Twilight in Time

This week’s Time Magazine features an article about the Stephanie Meyer novels, and the phenomenon surrounding her books, Rowling’s, and the other fantastical YA novels that seem to have spawned entire societies of fans.

The article, written by Lev Grossman, made one point that jumped out of the web page and smacked me on the nose:

“There’s no literary term for the quality Twilight and Harry Potter (and The Lord of the Rings) share, but you know it when you see it: their worlds have a freestanding internal integrity that makes you feel as if you should be able to buy real estate there.”

True that, double true. But it’s happening repeatedly, this desire to immerse oneself in a world created in a book, be it urban fantasy, science fiction, or paranormal romance, and it fascinates me. There are books I think about often (damn you Black Ships, quit following me around) and books I enjoy over and over just to visit the characters and their world, but I don’t know that I’ve personally read a book, that had such deft worldbuilding that I wanted to set up a yurt and move in for awhile.

However, and I’ve had to recognize this strong preference on my part recently, I’m a historical romance girl all the way. I like urban fantasy, I like paranormals, contemporaries, a mix of the three, science fiction, fantasy, whatever you name it. I dabble in everything but I love me a straight up historical romance. Considering my personal preference within the context of world building makes me wonder, though – can establishment of a historical setting be considered “world building,” or is it more “world reconstructing?” And do I prefer the historical because the same “world” is accessed by so many different authors using the same researched elements of long-past societies and countries? I must ponder this one further.

So who builds great worlds for you? What world from a book would you want to camp out in for awhile?

Categorized:

Random Musings

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  1. 1
    Sarabeth says:

    Only if I were an elf or Eomer’s lover would I want to hang out in Tolkein’s world, but I’ve always been a D&D;kind of gal.

  2. 2

    For me, even as a 44 year old housewife/writer, it’s the world of Harry Potter all the way.  And Riverside, the world of Ellen Kushner’s elegant, awesome books: The Fall of the Kings, Swordspoint, The Privilege of the Sword.  Swordplay, wit, thwarted love, swordfighting women and beautiful, wildly sexy gay men.  Very swoonworthy worlds.  As a writer I think I try to write worlds I’d like to live in.  My first book was inspired by mad crushes on Reverend Farebrother and Dr. Lydgate in Middlemarch. 
    Mary Beth Bass

  3. 3
    Ros says:

    I’m with you on the historicals and for me it’s Heyer all the way.  The first I read and loved was Simon the Coldheart and I still imagine myself as one of Margot’s ladies.  But I’d also love to live in Heyer’s Regency era. 

    Though I wouldn’t say no to spending some time on the Romanian dragon reserve with Charlie Weasley…

  4. 4
    Mala says:

    I would definitely live in the Harry Potter universe. Rowling created something so rich, so detailed, that it’s easy to picture walking along the streets of Hogsmeade or shopping in Diagon Alley.  My favorite world-builder at the moment, though, is probably Kelley Armstrong.  Her Women of the Otherworld series is very well-crafted. Instead of being direct sequels, her books feel more like a spider’s web, spinning further and further out and creating more and more facets of her supernatural world.  There’s a social structure, a hierarchy and day-to-day workings within that hierarchy, and I think that’s a key when you’re writing a believable universe. It’s very much like how the ton operates in historicals.
    That, and I just love Armstrong’s women. I want to be one of them. They’re all unique and strong, regardless of whether or not they’re a werewolf/necromancer/demon.

  5. 5
    AgTigress says:

    ..can establishment of a historical setting be considered “world building,” or is it more “world reconstructing”?

    This is a very interesting point.  Professional historians and archaeologists spend their lives trying to reconstruct – not invent – the past.  It is a process akin to scientific experiment, in that it requires the establishment of an hypothesis (which often depends on insight and imagination as well as careful analysis of factual evidence) and the testing of that hypothesis.  It is always a process that involves both art and science.  This is the process that the best historical novelists use as well.  Though the stories they write may have fictional characters and plots, their attention to the setting is as true to a lost reality as they can make it, and will illuminate the past for their readers.  Imagination and creativity are involved at every level, but certain parameters are fixed because they lie outside the boundaries of fiction.
    I have the greatest admiration for that kind of reconstruction.  I have no admiration at all for historical novelists who distort the facts of the past, either through poor research or with malice aforethought, and have no real interest in wholly invented worlds.  Time enough to get interested in those when we have managed to understand the one we live in a bit better.
    But everyone to her taste, of course.

