Five Worldbuilding Mistakes Even Enthusiasts Make

The crew works on the computer in The Expanse

The Expanse has a well-thought-out hard scifi setting that still ignores scientific reality.

Most worldbuilding mistakes we see over and over again come from lazy storytellers who create worlds as an afterthought. But a few mistakes persist even in worlds built with considerable time and effort. These are mistakes of oversight: the worldbuilder just didn’t remember to think about everything critically. Let’s take a look at some of these repeat offenders.

1. Leaving Culture the Same

Crew of Battlestar Galactica Battlestar Galactica: Humans have lived for untold eons in a distant system, but by coincidence, they have a Secretary of Education that can inherit the Presidency.

It’s a bazillion years in the future, and humanity is spread across the galaxy. Countless scientific discoveries have brought us amazing technological advances like faster than light travel and nanites that repair wounds instantly. Yet people still light candles and eat birthday cake every year, women change their names after getting married in a white dress, and business people shake hands when meeting for the first time.

You wouldn’t have characters in a vastly different world listening to today’s pop songs, would you? Not unless you had a good world-driven reason. That’s because, like everything else, culture changes. It changes because our lifestyles change, our values change, and we get caught up in new and interesting things. Not to mention that culture is different around the world. In the future, those vastly different cultures could melt together.

If you write other-world characters that live by your culture, you’re wasting an opportunity to set your world apart and creating a society that’s just unrealistic. Instead, question the parts of culture that you take for granted. Make guesses about how culture is changing today and project them into the future. Think about how the details of your world would impact those living there. Then make some changes.

2. Giving Supernatural Elements No History

Black dragon with old navy ship His Majesty’s Dragon: Humans ride dragons into battle, altering the course of the Napoleonic Wars. Why don’t they alter any wars before that? Umm… oh hey look at the pretty dragons!

It’s another day in the United States. The elves have tied themselves to trees to protest the sale of national parks, the goblins caused another riot after their favorite football team lost, and pixie infestations are on the rise. Humans go about their day-to-day business, used to all the other creatures and their habits. It’s always been like that. No one questions why none of these creatures have nations of their own. The elves are protecting parks founded by Teddy Roosevelt, the goblins participate in the human-led Olympics, and no one has thought to design homes that prevent pixies from nesting in the walls.

Every spec fic storyteller knows that history is easily altered by a few time travelers. So why would history be exactly the same if supernatural elements have existed since life began? If the supernatural is powerful enough to alter your world, it’s powerful enough to change the course of history. If it hasn’t, your world will feel flat instead of rich and deep.

You can put the supernatural into a familiar contemporary setting by making it a recent arrival. If elves arrived fifteen years ago, the biggest shock will have worn off, but humans could still be adjusting. If you want the supernatural to have existed in for all of history without changing the world, you’ll need more than a hand wave to explain it. Have humans been brainwashed into thinking history went differently than it actually did? If conquered groups had supernatural aids like magic, protective deities, or alien technology, why did they lose?

3. Ignoring the Implications of Technomagic

Main cast of the Expanse The Expanse: Humans have colonized the solar system. Spaceships are still piloted by humans, though, because using super accurate computer systems in life threatening situations is just no fun.

It’s a wondrous fantasy land with powerful magic and warring kingdoms. Sorcerers throw great fireballs from the tops of their dragon mounts, clerics protect the population from diseases, and seers peer into distant lands. Yet everyone is still building castles. They take a generation to complete, and they don’t protect anyone from those darn sorcerers and their dragons, but by golly, they’re just so pretty! The enchanted woods are still standing because the population hasn’t exploded, and messages take days to deliver by courier.

This is like writing characters who drive across country when they all have teleporters in their homes. Give a person a new tool, and the impact will reverberate throughout the world. People are smart: if there’s a way we can use a piece of magic or technology to our advantage, we will think of it in short order. Sure, a generation might stubbornly hold on to driving their own cars when self-driving cars are widely available, but practicality wins eventually.

That’s why you’ve got to think through not only what cool things you want your world to have but also what conditions would create them. Want castles and dragons? Make the dragons faraway, incredibly rare, or a sentient species of pacifists. Dragons can destroy castles just by dropping boulders on them, and if castles aren’t good protection, no one will build them. Think of some limits on your technomagic now, and it’ll save you headaches later.

4. Making Multi-Species Worlds Human-Centric

Reapers attack Earth in Mass Effect Mass Effect: Despite having countless worlds to choose from, the big bad Reapers make Earth a high-priority target. Human potential is just so frightening!

It’s the fortuitous day that humans launch into space, joining a vast galactic alliance of tens of thousands of species. In space there are species as old as the universe and young as a year. They are high tech, low tech, hostile, friendly, beautiful, ugly. But they all agree on one thing: humans are the most average species to have ever existed. After this revelation, the whole galaxy quickly categorizes every species by how they differ from the denizens of Earth. Everyone’s like them, but with a twist! Of course, when push comes to shove, they also discover that humans are not only average but also special snowflakes. They advance so fast, and the human spirit is simply unbeatable! The most powerful race in the universe soon feels threatened by these snowflakes and gets out the blowtorch.

What I would give for more stories that treated humans like just another race in a world where they are supposed to be just another race. It breaks immersion when the world is being bent to inflate the human ego. If we want humans to be the center of everything, we should build worlds where that is literally true: humans were in fact created in the image of the divine, and we are the bestest and most favoritest of divine creations! If we don’t want to write that, we shouldn’t be making realistic worlds and trying to sneak it in.

If humans are one group in a world of many sentient species, think through how humans are different. And I don’t mean “different plus superior.” What makes us weird? Are we the only species that needs this ridiculous sleep cycle or one of only a handful that walk on two legs? Choose a few characteristics we have in common with almost everyone, and make the rest diverse across your races. If humans are new on the scene, less advanced, or otherwise less powerful, don’t make humans take over the world. You’re only reducing conflict for your human characters.

5. Creating “Egalitarian” Societies

Space ships with laser guns in front of Earth Old Man’s War Series: The military is happy to recruit women and train them equally, but somehow they don’t have any generals who are women.

It’s the beautiful kingdom of Utopia, the land not-yet but about-to-be threatened by the forces of evil. It is ruled by a wise and fair monarch. The oldest children inherit titles regardless of gender, and all the races live together in harmony. People even dress how they want and date who they want. Of course, the King and all of his counselors are men of the pale-skinned race. The King has three sons who can succeed him; no one is sure what happened to their mother since she’s never mentioned, but the sons all need brides. Then behold the kingdom’s savior: a plucky, dark-skinned heroine! She exists, so clearly the entire world is an egalitarian paradise.

Nothing looks more contrived than when a writer keeps insisting their world is one way, but they’ve clearly created something else. It’s not enough to say women can inherit titles; you must show women with titles. And this showing must go beyond your main characters; it’s the background elements that determine what’s normal for your world. If your story is about a queen but you don’t show female nobles in court, it’s still a patriarchy. And let’s face it: a monarchy can’t be an egalitarian utopia because it’s led by a dictator. If equality is important to you, maybe don’t glorify unjust systems of government.

If you want your setting to be free of all that oppressive nonsense, then good for you. But you’ll need to look over it carefully to make sure it’s actually that way in practice and not just in theory. Start counting all the people and their demographic characteristics. Then look at your numbers and see if they reflect what you want for the society you’ve built. If they don’t, make some changes. Unthinkingly making everyone a white guy isn’t your fault, but letting that get into print is.

Checking and fixing items that are easily forgotten will take more time. But the more you do it, the more it will become second nature. After re-examining how your world works, it will stand out that much more.

P.S. Our bills are paid by our wonderful patrons. Could you chip in?

Read more about ,



  1. Mathilde

    Pretty helpful article. Thank you.

  2. Cay Reet

    Given how good humans are at making use of all kinds of things, one might wonder why nobody has worked together with the other races from #2. Perhaps the elves would be good with plants and could take over food production, making it easier and leaving a much smaller imprint in nature. Maybe pixies have uses (preferably not squashed, but, hey!, pixie soup).

    And there definitely is no reason to build a castle, if you have magic users in war. Some kind of structure you could anchor a ward to, however, might be useful. Like this, the capital can be put under a magic shield in case of an attack, which would prevent the dragons from entering and the fireballs from doing damage. This structure could be a castle, theoretically, but it would probably be more effective to build several structures, so you can put a magical network between them and if one fails, the others can still keep the shield up.

