Science books for the fantasy writer
November 4, 2018 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Looking for books that cover science topics- geology, sociology, physics, whatever- in a way that's useful for fantasy writers' worldbuilding.

There's a specific astronomy book I'm thinking of as the model for this question, whose name and author I have sadly forgotten (if anyone reading this question recognizes it, tell me!). It described various planets, based on taking Earth and making a change, with a discussion of the various effects on the planet's surface conditions such a change would create. One that really stuck in my mind was (I think) a change to Earth's size that made it a bunch of continents covered in water...

The other prompt for this question is N.K. Jemisin's world building classes. She always starts with some basic geology/earth science set up, how the winds would blow and weather patterns as the result of the arrangement of continents.

So I'm looking for books in this genre, ones that explain how changes in base conditions create various different worlds, the carry-on effects of x,y,z. My two examples are more geology, but tweaks to physics totally works, or books discussing different ways societies could be built, or maybe history tweaks (just not exhaustive alternative histories, please) etc. The basic idea is anything that educates about a topic in a very what-if worldbuildy-useful fashion, where it takes an idea, educates around the basic science behind it, and discusses the implications if something changes.

Or, more loosely, anything that really opens up the mind and imagination in a worldbuildy way, but with some grounding in science.
posted by Cozybee to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Marie Brennan has a series of anthropology-oriented blog posts that are supported by Patreon.
posted by yarntheory at 10:44 AM on November 4, 2018

Some of the best resources I've found for building up this kind of knowledge are in the bibliographies of lighter non-fiction titles. Find some non-fiction that you'd like to read (or have read) and check out where they sourced the info from. It's usually a goldmine.

My most recent personal example was Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods - I made a rather sizable list of nature/geology/weather-related titles to read that I imagine would be invaluable for creating really detailed, believable fantasy/science-fiction worlds.
posted by prism4tic at 11:19 AM on November 4, 2018

A Short History of Science and Technology to 1900. This book is painfully dry, but unbelievably useful in understanding exactly the origins of various technological areas. This goes into pre-history, Egyptian history, middle-eastern history, eastern history, and medieval history and the interconnectedness of all of these technologies... This was a tough book, but one of the ones that maintained my interest in interdisciplinary engineering.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:20 PM on November 4, 2018

I just happened to see this blurbed on Scalzi's blog: Putting the Science in Fiction
posted by hydropsyche at 4:17 PM on November 4, 2018

For anything to do with world building or language creation for fiction, MeFi's Own Zompist is a huge resource. Perhaps his "Planet Construction Kit" would be useful? I'll ping him to see if he has any additional suggestions.
posted by gemmy at 4:51 PM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

/r/worldbuilding wiki
posted by WCityMike at 6:13 PM on November 4, 2018

For the astronomy book, you may be thinking of What If the Moon Didn't Exist, by Neil Comins. It's great, lots of neat scenarios and scientific speculation. There's a sequel, too.

The nice thing about conworlding is that just about anything non-fiction is relevant. Marvin Harris's books on anthropology are very useful and thought-provoking. This AskMefi has some recs on history and religion. And yeah, read my books. :) If nothing else, they all have annotated bibliographies.

Don't forget biology. Dougal Dixon's After Man is a classic imagining of future biological changes. Olivia Judson's Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation is an amusing but well-grounded intro to the different approaches to sex different animals take.

It's a hobby that can get out of hand, so don't forget to actually write the stories, and don't feel that every bit of worldbuilding you did must be inserted into the text...
posted by zompist at 6:34 PM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

You might be interested in How England Made the English, obviously specific to England but goes into detail of why settlement patterns, construction materials, types of agriculture developed the way they did in England and what drives regional differences.
posted by atrazine at 4:11 AM on November 5, 2018

posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 9:53 AM on November 6, 2018

Btw I've been reading the book Consider the Fork and it fits into what I was hoping to find with this ask, as it explains in detail the cultural changes created by different technologies
posted by Cozybee at 9:52 PM on December 4, 2018

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