35 – Theming Worlds

The Mythcreant Podcast
Chris, Mike, and Oren discuss how themes are a common part of worldbuilding. They describe worlds with memorable themes, contemplate how worldbuilders can add themes to their settings, and mention the advantages and disadvantages of doing so.

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Dresden Files




The Lies of Locke Lamora

Old Man’s War

Haven, from Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 1

Podcast: Utopias and Dystopias to Life

Avatar: The Last Airbender

The Long Earth

Four Sexist Themes From The Wheel of Time

A Wizard of Earth Sea

Symbiosis, episode about drugs from Star Trek: The Next Generation

Five Destructive Myths Perpetuated by Roleplaying Games

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  1. Claire

    Star Trek’s “The future is scary” theme, I’ve written into ATT about it before and how it may arises out of the kinds of people writing it and the era’s it was written in, from the lingering fears of eugenics of the 60’s to the 1980’s tech revolution and mindless robots “stealin’ ur jerbs!”. And when you have dozens of different writers with their own ideas on the future, those problems are going to become worse. Easier and cheaper to write a future that’s mostly the same except with a different coat of paint.

    Regarding Bas Lang’s world, I can’t speak for the other books but I know Miéville Iron Council focus a lot on the chaotic nature of revolution and imperialism. He’s also quite a fan of the weird fiction of Lovecraft and Ashton Smith, so I don’t know if animalism could be considered a theme for the world or just for that book. Then again, I’ve only read Iron Council so can’t really comment on the entirety of the Bas Lag world

    Just a small side point. In a couple of the resent casts, it feels like there’s a sense of….snobbishness to your criticisms, that if the the worldbuilding isn’t up to an exacting standard, the story they’re trying to tell is bad. I’m not sure if it’s really there, but it is something I’m picking up

    • Chris Winkle

      Hi Claire, thanks for your comment.

      I get the feeling that the Star Trek issue is just a side effect of writers looking for a plot conflict for each episode. They ask what problems there might be in the future for characters to encounter, and they end up with the kinds of social fears you’re describing. Unless someone’s paying attention to how things look in aggregate, it’s easy to create an overall impression you didn’t mean to – like the redshirts.

      I’ve read only Perdido Street Station in the Bas-Lag world. The animalism is what made a strong impression, but maybe he shows different sides in different books. Perhaps it’s just New Crobuzon that’s really animal like.

      As far as our tone goes, we are certainly critical, and we definitely have high standards, but we don’t mean to be snobbish. I love the stories of both Harry Potter and Buffy even though I would say their worlds have significant problems. In both these cases I don’t think it was that writers tried to create a great world and just fell short of our standards. I think they just didn’t give much thought to worldbuilding outside of what they needed immediately for their stories. Then with more stories, the cracks began to show. In other words, it was simply neglected.

      I’ll listen to those podcasts again to see if there’s something in our tone that might be improved. As a listener, you can keep in mind that just because we are frustrated with the flaws we find, doesn’t mean we don’t adore the works they’re in. Except for The Wheel of Time series. We genuinely hate those books.

  2. Claire

    The snobbery things is just something I’ve noticed with a couple of critics, especially ones with long term involvement in geek genres.

    Maybe it’s the fact that geek content was quite sparse in Ireland when I was growing up (oh man, the amount of cheesy Syfy disaster movies I sat through) I tend to be quite forgiving of faults, but I notice a lot of older geeks tend to be way more critical of things then newer ones. For example, I know many who’d never seen Star Wars before Attack of the Clones and so quite enjoy the new trilogy, while old guard like Oren rail against them as abominations (I will admit Episode 1 sucks and should be buried in the Godzillia nuclear bunker).

    I don’t disagree with pointing out the flaws and problematic things in works, but all too often critics will say “The author didn’t think X through to it’s absolute logical conclusion and there for it’s terrible”. And it just grates.

    Like I said, I’m not sure if it’s really there, but it is something I’m picking up on a lot of things.

    Now that I’ve vented and said my piece, I will let Oren have his fainting couch back now.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Don’t worry, Claire, if you get the feeling that I’m dismissing a story because I don’t like the world building, you’re probably right.

    • Mike Hernandez

      I’ll try to balance Oren out a bit more. Or maybe we’ll just cut his mic more liberally.

      Seriously though, thanks for the feedback, it can probably be easier than we realize to slip into a snobbish tone after doing this every few weeks. For me, worldbuilding typically has the largest impact on my opinion of a piece of work after the fact, or when I go back to it a second or third time. I try to distinguish any frustration in inconsistencies that hurt immersion from whether or not I thought the story or characters are good, but I’m sure I don’t always come across in the podcast the way I think I do.

      I’ll also take some time to listen to these again (and find the inconsistencies in The Mythcreant Podcast worldbuilding!) and keep in mind how to keep this a fun and accessible podcast.

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