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But Can You Live There?

There’s an old saying (by whom I do not know–a cursory Google search brought up nothing) that goes like this:

Dreamers build castles in the sky;

Lunatics live in them.

I’ve been thinking about this statement a bit today, and specifically how it applies to those of us in the world who spend a great deal of our time building those castles and, to some extent, wishing we lived there at the same time. I’m not sure where this is going, precisely, but I think it’s going to have something to do with fanboyism. Hold on:

I am a sci-fi/fantasy writer. I am a role-player who has custom build games, worlds, and whole mythologies in which to immerse my friends. One setting, Alandar, has been undergoing formation every since I was thirteen or fourteen years old, which means it’s been growing for twenty years. It has countries, people, elaborate histories, economies, religions, languages, cultures and so on and so forth. I know what it’s like to be a tanner in Galaspin and a thaumaturge in Kalsaar just as well as I know what it’s like to be an English teacher and writer in Boston. Close, anyway.

As a sci-fi/fantasy fan, there are the worlds of other authors I also know and love so well I feel as if I could dwell there. I know the sands of Tatooine and of Arrakis; I can imagine what it would be like to be accepted to Starfleet Academy or how I would feel if I were to see the Golden Throne looming before me beneath the blackened skies of Holy Terra. The thing is, though, I don’t live in those places and I don’t want to. I like where I am just fine.

There was a period in my early to mid-teens where the idea of living in something like the Star Wars universe seemed appealing to me. Not only was it an awkward period as it is for most folks, I also had the added complication of watching my brother slowly die from a wasting disease thrown into the mix. Going somewhere where I could be free of all that and have my own ship and fly around and have adventures seemed like a pretty great idea. I knew it wasn’t possible, of course, but it was a convenient psychological retreat. I imagine the specfic genres act or acted in that fashion for a great many of us. Very few of us lose so much perspective that we cease to readily define the difference between fiction and reality.

I have gotten to the point where I don’t get easily immersed in a world anymore. I see it for what it is; I see the gaps and can perceive the structural elements holding the thing together. I recognize the illusion of world-building for what it is–illusion. No author can realistically fill in every single gap in their world, and so they cheat by eliding certain details in preference to focusing on others. Scott Lynch, for instance, builds the city of Camorr out of food as much as anything else, spending inordinate amounts of time on what his characters cook, eat, and drink. This layered over architecture, custom, and a keen eye for dress creates a simply masterful illusion of a fully-realized world. We have every expectation that we could sit down in a Camorri bar, tug on the bartender’s sleeve, and order some Austershalin Brandy so long as we produced a bucket-load of gold coins. If you keep hunting, however, you see that Lynch pays much less attention to some other aspects of his world. The geography of the place, for instance, seems hard to follow. Industry and manufacturing aren’t explored, and the existence of people outside of the city and how they interact with those within is barely addressed. It hardly matters, though; Lynch’s world is one of the best realized you’ll find. I still don’t want to live there, though. It isn’t real.

There are those out there, though, who get unreasonably frustrated with tiny gaps in the illusion. These ‘fanboy’ types will go at an author hammer-and-tongs so that they can somehow shore up some slight imperfection in the fabric of their artificial world. These are the people who, if you challenge the accepted ‘canonical’ truth of a fantasy world, will jump all over you with ‘no ways’ and ‘it can’ts’. Nevermind that what they’re arguing over isn’t real and can, upon whim, be changed by the author. Sometimes when authors do this they actually damage the integrity of their previous work (medichlorians anyone?), but most of the time they simply change something that, in the end, doesn’t really matter. The place isn’t real, after all, so the author can do whatever they want. The fanboy, though, cannot accept this. They freak out and complain and argue and plead. It is important to them that this fanciful place maintain its image in their heads; the loss, on some level, is unbearable.

I confess to not understanding such people. They frustrate me. Their willingness to look at works established within a certain world (Star Trek novels, for instance) and deny the ‘truth’ of them because the information therein conflicts with their preconceived worldview of a non-existent place and time is baffling. Look, everybody, as much as I think it’s dumb, medichlorians are a thing in Star Wars. The story would have been better without them, but I’m not going to complain anymore. Lucas made his world less spiritual and more delusional, so that’s his problem. There’s no point ranting and raving about it. I’m not going to go to conventions wearing a ‘Han Shot First’ shirt, even if I do agree it was a better character choice the other way. I’m not going to rant and rave about the end of Mass Effect 3 because it should have been some other way. The world isn’t real, so there is no ‘should’. There only ‘is’.

Those castles the storytellers have built for you? They’re for dreaming about, not for living in. If you don’t like what they do with the wallpaper, find a different castle. Better yet, go and build your own.