    I think #1 and #5 are closely related, though. Leaving the structure of society the way it is now and trying to create an egalitarian society just by telling, not by showing, both are probably rooted in our traditional picture of things. I agree that no society ruled by a minority (be it nobles, oligarchs, or others) can be truly egalitarian. But a lot of stories would definitely profit from a more diverse cast and more interesting characters of both genders (or characters who are somehow in between genders). That’s actually why I like the comic ‘Princess Princess Ever After’ so much. It turns your usual fantasy/fairy tale plot on its head and does so very well.

    • AndrewR

      The points you bring up for for #2 are one of the reasons I thought that ‘dungeons’ (ie. underground bunkers) would be more prevalent in a world with dragons and other flying monsters than castles. When your enemies can breathe hot flaming death on you from above you want barriers above you and digging down or into the side of a cliff is probably easier than trying to work out how to build roofs as thick as castle walls. (If building/castle/city sized magical domes weren’t easier to create.)

      • Cay Reet

        Yes, underground saferooms (otherwise known as dungeons in a medieval setting and bunkers in a modern one) would be very useful … same goes for caves with an entrance too small for a dragon to use.

        Since there were wizards riding those dragons, I assumed magic was a thing, too, so I came up with that shield (since most people like breathing fresh air and feeling the sun on their skins). Quick evacuation during an attack (perhaps access to underground features from every home) would still be a good option. In the long term, it would probably be easier and less expensive to build a network of underground tunnels than to have that shield up.

        • Jim


          Look at fortifications during the 1700s and 1800s. Those were built to defend against artillery. Magical shields would also work as well. Additionally, you could have magical ballista that would spear a dragon and thus keeps them at bay. If the attackers are in large numbers or crafty they might be able to attack and avoid the ballista but maybe there is a strong preservation streak in the dragons that makes them reluctant to be cannon fodder.

          • Cay Reet

            Given that many castles were destroyed or taken during that time and no new castles were built afterwards, we can assume that really powerful artillery is better avoided by going underground than by further fortifying your castle.

            I mentioned a shield spell or wards as a possibility first, because I can’t imagine a ruler freely living underground, but having some kind of bunker system would probably be a good idea, nevertheless. However, with a shield up during the attack and an underground saferoom to flee to, you don’t need a castle and can instead build a nice palace with less of a thick wall and more in decoration and gardening.

        • Jim

          Didn’t see a reply link to your reply.

          The Maginot Line was massive fortifications as were other ‘lines’ in WW2. They included barriers, bunkers, traps, etc.. but covered much larger areas that one building(set of buildings). Fortifications are still valid but as mobility of armed forces became better, the need for singular forts was reduced. Fortification lines became the thing to deny a much larger area to the enemy.

          As for just building a palace and use a shield, sure, I guess it depends on your world’s shield capabilities. If you have a fairly war hungry world, with a chance of shields failing, would you not build a more survivable structure?

          Once the shield has been destroyed, a regular palace would offer little resistance to a dragon or infantry, correct? Underground safe rooms might allude a dragon’s search but if there were hundreds of soldiers combing the site?

          I would definitely like to have underground bunkers and weapon’s pits in a position that a ground army would not easily get to (walls, moats, etc..).

        • Leon

          During the time of the Roman Empire, Jews built fortress carved out of a lime stone (i think), it had lots of traps and murder rooms, and impenetrable doors made out of mill-wheels. It was impregnable, to their enemies murdered everybody inside with smoke.
          I reckon a cool idea would be for dragons to build castles to protect their brood? They could let smaller creatures share the space for mutual protection (and pest control). Over time the smaller creatures refine the stone nest into strong structures.
          I’ve got no idea how a symbiotic relationship with dragons would affect a sapient species psychology though.

    • Mikey

      Cay – some thoughts. Castles would, by their nature still be necessary with, or without magic users. In fact several castles have built into their architecture, design points meant to act as protective wards so the entire structure is one big ward. When you think in terms of a ‘magical shield’ you’re still thinking ‘within the box’. A shield implies that there’s a barrier. Barriers can be tunneled under, flown over, or breached in general. Why is it a shield? Do Warriors think in terms of scrolls? Why would a magic societies think in terms of warrior concept at all? Why isn’t the land itself covered in a sieve that automatically filters out that which does not belong. Why does it block, attack, defend… when instead it might transmogrify, embrace or illuminate it’s enemies?

      A castle is a building. It keeps out human threats, the environment and in general is a mundane structure. So I would expect one to exist, and I would expect it to have designs which work well for humans which use it – meaning it will probably be located near rivers or streams or places of human gathering and commerce. There’s logic to that. For them to be based off of a mystic ley line or such – would only work if the people there also congregate there. Otherwise a simple network like our cell towers would suffice to cover an area with magics.

      Just some random thoughts. Not meant as criticism – just other views on your post as they came from my head.

      • Cay Reet

        While you’re right that the castle is a strong structure, there is a reason why they’re no longer built these days (and it’s not just ‘we don’t have any kings’). The castle proved to be a great protection until the cannon was invented. Heavy artillery can, sooner or later, break through heavy walls, no matter how thick. In a long battle or a siege, a castle was no longer that much of a protection. Add to this the amount of time and resources it takes to build a castle and you will realize that there are better ways to spend both, once the castle has outlived its usefulness. You could use a castle to tie a ward to it, but the same can be done with smaller, less expensive structures. Houses at certain points throughout a city would work. Even some kind of obelisks would, if you put them up in the right places. Easier and cheaper to build and you would have several anchor points, so the destruction of one wouldn’t have such severe consequences.

        Underground protection became more and more important, the more powerful artillery became, because while you can definitely destroy all structures above ground, a deep bunker or dungeon with several tons of earth on top will take a long, long while to crack. So a palace on top, for diplomatic and representative reasons, but a stable underground bunker underneath, would make sense.

        I’m assuming here that battle magic works similar to artillery and air forces (fireballs and other spells with the same amount of strength as a cannonball and suchlike, dragons for air raids).

  3. SunlessNick

    Regarding 2, there was an interesting novel (whose name now escapes me) that had the “big supernatural reveal” take place in 1910, followed by an alternate history after that, which included the aversion of both world wars.

    It also had a clever way to introduce the changes, starting with the abstract of an in-world academic paper positing that without the [supernatural events the novel’s reader needs to be told about], the historian believes existing human trends would have led to [historical events from our world that didn’t exist in the setting]

    • Calth

      Was it one harry turtledoves series?

  4. Bronze Dog

    I get miffed when shows have lots of races and a supposedly integrated society, but 75%+ of important characters are human. I remember being pleasantly surprised watching a Let’s Play of a Jedi Knight Academy game, and finding out that the PC was a Rodian.

    One concept for a sci-fi setting I’ve entertained on occasion: Humans are an extreme outlier in size. Most intelligent species in the galaxy are much smaller than we are, which means we need special accommodations when visiting ships and stations built for other species. It also leads to a reputation of humans being wasteful and gluttonous.

    • Cay Reet

      Knowing humans, it would probably lead to less intelligent species around. Honestly, if we were the biggest and strongest around, we would probably try to destroy or enslave other beings – unless we really were physically unable or so far evolved that we have gotten rid of that base instinct.

    • Mikey

      I remember reading a short – can’t remember the name, but had a wonderful premise that the Alien race we (humans) had encountered was this massive mystery to us as we had never met them. They refused to allow humans on to their ships, and when humans had visited their planet there was never an alien – even there, we spoke only to them through a diplomatic android. The big reveal was of course that the aliens were an artificial intelligence that existed only in the hyper spatial equivalent of cyberspace. Their ‘planet’ – everything, even their ‘trade’ with us was just for our benefit. They really didn’t need anything. They were just trying to make us feel comfortable and learn from them so we could eventually evolve to a higher state – that was their only (programmed) purpose. To serve others.

  5. James Briggs

    You covered so much that it is impossible not to make your so called mistakes. It is all about storytelling not being accurate about something that it is impossible to know about. When I recently learned how human survived and prevailed I realized it was about a trillion to one chance. Humans are incredibly special or are so lucky that I would be surprised if there is another sentient species within our visible universe. Moreover, I find the standard criticisms empirically laughable. The one thing that every successful science fiction/fantasy story that I have read is they are filled with so many mistakes that most editors would call them unprintable. The one piece of advice that I have for aspiring writers is to write and submit but never read any critizism of you story because it is so ofter wrong as to be harmful.

    • I. Rony

      “… never read any critizism of you story because it is so ofter wrong as to be harmful.”
      This attitude may explain why such a small part of your comment contains three spelling/grammar errors.