  6. 6
    Mel L. says:

    I would definitely hang out with J.R. Ward’s BDB or Sherrilyn Kenyon’s DH’s. Reading about dark, brooding, sexy men fighting an evil we know nothing about makes me hot!!!

  7. 7
    snarkhunter says:

    I disagree with Grossman’s claim that there is no literary term.

    There is. It’s called “wonder.” It’s some combination of the unheimlich and…I don’t even know. But there are wonderful (uh…no pun intended) essays on the quality of wonder, and how hard it is to truly define.

    His Majesty’s Dragon had wonder for me. The first time I read Charles de Lint’s Jack the Giant-Killer, it was like a revelation.

    And, yes, Harry Potter. JKR’s Wizarding World is a never-ending source of fascination and wonder for me.  As much as I liked Twilight, it didn’t have that same effect.

  8. 8
    Jackie L. says:

    Lois McMaster Bujold is the master of world building.  And not just one world but a mini-universe of them.  Fantastical, yet deeply believable.  I wouldn’t want to live in her universe, but a vacation to Beta would be a blast.

  9. 9
    RT says:

    Dorthy Dunnett and Diane Gabaldon.  I read and reread their series not just for the emotional highs, but because I love their universes.  Both are historically accurate writers and yet it is more than that.  It’s their slants on what is important.  It’s the qualities of the people and they way they experience their own worlds.  Love it.

    Harry Potter is definitely the pinnacle when it comes to world building.  I enjoyed Twilight, but it did not do the same for me.  I just read Siren by Cheryl Sawyer and that did have a fantastic world, although it is heavy on history for someone looking for a historical romance.  (I loved it – my first ever auto-buy on Amazon).

    Anyways, good post.  Really made me think.

  10. 10
    JaneyD says:

    I’m tempted by TolkeinVerse, but Middle Earth requires a lot of manual labor and fighting, and I’m a lazy, peaceable bitch.  He NEVER tells how those Elf ladies cook and clean.  Does Elrond leave the seat up?  Are his dirty Elf undies scattered over the floor?  Too much Elvish angst for me, and Gondor is too full of itself.  I’d choke on Civic Pride Week and all the freakin’ filk sings.  If they don’t have any black cohosh to take out my hot flashes I’d soon be insane from lack of sleep!

    It’s a bit better in the PotterVerse, since I could hang out with Muggles whenever I needed antibotics and a Tivo fix, but you have to avoid Deatheaters and a bunch of other nasties.  Snape is too busy for romance, and Harry and his pals are mostly underaged.  Wait a sec—the Weasley twins—oh, yeah, I could go for a weekend with THEM!

    There’s the Harry DresdenVerse, modern Chicago is more my speed, but it’s even MORE dangerous than the PotterVerse.  OTOH, Dresden is of legal age and has that Repect For Wimmin thing going.  He’ll bust his chops to help you or die trying.  And hey—no house cleaning!  He’s got a hoard of brownies to cover things.  But how to balance that against random attacks by three different types of vampires, ghouls, trolls, Warlocks, rent collectors, and your computer blowing up every time he walks into the room?  But still, he’s a hawt bitch.

    The BujoldVerse—good one!  But there’s only one Miles and a woman would be nuts to choose to live on Barayar.  Ugh.  I’d have to wear a dress and put up with a ton of goose-stepping alpha-male piggies who aren’t Miles.  I might do well with That-Idiot-Ivan—except for his mother.  Yikes.

    Got it! Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie PlumVerse.  If Steph would just CHOOSE ONE, Ranger or Morelli, I’ll be glad to take her sloppy seconds.  I’m hoping she’ll take Morelli, as Ranger is the hawtest bitch evah, and Steph once mentioned he really LIKED to kiss.  (One presumes he’s good at it!) 

    Right, suspenseful, mostly non-fatal, not-too-good at bounty hunting for a job, a couple of hawt guys as backup, an insane but likeable family, and an ex-hooker, a Mafia Princess, and a transvestite lead singer in a band as your sidekicks—yeah, I could go for that verse!

  11. 11
    Erin says:

    I would have loved to camp out in Robin Hobb’s Bingtown, or at least hang out on one of the ships. I don’t think that the world was especially well created, but she managed to add such a layer of magic to a pretty typical world that I was devastated when I finished the third book.

