe religion and science and popular culture now all are running away with the idea that you can exists in multiple forms in multiple worlds (and one day even travel to that)

Consider again how “rich” the following concept is from this new perspective:

  1. Someone invents a time machine
  2. Travels back and forward in time
  3. Has adventures
  4. Comes home
  5. But the world is still the same as we know it

It is not really that impressive, anymore. Is it? Even though the element of time-travel is SF, this is just a cute idea, developed into a story, without taking into considerations that the world itself might have changed completely due to the consequences of that “cute idea” that we started with.


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