    • Kora

      Stories are not popular because of their mistakes. They’re popular because of what they did right. No story is perfect, that is true, but there is one trend that most unpopular stories share: blatant mistakes. If you don’t believe me, go read an unpopular story on Wattpad. They almost have as many grammar mistakes as your comment.

      • Cay Reet

        I agree. I’ve read a lot of fan-fiction which could have done with a lot more revising and editing grammar-wise, but the stories were really good and I enjoyed myself reading them (despite having kind of ‘editor eyes’ and usually spotting the errors). A good story with good telling and weak grammar is always better than a bad story with a lot of polish.

    • Greg

      Your logic is fallacious.

      Imagine two fish in a fish tank saying, “Wow what is the likelihood that we in particular would be put in this tank in this exact place?” and yes the odds would be very low. But that doesn’t make the fish special, since there are millions of fish in fish tanks all over the world.

      If there is intelligent life evolved on other worlds, they would also go through their own existential challenges. For every surviving race there could be thousands that failed their challenges and went extinct, or never reached the point of sentience. All of these surviving species’ would therefore having a claim to being “special”.

      In the past, Europeans have rationalized the enslavement of other cultures (usually with darker skins) on the basis that they are the special people of the Earth. We don’t need to continue this trend into our speculative fiction.

  6. Dominic Amann

    One cardinal rule for speculative fiction is to make one single, radical change, and then explore the possibilities. No-one will read a book where everything is unrecognizable because someone factored in every consequence of change that they could imagine. The resulting fiction wold be too alien for people to digest.

    • Athonwy

      Don’t tell China Mieville that. He seems to have done it quite successfully.

      • Dominic Amann

        I love Mieville myself. I think he has followed the cardinal rule by not changing “humanity” at all. His characters are recognizably human, driven by the same fears and feelings we all are. He is a good example of how far you can go when you only change one main thing.

        I am not sure we even have the capacity to imagine what it would look like to be driven by genuinely alien impulses.

        • greg

          Just finished Embassy Town by Mieville. It involves humans interacting with an alien species that have a fundamentally different understanding of communication. Good stuff.

    • Void Caller

      I understand your point, but I think think that autor wanted to argue against making change in ancient past and then not exploring it.
      For example throwing in vampires coexisting with mankind for milenia and then maikng world just like ours but with vampire masquerade.
      I appologise for my English, it is my secon language.

      • Cay Reet

        The masquerade would make sense, depending on how quickly vampires breed (can they really change humans or are they a different species and have offspring like we do?) and how good humans are at destroying them (do they have a weakness humans can easily exploit and they can’t get rid off or defend against?).

        But I agree that the world would be different. Most people would have at least a subconscious knowledge of the hunters in the shadows who drink their blood. It would be in legends and in stories children are told, so they stay at home after dark and don’t open windows or doors for strangers. If, perhaps, they even found a way to coexist with a truce (blood against services or suchlike), then the world clearly would be different.

    • Brooke Hodge

      I agree! I tried writing my main alien species with an unusual way of speaking and all I heard was “more contractions!”. Like, why do you think aliens would even use contractions to begin with? When people read spec fic, they want a story, not a peer-reviewed study of possible futures.

  7. Michael Hutson

    Heh, on another blog we were discussing additions to the Evil Overlords list, and I suggested the following:
    “All balconies, tower roofs and skylights will have security bars. And if any of my guards ever says ‘they would have to fly to get in’, I will have him immediately executed.”

    • Cay Reet

      Because checking and makin openings small enough is worse than having the heroes fly in?

  8. Ben

    I know your heart’s in the right place on 5, and the example you give is a good one…but a little nuance is in order, because there are special-case systems in history that mix egalitarianism with oppression in paradoxical and complicated ways (Athenian Democracy, Ante-Bellum South, etc.) and exploring the possibilities and perils of having inherent contradictions in a system (such as the possibility of a good king enforcing pseudo-egalitarianism for a time, with the caveat of how fragile/flawed that is when enforced by a monarch) can make for very interesting storytelling.

    In other words, I’m all for diversity to promote egalitarianism, but there are ways of promoting the value through the nuanced exploration of its lack, and the full spectrum of possibility between it and various forms of totalitarianism.

  9. Rob HJ

    My biggest pet hate in Fantasy is “Clueless farm boy from insignificant background picks up a sword for the first time in his life and a few days later is defeating trained soldiers with ease and a few months later outfights the acknowledged best swordfighter in the land.” Luke Skywalker also fits that cliche. Give me flawed, scared but slightly fortunate protagonists who are only there because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Die Hard is a good example. sure he defeated many armed men but he did it by stealth and got injured and nearly died several times Also, how about some plain ones that the princess or any girl do not fall in love with, not even ‘eventually’, but are good guys nevertheless?

    • Traverse Davies

      The Wheel of Time does an interesting take on this, with the main character being trained by the worlds greatest swordsman for many years in the books. He doesn’t pick up a sword and excel, although he does have a decent natural talent for it.

      • Kat

        Actually, Wheel of Time was the exact thing that came to mind when I read the above – but in support of the argument. The entire arc of the story (long after said character abandons the sword for magic) takes a maximum of three years – and he wasn’t studying the sword consistently for any real length of time. It rings just as false to me as luke skywalker, whereas (wot character)’s magic never really develops beyond instinctive use (allowing for the stuff done by the voice in his head)

  10. Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

    Good points. And this is why (Blasphemy inbound) Star Trek and Star Wars pissed me off quite a bit. Why is everyone humanoid? Why is every planet human-breathable?

    • Cay Reet

      Because otherwise the story would be short. Heroes arrive on a planet, heroes land (or beam down), heroes die.

      Humanoid shape means being able to use your hands (or upper apendages of your body) for things like using tools or carrying stuff. Your legs (or lower appendages of your body) do the movie. Theoretically, a creature could have more than one set of each, but that would have been hard to show realistically in the past (although I still have fond memories of Harryhausen’s four-armed statue coming alive and fighting the hero).

      Those are the reasons why both universes are very human-friendly.

      • Marc Vun Kannon

        Not to mention the fact that they probably had no budgets for extensive make-up for all the extras. The ST Animated series had more aliens, simply because they could.

        • Cay Reet

          Exactly. An animated series is only limited by the imagination and ability of the animators. Any real life series has limits, especially before green screen and CGI became such a big topic.

  11. CuriousUwatu

    Ok I have multiple problems with this Article because you seem to be ignoring one core principle of writing to prop up your world building, that principle is to make your work relatable for the audiene.
    Points 1 and 4 seem to ignore that you are writing for a human audience in our current culture. Writers centre on the human perspective and make cultures variants on what we understand as cultures because if you throw something completely unrelatable at your audience they most likely won’t relate to it and will then lose interest.

    While point 3 has some fair points I have to point out that your own last example ignores a classic element of fantasy, WARDING! The castle walls are there to defend against mundane threats, it’s the wards built in to those walls that block the Dragon fire. I also have to ask those who want wards as a forcefield with no walls, have you never heard of a back up plan?

    As for point 5, that’s just a travesty you’re telling authors that they have to have politically motivated quotas as part of their character creation, because that won’ make things seem forced or arbitrary will it? while the show don’t tell advice is solid, if obvious, the claim you can’t have a society which treats everyone equally under the law while still having the classic elements of medieval fantasy seems to be more pushing of political narrative over the writers creativity.

    • Dominic Amann

      You rebuttal to point 5 is based on a false premise. The OP was saying IF you are proclaiming diversity, then SHOW IT, don’t tell it. In other words, if you are claiming a diverse egalitarian realm, it should be reflected by the details of the realm, and appear in the makeup of the protagonists.

      You are free to make a world where one gender or another dominates. Just don’t pretend it is what it isn’t.

      • CuriousUwatu

        Right because a paragraph linking to articles such as ‘five signs your story is racist’, ‘telling a story in a prejudiced setting’ and ‘Matriarchies, Patriarchies and beyond’, couldn’t possibly be motivated by identity politics, right?
        Oh and let’s not forget that the last of those articles I mentioned warns potential authors against stereotyping women in matriarchal setting all while painting men with a brush so broad you could use it to bridge the grand canyon. I’m honestly hard pressed to see how point 5 isn’t pushing a political agenda considering the linked material.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          Here at Mythcreants we make no secret of having a political agenda, glad you noticed!

        • Chris Winkle

          Dominic is still right though. I am not preaching diversity in this particular article, simply saying that if you already want your world to be egalitarian, you have to show it.