    Didn’t happen to me at all with the Assassin series, and I couldn’t get past the first chapter of the Golden Fool series, so I think she had just stumbled upon the right collection of elements for me with the Bingtown Traders.

    For me it’s the right combination of descriptions, both of the main action, and of random daily crap. I need to know and feel that gears are turning beyond the scenes. The unseen needs to have action for me. I get that when I read Tolstoy, and I don’t when I read Dostoevsky. That’s why the earlier HP books did it for me more than the later ones. I felt that the description of the world was giving way to the main action of the plot (as rightly it should have – we only need a description of Diagon Ally so many times).

  12. 12
    SB Sarah says:

    Snarkhunter’s comment is really, really, cool. Except that it got “Wonderwall” stuck in my head.

    At least it replaced that $(#@)*#(@)! Heart song.

  13. 13
    Tinkerbon says:

    Nobody has yet mentioned Lynn Viehl’s DarkynVerse, with the chance to meet historical heroes from the past who now live among us … can’t wait for Robin of Locksley’s story …

    And another they-are-among-us favorite universe for me is the one created by Shana Abe. Loves me some smoky dragon people!

    — Bonz

  14. 14
    LizzieBee says:

    It’s happened so many times over the year. (Think it might have something to do with being an only child in a workaholic family, followed by being a library geek, for some reason…) Most memorably, Diana Gabaldon’s reconstruction of mid-18 Century places literally transported me, and I remember devouring them whilst living/working in a small town in the Canadian Rockies. I turned up to work one afternoon, and I was standing at the sandwich press thinking “There’s something really not right about this. Why aren’t I standing over a fire?” I had such a sense of dislocation. I had emersed myself so deeply (I was sitting down and reading for hours and hours on end during some of the books – I think this occasion I was in the middle of Voyager or The Drums of Autumn. Seeing cars on the street, the coffee machine – but it was really the sandwich maker that threw me. Who knows why!) Sara Donati does it quite well also. Stephanie Laurens does it somewhat – I’ll tend to look around, or go out, and wonder why people aren’t being more courteous, why doors aren’t being opened automatically for me, and why I’m not wearing long skirts and a spencer.

    If I could live somewhere, it might have to be the Harry Potter universe though. So close to ours, and yet so different! The sheer wonder of it all. Definitely taking a trip to a certain dragon reserve in Romania to visit Charlie Weasley might be in order :D Just having a look around, although I would probably want a wand – who wouldnt!

  15. 15
    Shelley M says:

    Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosiverse, oh yes.

    Ellen Kushner’s Riverside.

    Dorothy Dunnet’s version of Europe—and you know it’s not ours, not just because of the psychic powers, but if Lymond and Philippa lived, the Stuarts wouldn’t have made quite the idiotic mistakes they did in the early 1600s.

    Sherwood Smith’s Sartorias-deles—worked on for forty years.  It shows.

    Patrick O’Brian’s world of tall ships, and how 1812 seems to last forever…

  16. 16
    Harlequin says:

    The late great Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time ‘verse. I can’t imagine I’d make it in the White Tower or living with the Aiel but I’d love to give life in the Two Rivers a lash.

    Of course, I’d have to be married to Mat Cauthon to really feel at home. Sigh. Swoon. Repeat ad infinitum.

    Heyer’s Regency London would be pretty fantabulous too. Imperialism and continuing subjugation of Ireland aside. :-D

  17. 17
    shaina says:

    i agree with LizzieBee, i feel the same when i (re)read Gabaldon…and i also have to agree with the people who said Harry Potter…but personally i love any world with magic, be it HP or in a Nora or in some vampire novel. speaking of Nora, i’m surprised nobody has mentioned the In Death universe! i’d go for that!!! And after i read one, i always feel the lack of an AutoChef keenly the next time i go into the kitchen.
    leaving the realm of romance, Mercedes Lackey does a mighty fine job of world building in all of her books that i’ve read so far. you almost expect to look outside and see a dragon flying overhead.

  18. 18
    AgTigress says:

    I disagree with Grossman’s claim that there is no literary term.
    There is. It’s called “wonder.”

