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Lessons in worldbuilding from N. K. Jemisin (plus a preview of her next book).

Aaron Robertson

November 13, 2019, 11:55am

At the WIRED25 Festival in San Francisco last weekend, author N.K. Jemisin gave attendees a real treat: a two-hour crash course in imagining and building future worlds.

Jemisin is the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, etc. Award-winning author of the Broken Earth series and the Inheritance Trilogy. (Literary Hub recently listed her 2010 novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms as one of the most notable debuts of the last decade.) With the publication of The Fifth Season in 2016, Jemisin made history as the first African-American to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel. She’s a contemporary legend in American letters, the fantasy and sci-fi genres in particular, and arguably one of the most commercially and critically successful authors of the 2010s.

In her workshop, which she designed for a general audience, Jemisin emphasized the relationship between character development and culture. “Macroworldbuilding,” she said, was about the creation of physical and social environments, while microworldbuilding focused on the socially stratified societies that emerged from these settings.

“People go into creating a world that is not like ours with their embedded assumptions about how our world works still firmly in place,” Jemisin told attendees. “So they end up creating our world but with tentacle sharks.”

It was a perfect event for nerding out, apparently, as Jemisin spoke about everything from species and ecology creation, to considerations of power, race, and assimilation in character development.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the evening was the sneak peek of Jemisin’s next book, The City We Became, which comes out in March 2020 from Orbit. The City We Became will be the first part of a new series. It finds Jemisin exploring alien territory: planet Earth.

“For the first time I’m writing in New York City in 2019, and I found it a lot harder, because I can’t just make stuff up,” Jemisin said. “Even though it’s New York and I theoretically know it like the back of my hand, I actually changed something at the universal level in that story, and I had to work through how it would affect the world on down.”

We can’t wait, N. K.!

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