          • CuriousUwatu

            Mr Winkle, fair enough your writing does however at least to me as a newcomer ring almost identical to the ‘Diversity at all costs’ style of advice I’ve seen on sevral far-left blogs, not helped by the links which definitely slanted my perceptions on that point. Particularly your article on ‘social justice’ being intrinsic to storytelling, which I disagree with on a side note I’d have given up on modern literature by now were that the case.

          • Cay Reet

            The article was clear on ‘if you write an egalitarian society’ … in other words: either you do, then show it, or you don’t, then you don’t have to. Really not hard to understand.

        • SunlessNick

          You do realise that lack of diversity is no less a case of identity politics than diversity, right?

          • Bronze Dog

            Kind of falls under the category of “it’s only a class warfare when the poor stand up for themselves.”

            Also, if you think something isn’t political, it’s probably only because you agree with its politics.

  12. C. R. Rowenson

    When reading the last bit of #4, my brain immediately jumped to Titan A.E.. I think that’s a great example of humans being in a non-dominant, minority role, and it creates so many interesting plot points because of it.

    Do you guys know of any other series that pull this off well? I’d love to see more like it.

  13. Catherine Kane

    seems like you’re missing the point that castles may be an imperfect defense against sorcerers on dragons but may be an excellent defense against many other hazards in your magical fantasy world

    at that point, you might build something different or you might build castles with an added defense against dragons (being inside a stone castle would be a better defense than being out in the open and if you add in ballistas that shoot projectiles that tear thru dragon wings, you’ve got a whole new game going on

    • Shamanka

      They could also be a status thing for the lord that lives in them. ‘Look at us, WE have enough money to employ a sorcerer and make our castle dragon-proof, what about YOU?’

  14. Marcelly

    Hey, Nice article. Can I translate it, giving you the credits?

  15. Sophie the Jedi Knight

    #5 is definitely every book by Rick Riordan. He does an okay job on racial diversity, but sexuality diversity took a nosedive.
    Every time a character is revealed to be gay, bisexual, or transgender, it is immediately followed up with “and lots of characters are like this!” Riordan’s books take place in the world of Greek mythology. When a character said he was bisexual, he immediately said next “But lots of characters in Greek history are bisexual!” When a character said she was transgender, the person she was talking to said “Oh yeah, I know tons of people like that! There are even some mythological people who were transgender!
    He was just trying too hard.

  16. Oren Ashkenazi

    Editor’s Note: I deleted a comment because of it’s racist and sexist content. Talking about that stuff is fine, debating about it is fine, but just claiming it’s great is not.

    • LightspeedLife

      How can you say it’s okay to debate, but then go and just delete any comment that doesn’t support your opinion? If there is no opposition, then there is no debate. In writing it, I hoped to open some minds to the possibility of another perspective. I never said anything that could have been mistaken for supporting racisim or sexism. Instead, I simply acknowledged that it exists, and because it exists, it is worth our time and exploration. If we explore these themes that hurt our soul and scare us, we can come away from it wiser and with understanding, but if we shun the idea, we come away with nothing, full of hatred for the things we don’t understand, and ignorant of any way to change them.

      • Katie

        “How can you say it’s okay to debate, but then go and just delete any comment that doesn’t support your opinion? If there is no opposition, then there is no debate.”

        This is an incredibly black and white mentality. You seem to believe there’s only two opinions in the universe. I don’t like this common view a lot of people seem to have that if you don’t tolerate just one point of view, then you must obviously not tolerate *any* disagreement. Of course there’s still room for debate. Oren just thinks comments that promote sexism or racism* don’t add to the discussion. That doesn’t mean *nothing* adds to the discussion.

        *Of course, since I can’t see your comment I can’t say if it was sexist or racist, I can only go by Oren’s comment and your current one.

  17. Apollo Adama

    Firstly, Battlestar Galactica, is set way in the past. So say we all.

  18. Katie

    “Are we the only species that needs this ridiculous sleep cycle or one of only a handful that walk on two legs? ”

    It’s important not to over-emphasise how bizarre other species find it, because then you still run the risk of not making them seem like “just another species”. It’s better to portray it as just one of the distinctions all races have.

    For example “unlike most species human’s are able to distinguish colour, although not to the same extent as some other alien races, like X species. They rely greatly on their vision, with their other senses being far weaker leaving them unable to use sonar like most races. Sight is just one method that can be used as an alternative to the more common sonar; there are other species that, like humans, lack this capacity. Some of which, for example Y species, use smell, although vision is a somewhat more common alternative.” Here human’s fit in nicely with other species, in spite of having certain distinctions.

    • SunlessNick

      Agreed. By Earthly standards, humans are also *really* tough, in the sense of resistance to disease, poison, or injury. It doesn’t follow that we would be relative to aliens, but we might be.

  19. RHJunior

    You know, when they started the space program, getting ready to launch the first american into space, they were told point blank by the astronauts they wanted two things: they wanted a WINDOW, and they wanted some form of MANUAL CONTROL. And none of them was going to consent to being launched into space like a gerbil in a cage.
    Humans will continue to have control of their technology because humans DEMAND it.

  20. RHJunior

    4)Most readers, surprise, are human. Go ahead and write a novella completely centered on the wibbly hermaphrodite jello-creatures of Planet Koozbane, but don’t expect a lot of readers.

    5)It is possible for a society to be egalitarian and still not have a perfectly homogeneous mix of races and genders from top to bottom. The major reason in western civilization that there aren’t more women in STEM fields isn’t institutionalized sexism, it’s that women as a group make different educational and career choices than men. That fact is true for ethnic, social, and religious groups as well.

    • Teetengee

      Your “fact” is anything but. The reason women as a group make statistically significant different educational and career choices is due to patriarchy. This is fairly obvious when you realize that any differences that may exist between the sexes from a brain standpoint (biologically speaking, there is basically no evidence for sex differences in brain development) pale in comparison to the differences found within a given sex.

      In other words, there is no evidence for a biological underpinning to the occupational choices of different sexes in the modern age. Therefore any deviation from a pretty even distribution must be due to some other influencing factor that disproportionally affects females over males, or males over females.

      I use female and male rather than woman and man because gender is a societal construct, and therefore any gender divisions are clearly due to societal structure. It can be argued that sex contributes to gender, but for sure, only actual sex differences will manifest in societal differences in a truly egalitarian society.

      In summary, you argue that there can be gendered differences in an egalitarian society’s power structure due to the choices those genders make. But if the society is truly egalitarian, then the only component of gender that would be relevant to power differences would have to be sex (assuming you believe it is component of gender, otherwise there would be none). But there is no evidence of a biological explanation for why the different sexes would have different aptitudes or inclinations in regards to, in your example, the STEM field. Provide that evidence and we can talk.

      Remember, however, that brain development is hugely dependent on lived experience, therefore any data from any society that is not provably egalitarian (i.e. no Earth society I am aware of), will be more suspect the older the subjects are.

      • Traverse Davies

        Look at the research done by Simon Baron-Cohen on newborns​and toy selection. It’s not conclusive, but provides strong evidence for sex based preferences that are biological.

        While brain structures are too individual to be male or female brain activity is actually weakly gendered… And the most convincing research on this is the research that shows trans people have activity patterns that match their gender, not their sex.

        In fact, the field is very complex, and brains are more than gross physical structures…

        One final important detail. Even if, on average, one sex is more likely to be drawn to some kinds of career, any given individual may buck the trend… It’s not individually predictive, but instead only socially

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        That research is interesting, but we need to be really careful in drawing conclusions from them. For one thing, they seem to rely on the idea that these kids are young enough not to be culturally influenced, but old enough to know what a truck is. Trucks being a fairly recent invention, it seems unlikely that there’s been enough natural selection to produce a biological proclivity for trucks particularly.

        Leaving that aside, the results might be relevant in a friction-less environment, but we’re so far from that it’s not even funny. In a world without discrimination, there might still be statistical differences across gender and sex, but we can’t have any idea what it might be.

        Would fewer women than men choose computer science careers, even without the constant harassment women in comp-sci face? Possibly, but the current field is so steeped in harassment that we can’t know.

        • Cay Reet

          That’s especially a difficult question, if you realize that a lot of assistant position in science were filled by women in the past. Women calculated the data for the NASA before computers were a thing (and NASA still employed one of the calculators for a while to check whether the computers were doing it right). Women also did the rather rewardless job of searching for stars by calculating where in the night’s sky there could be more. The first ‘programmer,’ doing theoretical work in that field decades before the first computer was built, was a woman, too – Ada Lovelace (who, by pure coincidence, was also a daughter of Lord Byron).