    This was interesting new information for me, and I am grateful to learn it, but I have to say, as a technical definition of what people are discussing here, it appears to me less than satisfactory.  The word ‘wonder’ already has numerous definitions, and is in everyday use in many of them, so its technical, literary meaning is always going to be far too easily overlooked and misunderstood.

    Incidentally, does everyone else in the universe read fiction this way, by becoming ‘immersed’ in the world of the novel and perceiving it as an alterative reality?  It seems so bizarre to me.  I have read and enjoyed novels for nearly 60 years, and it has only been in the last few years that I even discovered that other readers perceive fiction in that way.  I suppose it explains to some degree why I am so impatient with fantasy and fairy tales, while other people enjoy them.

  19. 19
    Ashirin says:

    Diana Gabaldon makes me want to move to Scotland and build a time machine.  Absolutely.

    And *looks around and blushes* as kind of a dark dirty secret of mine…Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books also keep drawing me in because I love the world there so much.

  20. 20
    Trumystique says:

    When I was kid I always read as if that universe the author created actually existed. I was a nerd and I learned that physicists theorized parallel universes so in my kid brain it seemed sorta kinda likely ( as in no one could tell me it was impossible but I couldnt prove it). So often I would rush back to a book hoping the characters didnt leave me behind. And I would always wonder what happened to them after I finished the book. Sometimes I would daydream what would happen if I fell into that universe as myself.

    So who builds great worlds for you? What world from a book would you want to camp out in for awhile?

    So those are 2 fundamentally different questions. Lots of people build great worlds. Would I want to live in them…

    I cant really think of a romance universe I would want to live in. I love Regencies and the whole idea but it only works for wish fulfillment if you are a certain class and race. Maybe Galbaldon’s universe (which is some cross genre delight) but I dont think I could confuse people and say I am black Irish! I am certainly transported when I read in that world but sadly dont feel like there is any place there for me as a woman of color. So I think I would have to turn to the SF-fantasy axis.

    Everytime I read anything in Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden Universe I think how cool it would be to live there. I want to be a part of Clan Korval and I want pilot reflexes too! And of course finding a lifemate would be super too.

    In terms of wonder, I think Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time series has definitely got that covered for me. Potterverse doesnt do it for me at all. Pern by McCaffrey used to do it for me but hasnt stood up the test of time. But your own personal telepathic dragon- very very cool which is what I think Novik captured in her series.

    I can think of so many SF series that were wonderful and had the most amazing worldbuilding. However there are so many that I wouldnt want to really live in because of race, class, gender or because the world was in a critical and dangerous period. So while I love Bujold (like Janey D) I couldnt live in Barrayar cause of the gender dynamics and also there arent any people other than European stock. I could only live in Butcher’s Chicago if I was being backed up by Harry or Michael but it would suck to be a person without magic or a really big gun. I love Well’s Ile Rien but thats a civilization in collapse. I could go on and on.

    But if I could choose the terms of how I would camp out in a particular author’s world then maybe I would have a longer list. But if I got to determine beforehand “I will go to this world only if I have magic and I am really rich and no one will discriminate against me” that would probably violate the rules of the internally logical and fascinating world that I wanted to visit in the first place.

  21. 21
    Jessica says:

    I’ve wanted to go to Narnia since I was seven, personally.  And, embarrassingly, a handful of Piers Anthony’s universes.

  22. 22
    TracyS says:

    My opinion, is that every author creates a “world” when they write.  I really love a book if the people seem real~real enough that you can imagine running into them at WalMart. LOL Suzanne Brockmann’s earliest SEAL books for example.  Okay, these guys are SEALs, not your average joe to be sure, BUT she creates within them real personalities.  They have faults just like the rest of us. (Nothing makes me more crazy than the romance hero that is “perfect”) One of my favorite SEALs~Kenny~has no filter from his brain to his mouth.  He drives a variety of people crazy with that.  In the books where you are not getting his perspective he comes off as immature and impulsive.  However, when you read his book, those traits along with his very real insecurities (despite being a hot SEAL) make him seam like someone you could run into at the grocery store.  THAT is world building to me.  I haven’t had that same connection with most of her newer books (with the exception of INTO THE STORM). Not sure if it’s her writing changing or me changing *Shrugs*

    But when I close a book with the feeling that the people written seemed so real, that I feel I could meet them and have a conversation with them~it’s a keeper to me.

