World-Building

Even with all the school reading, I cannot seem to put aside 11/22/63, Stephen King‘s newest book. As I’m reading, I can’t help but feel a renewed sense of awe over his skill at world-building. This is nothing new. I’ve been reading him since I was a teenager, but it took several books to really understand his skill, and I’ve only recently been able to truly appreciate the diligence it takes to bring it to life and continue from novel to novel. While I’ve not finished it yet, 11/22/63 is only another example of his ability to create worlds that ring true, seem familiar and are consistent from story to story. To show familiar characters at different stages of development in another story and still make them both credible and recognizable is pretty astonishing, and a welcome hallmark for a Constant Reader.

The first time I encountered his world-building was in It. The evidence was on somewhat of a smaller scale, but it was still indicative of his continuity skills to bring the world from 1957 Derry to 1984 Derry and then to branch it out into the world beyond. The web only grew, as did my appreciation, when I’d read the Dark Tower/Gunslinger series, watching the worlds unfold, overlap, seeing the appearance of the man in black, Randall Flagg, wander between worlds and make his appearance on our side of the veil in The Stand. I was captivated by Eyes of the Dragon, seeing the parallels there, the overlapping story lines for the series I’d just begun and then the sensation of falling down the rabbit hole. I fell harder seeing it pop up in Hearts of Atlantis and even in some of the stories from Everything’s Eventual. I don’t pretend to know all of the overlaps or notice all of the ties from one story into the next. Too many years and other books have come between me and the experiences I’ve had with the stories. My memories aren’t as clear as they probably should be, so I miss things that probably should resonate, but I’m always delighted when I do encounter them.

The most recent instance was last year as I was revisiting It as an audiobook. I was listening on my way to work one morning and my ear caught a name familiar enough to garner my attention, yet I was unable to determine where I’d heard it before. “Dick Hallorann” became an irritating refrain for the ride to work because I kept trying to remember why it felt so significant. My brain itched and squirmed and I hurried into work with more vigor than usual and as soon as I’d fired up my computer, I googled the name. Turns out, it was significant. Dick Hallorann was the cook from the Overlook Hotel that recognized Danny Torrence’s talent for “shining” and had an integral role in the climax of The Shining. His roots are in the same Derry, Maine terrorized by the evil that manifested in so many ways. He fled, only seeing a small glimpse of what was to come…yet the evil was revisited upon him in a Colorado mountaintop hotel in the dead of winter.

Since I’m currently reading 11/22/63, I’m deeply immersed, again, in his world building talents. Jake Epping, aka George Amberson, is traveling in time (without some of the cheesy mechanics I’ve seen in other stories), and without giving too much away from either story, steps into 1958 Derry and has a chat with young Ritchie (beep-beep) and Bev, post-conflict. It’s a brief glimpse into the middle years, the “what happened in between” that the characters themselves are reluctant to discuss, if they even remember at all. For a brief moment, you see them as kids, again, though not as innocent as most and instantly recognizable even before they introduce themselves by name. The part of me that’s most attached to these characters wants to just warn them that more is waiting for them, to enjoy what they can, but as I said, it’s but a brief glimpse, and Jake/George is back on his path (perhaps one following the beam?) to fulfill his own story.

There are other authors who have this same talent and wield it with similar expertise, but not with the same breadth. Jacqueline Carey does an amazing job with her Kushiel series, superimposing a fictional world over a familiar geography, landmarks, and ancient yet familiar cultures. Her world is rich and different from the past, yet familiar enough that it’s easy to immerse yourself in the story. Terre d’Ange and Caerdicca Unitas are fictional places, they resonate with the reader and feel familiar, and Phaedra remains one of my favorite characters ever fully realized and written. (Joscelin, on the other hand, I just wanted to shake until some sense finally fell into place. In his own way, he was endearing for his thick-headedness, but that doesn’t staunch the desire to shake him when it manifested.) While the stories branch across the lives of several characters, there’s a sense of continuity to them and a sense of unity unlike the disjointed yet interconnected King universe. This does not change the fact that Terre d’Ange is a place I’d love to visit, and the Night Court would be my first stop…

Anne Rice is another author who creates vast, interlocking worlds that draw the reader in and begin to feel like home. I will admit that I am referring to the dark, gothic version of Anne Rice. I miss the woman who reveled in the worlds of Lestat and his vampiric peers and the baroque tangle of her Mayfair family. I have not been as impressed with her recent works, and I feel a sense of loss when reading them. I miss the dark depths of her work, the feeling of sliding through the dark underbelly of bright and gleaming places, not only for the lascivious details and the lush experience of slipping into the skins and minds of her most unrepentant characters, but because the newer material doesn’t seem to have the same soul. Somewhat ironic, huh? Angels lacking soul, and vampires and witches rife with them?  But enough about that…. I am intrigued by her upcoming title, but I’m hesitant to buy it. The Wolf Gift seems to promise a return to the Anne Rice I miss, but we shall see on Valentine’s Day.

L. A. Banks is another who did a fantastic job creating a world in which her angel half-breed vampire huntress, Damali, and her vampire lover/husband, Carlos, struggle against Lilith, Satan, and a horde of their minions (Fallon Nuit, Dante and Elizabeth Bathory, just to name a few) as they try to prevent the end of days. The Vampire Huntress series features a well crafted world, with frighteningly plausible characters. With each book, it was like returning home to a world I understood, feared and welcomed, even knowing what stewed beneath my feet in the underworld. This series was my guilty pleasure, and though I’ve not explored her other works yet, I’m saddened by that we won’t be getting any more stories featuring these characters.

N. K. Jemisin has a series with which I’ve become fascinated. Her Inheritance Trilogy series has become pretty addictive. I devoured the first and second books immediately. I’m trying to restrain myself from diving into the third so I can get a handle on my challenge list and to stay caught up with school work, but it is an effort. The binding stares at me from it’s spot in my TBR pile. It watches me while I sleep, and taunts me while I’m reading things far less interesting about the construction of plant cells and the composite cycle of photosynthesis and cell respiration.

These are not the only great world builders out there, but only ones I’ve had more experience with. I’ve done some research on Faith Hunter‘s Jane Yellowrock series and I’m intrigued. From what I’ve read in reviews, her world building skills are pretty spectacular. Her books are also mocking me from my TBR pile. I promise (more to myself , but also to you) ladies, I’ll be reading yours in the next cycle!!

Bottom line is, the world you create for your characters is just as important as your characters and the predicaments they find themselves in. The worlds your characters live in will feel like home to the readers too and they’ll keep coming back for a visit and to explore a little more with them.

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