          Both jobs were highly mathematical and required highly analytical and logical brains, but were done mostly by women in the past. That means science, mathematics, or logic are not something women abhorr by nature. They are something they are taught they’re less suited for. And areas where they are used are often full of harrassing or demeaning colleagues and superiors, driving away even those women who still dare to choose those fields in the first place.

          I’m not sure the ‘choose your toys’ approach is really working, either. The colours or the shapes may be more pleasing to newborns than the actual object on a picture and by the time they’re old enough to choose an actual toy, they most likely already own toys and have developed a liking, most likely, for those which they have themselves – which would account for boys going for toy trucks and girls going for dolls.

        • American Charioteer

          Oren, you are absolutely right that we need to draw conclusions cautiously, this is more true in sociology and anthropology than in any other science. But it also means that it is reckless to draw conclusions from a lack of evidence, as Teetengee attempted to do. “No evidence for a biological underpinning to the occupational choices of different sexes in the modern age” does not imply “Therefore any deviation from a pretty even distribution must be due to some other influencing factor.”
          The word “must” makes this a non-sequitur. Even if we were to ignore the research of Dr. Baron-Cohen and other scholars (Feingold, A. (1994-11-01). “Gender differences in personality: a meta-analysis”. Psychological Bulletin.; National Academy of Sciences; (us), National Academy of Engineering; Engineering, and Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Maximizing the Potential of Women in Academic Science and (2006-01-01). “Women in Science and Mathematics”.; Christov-Moore, Leonardo; et al. “Empathy: Gender effects in brain and behavior”. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.; for just a few examples), an absence of evidence doesn’t mean that we can say for certainty that there there is NO biological cause at all. That is akin to saying that a teapot “must” orbit the Sun because you can’t prove otherwise. Trying to draw a conclusion from an absence of evidence is always foolish. Claiming certainty about biologically determined sex differences (or absence thereof) is an especially easy trap to fall into, as there is just so much literature available on the subject presenting so many conflicting findings.

          I think (but don’t know) that the correct model is one that many people intuitively accept: biological sex differences contribute to the emergence of (far more restrictive) socially-constructed gender assumptions.

          This process can be clearly seen in the kibbutzim in Israel. These are probably the closest that modern humans have come to making perfectly egalitarian communes. Starting around 1900, kibbutzim sought to actively dismantle patriarchy. Formal marriage did not exist at all, only cohabitation. The Hebrew word for husband, “ba’al,” was not used because it also means “master” (for details, see the 1995 documentary “Full Circle: The Ideal of a Sexually Egalitarian Society on the Kibbutz”).
          More importantly for our purposes, children were raised communally, apart from their parents, so that they could not become dependent on their fathers (Spiro, Melford E. 1970. “Kibbutz: Venture in Utopia”. New York. Schocken.). Despite this, gender roles emerged on the kibbutzim. After a generation or two, the kibbutzim remained egalitarian by law but tremendous social pressure made the gender roles on many kibbutzim more restrictive than in Israeli society as a whole.
          As examples of emergent traits on kibbutzim, women began to refer to their male partners as “ba’al” even as this word fell out of fashion in the rest of Israeli society (, women had more children and demanded to be allowed to raise them (,
          and men from kibbutzim came to value masculinity and violence so much that the Israeli military came to recruit them for the core of its elite units. (

          The kibbutzim are the clearest example of biological sex differences contributing to the emergence of more restrictive socially-constructed gender assumptions. Clearly this doesn’t mean that all societies are bound to develop the same gender assumptions–despite common themes, the specifics of gender assumptions have always varied from society to society. But it does imply (along with other studies cited above) that male and female populations could be predisposed to choose careers or lifestyles in different proportions. Therefore, it is not appropriate to conclude that a society must be patriarchal because it does not have a near-even distribution of men in women in every field.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            What we have is some questionable evidence than in a friction-less environment, a society without social discrimination, there would still be statistically noticeable differences in outcomes based on sex and gender.

            Meanwhile, we have a mountain of evidence for the way cultural discrimination creates different outcomes based on sex and gender.

            The former is interesting, but not particularly relevant until we’ve addressed the latter.

          • American Charioteer

            “Mountains of evidence” do suggest that cultural discrimination creates different outcomes based on sex and gender…for every specific case that was studied. There is a temptation to order evidence into a narrative, and then to apply this narrative in every situation rather than addressing situations individually. There is value to ordering evidence into a narrative or paradigm when all evidence suggests the same thing (this is how science works, we accept the absurd-sounding paradigm of quantum mechanics only because ALL evidence points in the same direction).
            However, as there is evidence for both biological and social influences on gender differences, relying on a single narrative (“women are meant to have those roles” or its opposite “women are always oppressed by men”) can be counterproductive.
            The tedious but necessary alternative is to look at every issue case-by-case. A lot of effort is made to increase female participation in “STEM” rather than in specific fields like computer science (not all female STEM scholarships even apply to computer science majors) where women actually struggle. As women already earn a majority of biology degrees and about half of chemistry degrees and a lot of “Women in Stem effort” emphasizes these fields, a lot of this effort is not productive. Meanwhile, there is almost no media attention to the shortage of male nurses (;; or male elementary school teachers (

            It is interesting to note that the nursing example is a clear example of what Mythcreants frequently and correctly (and laudably) identifies as cultural discrimination. After all, there is no stereotype against male doctors or male EMTs, so the stereotype against male nurses must be socially constructed and arbitrary. The problem with trying to fit this example neatly into a narrative is that there are two conflicting narratives; that men are conditioned by patriarchy to look down on caregiving, and that female nurses emboldened by feminism discriminate against male nurses (see the articles I linked).

            Once you’ve accepted a narrative (eg, “all discrimination is caused by patriarchy” or “feminism is unnecessary and counterproductive”), it is extremely easy to see every experience through the lens of that narrative. Unfortunately seeing everything through a narrative makes it easier to miss nuance and harder to empathize with people whose story does not fit your narrative.

          • Cay Reet

            Unfortunately, social gender norms can be quite the opposite of each other in quick succession. Let me give you three examples of female gander norms from Germany and neighbouring countries during the 20th Century:

            1. Germany in the 1930s: a woman is meant to marry early, stay at home, and have as many children (preferably sons) as she can. That is her natural calling and the only way she can be happy. This took women out of employment and lowered the unemployment rate after the Nazis took over.
            VS: Germany from 1939-1945: women should replace men in factories and offices, so they can contribute to war effort (had the war lasted longer, I wouldn’t have put it past the Nazis to also train female soldiers, just to postpone the inevitable, since they were down to old men and male teens already). This freed up more men for the army.

            2. Germany west 1950s: women should return to their natural calling as mothers and wives, caring for their children and providing a home for the man whose nature it is to provide for his family. This took women out of the workforce and freed up jobs for the returning POWs, lowering unemployment rates again. Plus the conservatives really believed that whole ‘natural calling’ thing.
            VS: Germany east 19+50s: in a socialist society, men and women work together equally for a better future. This provided the necessary workforce to deal with huge losses in reparation (since the soviets took a lot of machinery and other industrial resources).

            3. Germany west 1950s: a good mother cares for her children as long as possible, instead of putting them into some kind of daycare and following her own interests. This kept mothers at home for three to six years (per child) minimum.
            VS: France 1950s: a good mother makes sure her children learn to be independent and self reliant, therefore she puts them into contact with other children early and returns to work. This kept well-educated workforce at work, instead of taking half of it out of the equitation for years.

          • Artistic Druid

            While I find it difficult to argue against cited sources, I would just like to point out so things I have observed in life that don’t quite seem to fit into the idea that biological sex plays a role in much to do with one’s gender. For example, how is it that someone who is biologically male can be a woman in every aspect psychologically? Or how is it that someone who is biologically female can be a man psychologically? Even before horomone therapy, many people who are transgender behave exactly as the gender they identify with without any relation to their physical body. In fact, many people who are transgender hate their body immensely because it does not line up with their perception of their gender identity (dysphoria). How can this occur if gender is related at all to biological sex and not purely societal influences?

          • VoidCaller

            Artistic Druid.

            Last time someone tried to explain it to me, I’ve heard that indeed transsexuality is caused by biological factors. Specificaly differances in brain, that are inborn.

            In case of dysphoria it was found that it is matter of dysfunction, that caused people’s brains don’t fully accept their own bodies. Differance between biological and neurological sex was, in this case, only matter of inborn neurology.

            Other study was on specyfic genetic dysorder, which prevented male characteristics from emerging fully until puberty. Enough to say it caused lot of confusion and some boys ware rised as girls and it did not have great effect on their genders.

