Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Successful Technologies Endure: Deepening your world

Today my family and I went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. It was really awesome. Among other things, we saw the original star-spangled banner which flew over Fort McHenry during the defense of Baltimore in war of 1812 and inspired the song by Francis Scott Key. It was very moving. The other thing that really struck me was a house.

This house was amazing. Not because of any single feature of the house, but because of its history. It had been built back in the 1700s before the Revolutionary War, and eventually been disassembled and moved to the museum from its original location in Massachusetts. The museum had set up the house with different key rooms restored to their original condition - and as you walked around the house, each room had been decorated to show a different period from the house's history, along with associated artifacts and portraits of the people who had lived there. It was a whole narrative of American history created through the use of this one house.

I can certainly see how this ties back to my post about focusing worldbuilding efforts on a single artifact (in this case a house). The other thing it makes me think of is how this house was still around in this neighborhood in Massachusetts up until the 1960's before it was moved. The same house. The same place. 200 years. Four separate families.

Successful objects and technologies endure.

I mean, after all, did you use a fork today? What about chopsticks?

I saw this house, which must have stayed around while some things changed around it and others did not. I also visited the Capital, which has been around looking pretty much the same for an awfully long time with things changing around it.

The old and the new coexist everywhere. I noticed this very keenly when I lived in Kyoto, Japan for a year, but it's true of your home too. Your fancy new photo printer uses paper. Paper is pretty old. The way carpenters work wood to build houses has been innovated, but probably not that much. Nails have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. Mirrors have been around for thousands, though their current form is different.

The same should be true of your world.

Take a look around it. What is old? What is new? Who lived in this house before its current residents? Is there any evidence available for that? Is there anything that has had one meaning for one group of residents that has a different meaning for a later group?

I must cackle when I say that I do this for Varin. I have secrets up my sleeve (quite a number of them). The old buildings, like the Eminence's Residence and the Imbati Service Academy, didn't used to be called what they are now called, and were used similarly, but by entirely different groups in Varin's past. There's a reason why the capitals on the columns of the Academy are shaped like flames. There's a block of red stone on the threshold of the Academy's front gate which reads, "Cross this threshold with a pure heart, and the Mysteries shall be revealed." The Imbati mark, the lily crest tattoo, didn't always used to be a caste mark, and wasn't always worn on the forehead.

It's not only interesting, it's fun. Mwa-ha-ha!


  1. Interesting post Juliette and all very true. It's hard to predict exactly what will endure and what will change beyond recognition. As SF authors we can only guess but you would thing the tried and tested tools that we use for basic functions on a day to day basis will survive relatively unchanged. On a related note, one of the criticisms my first novel received was that one of my characters was smoking a cigarette. The reviewer thought that newer drugs would be available in the future. I guess they had a point but still, tobacco's been around since the 1500's. No reason to believe it won't still be with us 500 years from now.

  2. Thanks, Stuart! I think there's no need to predict exactly...guessing is too much fun! I see your point about tobacco. Nobody ever complains about forks in stories. :)

  3. BTW, I was at that same museum on June 4th, although we only had time to visit a few of the exhibits. ;)

  4. Cool, JDsg! We only went to two, I think - an opportunity left for next time. Since my parents live in DC now, we are likely to have another shot at it before long.