  23. 23
    rebyj says:

    The first world I got lost in was Pinnochio’s.
    A circa 1930’s printing of Carlo Collodi’s original story at 7 years old.
    Snarkhunter said it well ” wonder” is the ultimate tag for getting lost in that story. If you have kids, get the non disney version of this book and your kid will LOVE it , it’s dark and scary and full of colorful imagery of   Pinnochio’s world.

    Jump ahead a couple of years and I was lost in the Prairie. Laura Ingall’s Little House books had me captivated for many years. I think the last time I re-read them was in 2003 or 2004.

    As an adult , Jacqueline Carey’s Terre D’Ange and surrounding areas are very well structured, vibrant worlds in the Kushiel Series.

    Also, who wouldn’t want to be high up in an Angel’s keep in Sharon Shinn’s Archangel series? When you hit book 2 or 3 that world expands even more so. 

    Finally, a sci fi favorite Island in the Sea of Time by S. M. Stirling .
    A captivating book that has the entire Nantucket Island and it’s inhabitants going back in time 3000 years. Their world goes with them but he skillfully weaves them a new world in a different time. Excellent!

  24. 24
    Rhea says:

    I’ve wanted to be a Ravenclaw since Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone.  Potterverse is so addictive to me that I’m a fanfic addict.

    and I’d love to live in the historical British ton that Johanna Lindsey and Julie Garwood have created. I’d probably be at the lowest levels of society if not actually a slave were I to timetravel back then, but in my imagination, I meet James Mallory before Georgina Anderson does, and we have beautiful beautiful little mixed children…

  25. 25
    loonigrrl says:

    While reading the Narnia series as a kid (before I was aware of the religious overtones) I desperately wanted to live there. I remember bawling my eyes out at the end of The Last Battle because I’d never get to read a new adventure.

    I was a big fantasy nut growing up.  In the early part of the series before all the puns drove me crazy and forced me to stop reading, I used to imagine myself in the Xanth universe by Piers Anthony and had always wanted my own magical power.

    While reading Tamora Pierce’s Alanna series in middle school or junior high, I alternated between wanting to be Alanna- a girl who disguised herself as a boy to fulfill her dream of becoming a knight- and just myself within the universe. Usually, I wanted to be Alanna just so I could have George, King of the Thieves, chasing after me.

    These days, it’s still the fantasy (and occasional sci fi) books that really do it for me in terms of world building. I love Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series, Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn series, Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series and S.L. Viel’s Stardoc series. My favorite world building book is definitely Harry Potter, though. I don’t re-read them as much as I do the others, but even as an adult I’d lose myself in the books, imagining myself a witch attending Hogwarts and fighting alongside Harry and the rest.

  26. 26
    Sandra D says:

    Say what you will about Valdemar and Lackey, but hello? intelligent, telepathic horses? Sign me up!

  27. 27
    Jody W. says:

    Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series would be the place I would want to visit, however temporarily.  I think it would be exciting to experience the changes in the world when vampires et al came out of the closet.  It might also be infuriating, terrifying, annoying and dangerous.  So I’d want a free pass home :)

  28. 28
    Jody W. says:

    Oh, I meant to add I wouldn’t mind visiting one of the universes where this Earth meets aliens, only minus world wars and hostile confrontations.  Right off-hand, though, I can’t think of any particular author’s ‘verse that suits what I have in mind, probably because of the momnesia, not because there isn’t one.

  29. 29
    Yvonne says:

    Oh AgTigress! Yes, yes, yes! This is why I love being an archaeologist. The worst thing is when imagination is lacking or is squashed by academia. *sigh* Feeling squashed right now.

    I can say with conviction that I would love to go to any world that Terry Pratchett creates. I just want to do some hanging out with the Nac Mac Feegle! As to what world I could live in, I don’t want to choose just one. I think I’ll just keep visiting them all whenever I get the chance.

  30. 30
    Marianne McA says:

    Perhaps it’s easier to do when you’re a teenager – I’m fairly sure I lived in Pern for a while. I know that if I’d read Rowling at that age, it’d have been the same. Rowling’s probably the closest I’ve got to that feeling as a grown-up.

    My 14 year old is like that about Twilight – rereads the series constantly, and has the actors from the film as her screensaver.  All her friends seem to love the books too. I thought they were very readable, but they didn’t transport me anywhere.

    It’d be worth going to Barrayar to meet Miles.

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