            I appologise for lack of sources. I can not remember exact studies about brains, but this is link to article about gender:

            This is not meant to bash, troll or insult anything. I just wanted to share my views and give some, hopefully, good input If somethig was found ofensive, please let me know in comments and I’ll set it straight. Sorry for errors, I’m dyslexic and English is my second language

          • Cay Reet

            There are a few things I find a little strange about the cases described in the article you linked:

            “This occurred in a traditional, rural, unsophisticated, Latin American society with clear and distinct differences in male and female sex role behaviour.” Which means, to me, that they were very aware of the roles both men and women would take up. They knew just as well what was expected from boys as what was expected from girls. Their bodies developed into a masculine form during puberty when their true genetic sex became visible. They knew they were supposed to be men from then onwards. Only one of the ‘girls’ resisted this. The fact that the society wasn’t keen on them changing doesn’t mean they weren’t keen on it.

            “One of the first signs of the sex change in the erstwhile girls was a sudden interest in playing football!” How many of those girls, perhaps, dreamed of playing football or doing other ‘male’ things before the change? In a society like the one described above, this was out of the question for a girl. Perhaps they took the offered chance. Football in this case, I would like to add, is soccer for an American, not American Football. Something which, I believe, a lot of girls in the US play. But in Latin America, it’s a boy’s sport.

            I’m not sure the study is as clear as it is presented … and I’m pretty sure the title already says what the author wanted it to say: Boys will be Boys.

            The question is: did the physical change (developing the primary male sexual organ around the beginning of puberty) lead to a biological change in the brain or just allowed those girls to accept urges they’d kept hidden before? The fact that nine out of ten girls turned boys fully accepted the male role they were now given doesn’t necessarily mean there is a biological reason.

            In most societies with a strong divide between men and women, one gender has more power, influence, and freedom. And in most cases, that is the male gender. Imagine reaching puberty as a member of the more restrained gender and suddenly developing into the one with more freedom. Wouldn’t you take the chance to make the change? The girls were already engaged at the age at which they turned. Becoming men probably also meant freedom of choosing their life partner. It meant freedom of choosing their future life plans. Honestly, I think ninety percent of girls in such a situation might take the chance.

          • American Charioteer

            Artistic Druid,

            You are right, evidence shows that when a biological male is psychologically female in ever aspect, they actually are psychologically female. Some studies demonstrate that brain or neural features typically considered to be sexual dimophisms may actually be more strongly correlated with sexual orientation or gender identity. (Unfortunately, almost all of the studies I’ve encountered have examined only the former). One of the best understood sexual dimorphisms between men and women is in size and lateral connectivity of the amygdala (which relates to emotional responses to stress and decision-making). Men tend to have larger amygdala (Goldstein, J. M., et al, MT (2001). “Normal Sexual Dimorphism of the Adult Human Brain Assessed by in Vivo Magnetic Resonance Imaging”. Cerebral Cortex. 11 (6): 490–7) that are more active and connected on the right side (Cahill, L;et al (2001). “Sex-Related Difference in Amygdala Activity during Emotionally Influenced Memory Storage”. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. 75 (1): 1–9. doi:10.1006/nlme.2000.3999. PMID 11124043.), the side that relates to anger, risk-taking and physical response (Lanteaume, L., et al (2006). “Emotion Induction After Direct Intracerebral Stimulations of Human Amygdala”. Cerebral Cortex. 17 (6): 1307–13. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhl041).
            I found a researcher who published two studies suggesting that homosexual men have highly connected left amygdala, similar to heterosexual women, while homosexual women have highly connected right amygdala, similar to heterosexual men (Swaab, D. F. (2008). “Sexual orientation and its basis in brain structure and function”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. pages 10273–4. doi:10.1073/pnas.0805542105;; Swaab, Dick F. (2007). “Sexual differentiation of the brain and behavior”. Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. pages 431–44. doi:10.1016/j.beem.2007.04.003). Other studies have similarly found that certain dimorphisms in the brain are less correlated with sex than with sexual orientation.
            (PET and MRI show differences in cerebral asymmetry and functional connectivity between homo- and heterosexual subjects.;;
            Ivanka Savic et al., Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 2008
            Sexual orientation and the size of the anterior commissure in the human brain.
            L S Allen et al., Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 1992.)

            There are far fewer studies on transgender individuals, but one similar study found a relation between the male and female hypothalamus (a brain structure that is related to hormonal activity) that was more strongly correlated with gender identity than with sex at birth, even after for controlling for hormone supplements (Garcia-Falgueras, A.; et al (2008). “A sex difference in the hypothalamic uncinate nucleus: relationship to gender identity”. Brain. 131 (Pt 12): 3132–46. doi:10.1093/brain/awn276).

            Neuroscientists and psychologists certainly don’t have a full understanding of how brain function influences gender identity, but it is clear it does. The DSM-5 (the most widely accepted authority for psychiatric diagnosis) recognizes this, emphasizing that what it terms “gender dysphoria” (stress associated with not feeling like one’s sex does not match their gender) is not a disorder, but that stress is caused when a person is not socially accepted for who they really are (DSM-5 302.85 and 302.6).

        • American Charioteer

          To clarify, I’m not attempting to minimize discrimination in Silicon Valley, only supporting RHJunior’s premise that “It is possible for a society to be egalitarian and still not have a perfectly homogeneous mix of races and genders from top to bottom.”
          Disappointingly little scholarship has been done on the kibbutzim. For an opposing view, see:

        • Teetengee

          As someone whose education is in the field of neuroscience, I can assure you that I’m not just blowing smoke here.

          The point is not that biological differences don’t show up in the brain between sexes. They absolutely do. The point is that there is insufficient evidence to suggest that those biological differences aren’t due to socialization.

          The brain is formed from your experiences, every structure, every connection, dependent on the environment within which that connection forms. Every single thing you learn is due to the brain undergoing semi-permanent changes in structure. The issue is that we don’t have any evidence that brain differences aren’t due to socialization differences, because we have no society that exists within which we can collect those data.

          I saw must, not necessarily because it is logically required, but because it is morally necessary, particularly in a society where it is fairly obvious that sexist standards exist. Since we cannot assume that such differences aren’t caused by sexism, we should act as if they are, because we have nothing to lose by doing so. There is definite harm caused if we err on the other side, but little to no harm caused by trying to open up opportunity to everyone.

          As for drawing conclusions from a lack of evidence: We have evidence of low differences in brain structure. The variation within a given sex is vastly larger than the differences between sexes in every structure I am aware of being studied. Remember that those data are from a sexist society, and suddenly it becomes scientifically irresponsible to suggest that these differences are likely to be due to innate sexual dimorphism.

          Furthermore, the claim that males and females have naturally different brain structures (which is the claim you are making if you think that their preferences are going to be significantly different naturally) is a positive claim, which means the burden of proof is on the claimer to prove.

          Until there is evidence which is best explained by an innate difference in male/female brain structure, evidence that does not rely on ignoring other plausible explanations or ignoring how brain structure actually forms, we should fail to reject the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis of course is “no difference.”

  21. Artistic Druid

    American Charioteer and Cay Reet,

    It makes me so happy to see people who acknowledge that men also suffer from sexism. It makes me so upset when people say ‘man up’. It implies that men are expected to be okay with suffering or worse, that they are immune to it. That is not equality. That is an example of individuals not allowed access to the help and care they need based on their gender. That is sexism. People are people, and the expectations for people based on a trait they were born with is just unfair.

    Also, thank you to those of you who replied to my previous comment! ^~^

  22. Vazak

    This was a great and in many ways cathartic read to simply see someone else laying out these point sand so well!

    I can definitely understand the appeal of the whole “Napoleonic war but with dragons” and not wanting to change the rest of history but yeah, the fact these kinds of things don’t get taken into consideration tends to drag me out of a story. Apparently there were some changes in other cultures but they all seemed pretty distant from where the story focused.

    Also thank you for calling out the human centric sci-fi/fantasy!

    Seriously it grates on me so much to see settings like this spend so much time lavishing humanity in undeserved praise while ignoring or minimising all the other cultures and species who frankly feel way more interesting in my eyes.

    Honestly that initial summary gave me the image of a tv series where human recently joined some galactic republic and then on an alien world or ship some politician or general bursts in on one of their allies ranting about humans being mavericks, and too imaginative and dangerous. The one they”re ranting to just sort of rolls their eyes and keeps working while noting “Didn’t you say the same thing about the quizlops five years ago?”
    They respond by noting that no the Quizlops are heroes, true inspirations and great entities, but maybe even they fear these humans.
    Then the other is just like, “Wait what about the Bovi?”
    Only to get a vague shrug of dismissal like “its all normal to me”
    Then at the end of the season or after a time skip that same politician bursts into the same room ranting about a new species and when asked the same line of questions humans have been moved down to the shrug list.

    Also all these fantasies and sci-fi series built around, generally american or western culture grates on me and is bleh, similar with fantasy. And why are all species of the same culture? Shouldn’t there be like 19 different elvish societies, 13 different human ones, and 27 orcish one’s or something?

  23. Kora

    “And let’s face it: a monarchy can’t be an egalitarian utopia because it’s led by a dictator. If equality is important to you, maybe don’t glorify unjust systems of government.”

    Not all monarchies are unjust. It just depends on what type of monarchy it is, because there are different types. It it’s an absolute monarchy, then yes, there is going to be some injustices, because humans aren’t perfect, so we run very flawed governments when we work alone. If it’s not an absolute monarchy, however, (like England, which has a constitutional monarchy) it can be very fair. The key ingredient that makes them different is the power that is higher than the monarch: the constitution. If you have that, (and another branch of government to enforce it) then I definitely wouldn’t call your society unjust.

    You may argue that a society like that isn’t an actual monarchy, but a monarchy only has to have a king or queen; they don’t have to be absolute.

    • American Charioteer

      This is a Hobbesian argument, and it’s a good one. It is very important to point out the difference between a monarch and a dictator. A monarch’s power comes from tradition (in Hobbes’ terms, a long-standing and stable social contract). A dictator’s power must be preserved through force. Monarchies are less susceptible than dictatorships to the rebellion-repression-more rebellion cycles that have occurred in contemporary Libya and Syria, cold war Guatemala, Pre-Kagame Rwanda, etc. Furthermore, many dictators need foreign wars to maintain the momentum and rage that brought them to power (notably Hitler, Mussolini, Napoleon I, Napoleon III, and Saddam Hussein). Each new dictator is forced to create a foundation for the legitimacy of their power; new monarchs can rest on tradition and focus on domestic affairs. This is because monarchies are stabler than is often thought; of the more than 40 British monarchs since 1066 only seven (William I, Henry I, Stephen, Henry IV, Edward IV, Henry VI, and Henry VII) seized power through violence.

      In worldbuilding justice is relative. In its own time the Magna Carta was a significant step forward for human rights despite leaving the overwhelming majority of the English population powerless and voiceless. It is difficult to have a functional republic when the world is turbulent and almost no one is literate or educated; if a novel is set in a premodern world then an unstable republic (Commonwealth of England, First French Republic) may be a far worse place to live than a stable monarchy with legal rights (1660 Restoration of British Monarchy, 1814 Restoration of Bourbon Monarchy).

      • Kora

        Thank you for supporting my argument further. I think this is something a lot of people misunderstand today, so it’s very important to acknowledge the fact that democracy isn’t the only “right” government.

        • Cay Reet

          Yes, it’s strange to see people equate a dictatorship and a monarchy, because they’re not really all that similar. A well-running monarchy with a good law book or two is just as stable as a democracy – especially if there is a certain control on the monarch, so they can’t just decide everything on their own.

          Dictators, on the other hand, always have to fear possible uprisings or someone stabbing them in the back to take their position (the only one successfully doing that in the monarchy would be the next in succession – which doesn’t mean it never happens). Dictators usually need to keep society under control, monarch don’t really have to.

          • Bubbles

            I think the argument that monarchies are unjust often involves the idea that a monarch gains the position by birth, not merit, and that such a way of gaining a position is unfair because not everybody can become a monarch, and the best person for the job won’t reliably be chosen.

            There are possible counterarguments that I’ve heard: that it is fair because anybody could have been born into the royal family, that an inherited position allows training from birth, unlike an elected position, and that democracies don’t choose “the best person for the job,” but instead merely the person who is best at convincing people. I suppose there’s another argument for the fairness of monarchies as compared to democracies, which I don’t remember hearing from another person, but is related to the last thing I mentioned: even in an election system, not everybody who is technically qualified could become the leader, so democracies are unjust. For example, someone who is good at leadership but not electioneering may never be able to become a president no matter how well they would do it, but if they were in the royal family, they could become a good king/queen.

            By the way, I’m no monarchist myself. I just posted the above arguments as sort of a devil’s advocate. If you have criticisms of those arguments, I would like to see them.

            (Some interesting stuff about monarchies: at least some times, they seem to be defined by how much power the leader has instead of how the leader gains that power. Elective, non-hereditary monarchies exist. For example, the Pope is actually considered an absolute monarch, but he [yep, always a he so far :(] is elected by a conclave. Some have seriously claimed that the U.S. President is a monarch because the office has gained far more power over time than the Founders originally intended it to [their limitations were supposed to prevent a monarchy!] And then, there are claims that Britain is a hereditary republic due to the monarch having basically no power… Would this article, when claiming that monarchies are unjust, refer to power wielded or a hereditary means of gaining this power? Also, a world in which elected absolute leadership was a major form of government would be very interesting to write about, but I don’t know how plausible it is.)

    • Dvärghundspossen

      I’m a Swede, and we too have a monarchy where the monarch has very little power, less than the queen of the UK actually. So it’s definitely not a dictatorship, but I’d still say it’s more or less by definition not egalitarian when you can be born into a life-time position of at least SYMBOLIC power and MUCH more influence (through your stupid celebrity status, where people regard you as much more than a regular old celebrity because you’re the KIIIING…) than a regular citizen.

      On a sidenote, it’s interesting to me how many Americans seem to have a favourable view of monarchy because queen Elizabeth seems to be a way more sensible person than Donald Trump. Carl Gustaf XVI, the king of Sweden, is a complete moron. Having a monarch “being trained for the job since birth” does NOT guarantee that they will end up a competent person. (Obvs our king doesn’t do the damage that Trump does, but that’s because he’s got so little power. I’m pretty sure it’s not because he’s more competent.)

      • Cay Reet

        On the other hand, if you’re born into a rich family anywhere on the globe, you will definitely be born into a life without too many hardships and often into an easy lifetime position (shareholder or something similar) as well. You don’t need a monarchy to have people who will never have to worry about their life. Look at Trump and over 90% of children of other successful business-founders and suchlike. They’ll never have to worry about their future, either.

        • Michael Campbell

          To a degree the élite (and I mean by élite the effect that the wealthy have on political power in the early 21st century) are actually damaging the economy as whole through pushing through policies that further economic inequality.

          If you make the poor; wealthier, you’ll actually make rich people richer by driving up the buying power of their dollars. Insurance premiums go down with a better educated public and products get better due to having a more discerning buying public.

          But Milton Friedman lead the globe down the garden path.
          And to a degree, having the working smucks subsidize the lifestyles of the wealthy, is a garden path the rich are willing to be lead down.
          So since the élite say it’s right; we follow blindly.
          They must know the right way forward…because they’ve already “made it”, right!?!

      • Bunny

        Well, yeah, most things would look stable compared to the current US administration.

        I think Spain has a similar system, too? The whole “we have monarchs but they don’t do anything because they can’t” idea. Correct me if I’m wrong, though.

        I also think there’s a kind of weird romance surrounding monarchy. Just look at how much hype and coverage the royal wedding got. I think that many people consider monarchy glamorous and elegant and so people are drawn to it in a romantic sort of way – not as a system of government, more of a fantasy (and like you said, inflated goes-beyond-celebrity celebrity).

        By the way, how do you pronounce your name? Sorry if this seems rude! English just doesn’t have that many umlauts, and I feel like I’ve been mispronouncing it in my head.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          This is a great conversation you folks are having and also I just love seeing the two knights of Mythcreants in the same thread!

        • Michael Campbell

          To be really technical Q.E. II has the power to create any law she sees fit so long as it doesn’t involve taxation. That’s her only constitutional restriction. Even not being allowed on the floor of the House of Commons is tradition, not a constitutional restriction.
          She simply chooses to let parliament make her laws for her because she values democratic processes as part of her valuing her people, (that she swore to serve when she was coronated).

          I think Americans get confused by the quaintness of monarchy because their founding father’s deliberately set out to conflate monarchy with dictatorship.

          If all you had to do was wait `til George IV was king and then bring him to say, Boston, get him drunk (easy task), get him laid (again, not much work) and then have a little talk about how we’re all grownups and we all know how to behave like grownups so just sign this document and America’s grownup-ness can be “advertised in law”.
          If that’s all it would take, then shooting redcoats to get a country…suddenly starts to look like the murderous treason it actually was. The founding fathers knew they we murdering their way to their own country such that George Washington wrote in his diary that if he lost the war, he knew he would be hanged as a traitor.

          So they needed to create “the myth” that all monarchs are tyrants and that all degrees of tyranny are intolerable.*

          Worse still…what if an independent country could be created with a concerted campaign of letter writing, followed a referendum!?! Shock horror, farmer George might have granted independence during his lifetime!!! Apparently he wasn’t the power-mad a-hole the founding fathers made him out to be.

          For what it’s worth, yes, I live in one of those weird countries where Her Majesty’s representative is the “head of state” unless she is in the country herself when she is suddenly the head of state.

          *And yeah, the second amendment of the US constitution is part of that myth-making activity so people are dying in the streets (and schools and music festivals) for no other purpose than to keep dead men’s secret embarrassment (that they we in fact murders) kept under wraps.

        • Dvärghundspossen

          It’s cool if you can’t pronounce it, I started using it on Swedish boards and just kept it when I went on various English-speaking boards. It means “the toy dog posse”, and was something people would say when I walked my three little dogs in this “tough” neighbourhood where everyone else had pitbulls, *lol*. But if you wanna get a crack at pronouncing it, the “ä” is pronounced like a short “e”, like the vowal sound in “mess”, and the “g” is pronounced like “y” in “young”. Does that make sense? “Possen” is probably pronounced the same way you’d guess.

          • Michael Campbell

            So in Sweedish both “g” and “j” are both pronounced “y” hence Bjorn?

          • Bunny

            Awesome! Thank you so much. I’ll do my best.

            Are both the “D” and the “V” pronounced, so it sounds a bit like “Duhver”?

            By the way the backstory with the doggies is adorable. Toy dog posse! I love it!

          • Dvärghundspossen

            “G” can be pronounced either “y” or “g”, but “j” is always “y”.
            And yeah, “Duhver”, that’s right!

        • SunlessNick

          Regarding the monarchy, it took my a while to put into words what I thought was valuable about the British Royal family, but the way I see it is that Britain’s “ritual patriotism” is directed somewhere other than at the sitting government, and I think that’s a good thing.

          • Michael Campbell

            Well, ever since Oliver Cromwell, they’ve seen that government needs to be controlled and limited.
            The generals of Cromwell’s army took away people’s houses just because they liked the idea of that being their own house and they had an army with which to make it happen.

            So the British came up with a new position.
            Have a big navy. And that way you get away with a small army. And then the army won’t take liberties with other people’s stuff.

            So things like Guy Faulk’s night, are really traditions about government serving the “common wealth” instead of regular patriotism (which is about the public serving the nation).

  24. Leon

    #4, what makes humans weird.

    We are made for violence.

    I read an article last year about how there is no scientific explanation for the
    chin. nobody seems to have realized that it is there to protect the throat.
    Also, the heal, it’s not very good for running, but it does make a single foot a good stable base for throwing an opponent or an animal, or thrusting a spear.
    maybe we’re the Klingons?

    • Cay Reet

      We’re clearly space orcs.

      Actually, humans are one of two predators on earth who hunt in a very specific way, too: we follow our prey for days, if necessary, until it’s too weak or just too scared to run any longer. There’s no outrunning a human hunter long-term (unless they find easier prey somewhere else in the meantime). The other species? Wolves – whom we have ‘coincidentally’ tamed to hunt with us. Something which we could do, because we don’t just bond with our own species, but are capable of forming bonds with animals and even inanimate objects.

      We heal extremely well and deal very well with physical trauma. Actually, the human ability to ignore pain in a dangerous situation (thanks to certain chemicals in our system) and even walk on broken legs until that protection breaks, sets us apart from other animals, who fall into shock and don’t move once they’re severely injured. Our instinct is to escape and seek help with others of our kind, theirs is to just lie down and die. Just as our instinct is to help others who are injured, even if they’re not human.

      And our scar tissue, while not very pretty, knits over wounds extremely fast, which means even severe wounds can be healed without too many lasting effects. Our bones heal in shorter time than those of most other animals on the planet and we’re relatively good at improvising when we lose a limb. Of course, living in social groups where a weakness like a missing limb or eye can be covered by others also helps. We are such fast healers that we’ve even started to injure our bodies on purpose, just for cosmetic reasons (see tattoos, brandings, creating scars in specific shapes, or piercings),

      Our heel, I would guess, however is built like this, because we stand on our hind legs. Our foot is bigger than the paws or hooves of other land-dwelling animals to make us more stable in an upright position (same goes for our differently-shaped pelvic bone, which makes birthing more difficult, but holds our internal organs when we stand upright). Unlike birds, our who body is balanced on top of the feet (and specifically the heel), it’s much straighter up and much harder to balance out than the body of a duck, chicken, or emu (though penguins come close). While we’re endurance walkers, we can’t run for long periods of time, so a foot shaped for long running, as that of a wolf or a cat, isn’t that useful for us. The stability the heel provides us with, however, is certainly useful in a fight.

      • Dvärghundspossen

        At first I was like “no way, that’s false, because dogs and horses tend to be way more stoic about pain and humans, way better at carrying on when it hurts, and I’m pretty sure all pets I know of heal faster than crappy humans do”. Then I realized that doesn’t contradict the point you made at all, since your point was about humans vs wild animals… It’s not surprising if we’ve bred working animals to be stoic, for instance.

        • Cay Reet

          The fact alone that you put a horse down when it breaks a leg, whereas a human can even survive well with a leg missing is a sign. We are weird creatures with fast healing (scar tissue is ugly, but it grows super-fast, closing wounds quickly and efficiently). And we are the only species which instictively acts when severely injured (trying to get away and to someone who’d help) instead of going into shock.

          We are also the only species on this planet (at least) which injures itself on purpose, think about tattoos, brandings, or piercings. We developed surgery well before anaesthetics (successful head surgery was already done in Ancient Egypt, the first traces of using drugs to lower pain can be seen much later). On battlefields and in other situations, even amputations have been done without anaesthetics. Humans are even capable of cutting off their own limbs in times of need (like with that mountain climber stuck in a crack).

          Our brain lowers the strength of our muscles on purpose, because if they were allowed to go full strength (outside emergencies), we might do permanent damage to ourselves. We are weird space orcs and not just ‘boring, average humans.’

          • Dvärghundspossen

            Well, coyotes and other animals can chew off their own legs to get out of traps. They obviously don’t do surgery, though, because they aren’t intelligent enough.
            And there are lots of examples of horses who finished races with broken or splintered legs, and similar examples from the dog world. Dogs do fine, too, with three legs only, they can still run around and jump and even do agility courses, wich a one-legged human cannot do without a prosthesis. The reason horses can’t manage on three legs is because they’re so big and heavy.

          • Cay Reet

            Yes, dogs and other smaller animals can do well on three legs, animals as heavy as horses or cows have more problems there.

            You will still find humans are odd when it comes to pain and injury. We do react differently on the whole.

          • Michael Campbell

            @ Dvärghundspossen
            “They obviously don’t do surgery, though, because they aren’t intelligent enough.”

            Well that and the lack of an opposable digit (A.K.A. thumb) with which to grasp the scalpel.

  25. Cay Reet

    If you want to make your humans less of the ‘boring’ standard model in a fantasy or science fiction setting (though the examples are more sci-fi than fantasy), look at the ‘humans are weird’ and ‘we’re space Australia’ tumblr threads. They write up how aliens could think we humans are strange (for instance: we bond with everything, not just with humans, but also with animals or even inanimate objects; or: we are extremely good at improvising and cobble together solutions which will get us out of trouble and allow us to do real repairs once we have the parts; or: we never give up, we just keep going, so it’s great news for a stranded alien to know that a human rescue team has been deployed to find them). I love the story about the ‘introvert’ human in there … and the stories about how earth’s wildlife decimates the alien conquerers who found subduing humans easy, but now are faced with a world where humans remained a dominant species and even seemingly small things (like bees) kill off their troups.

    We Are Space Australia:

    What if Humans are weird?

  26. The Lily Black

    Also, what do you think of “Matriarchy In Name Only” trope? Can it be played intentionally and mindfully? Like, a female protagonist who lives in a society that declares itself to be matriarchal, only to discover later that it’s actually a patriarchy in disguise, and then the protagonist tries to tell the truth about society.

  27. Zoila

    Appreciating the time and energy you put into your blog
    and in depth information you provide. It’s great to come across a blog every
    once in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed information. Fantastic read!
    I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy (updated 03/28/20) and our privacy policy for details on how we moderate comments and who receives your information.