Friday, March 13, 2015

World Building: Religion in Science Fiction

by Diane Burton

This is the third time I’ve blogged here about smaller aspects of world building. Previously, I wrote about transportation and aliens.

I learned a long time ago that there are two subjects to avoid in social settings if you value peace—religion and politics. However, both have a place in world building, especially in science fiction. I’m tackling religion today. If you all don’t tar and feather me and run me out of town, I’ll be back next month to talk about politics.

Here on Earth, many inhabitants recognize a supreme being and a place of reward or punishment after we die. It’s evident in our speech, often as exclamations. Oh, God. Heavens! By God. Hell. So it will be in our stories. Think about your characters and the world they inhabit. Did their ancestors come from Earth? If so, their speech will contain many common expressions. If their origins are from somewhere else in the universe, think about how religion plays into their speech. Even more so, their lives.

I’ve been watching episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. One group of people, the Bajorans, revere The Prophets who play a large part in their lives. They believe The Prophets speak to them through others, guide them, even influence their political leaders. Consequently, the conflict between religion and duty to the Federation has played heavily in several episodes. In your world, what part does religion play, if any?

Something else to consider is whether everyone in the world you created believes the same. We don’t here on Earth so why should the inhabitants of a single planet? Unless there’s a “state” religion. Does everyone truly believe or are there dissidents who rebel against a forced state religion? Remember the Pilgrims?

Consider if your characters come from different planets, like the world I’ve built in my Outer Rim series. Since my characters either come from different planets or their immediate ancestors did, their religion-based exclamations aren’t be the same. (It sure would be easier if they were.) In The Pilot, my main characters grew up on three different planets with three different types of religion. I had to develop substitutes for “By God” (for instance) for all three. I used “By the Divine One” for the hero; “By the Matriarch’s left tit” for his buddy; and “By the Spirits” for the heroine. Those exclamations tell you a bit about who or what they worship or revere. The hero’s planet believes in a single supreme being they call the Divine One. No gender implied. On the heroine’s planet, the people revere the spirits of their ancestors. Then there’s the buddy with his irreverent exclamation. (Normally the expression is “By the Matriarch” but he was in crisis mode dodging asteroids.) On his homeworld, a female entity is venerated. Since I stay away from discussion of religious differences in my own social world, I don’t get on a soapbox in my writing either. I try to use a light touch.

Obviously, how the characters speak is a minor aspect of world building. But it was one thing my first editor impressed on me. They’re aliens, she said. They wouldn’t speak as we do. I learned my lesson. Maybe too well.
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There’s no place like home . . . and he just confiscated hers.

Sparks fly around the Outer Rim when rule-bound Administrator Trevarr Jovano clashes with free-spirited space pilot Celara d'Enfaden. She must deliver her cargo or lose her ship to a loanshark. Having lost her last shipment to pirates masquerading as Coalition Inspectors, Celara refuses to be duped again. Determined to make an example of those who flaunt the law, Trevarr seizes her ship. Yet, they must work together to rescue her brother and find his wife's murderer.

Diane Burton is the author of two science fiction romance series, Switched and The Outer Rim. Currently she is working on the third book in The Outer Rim series about strong women on the frontier of space. Diane is a regular contributor here on the 13th of the month, on The Roses of Prose on the 8th and 30th, and every Monday on her own blog:


Nancy Gideon said...

Great post, Diane!! It's those little details that make your books delicious!

Lucy Naylor Kubash said...

I have to say that I am totally amazed by authors who can build worlds in their books. I'm lucky to build a town in my books!

Diane Burton said...

Thanks, Nancy & Lucy. Details, details, details. :)

Kim Hornsby said...

Loved your blog. This is why I don't write Sci Fi! World building is intimidating.
Great thoughts about Religion.
My friend Laurie wrote a novel set in early Scandinavia and used some funny sayings that referred to their "God".
These details make the story so much more believable if you can say that about Sci Fi.
Great article Diane!

M.J. Schiller, Romance Author said...

Enjoyed your post! You did a good job of examining aspects of religion on our planet and applying it to what things might be like on another planet. Interesting! I find sometimes writers go overboard with cute sayings and it detracts from the actual story. The way the language is spoken isn't nearly as important as what the characters are saying to one another. That being said, the opposite holds true, too. If the writing is riddled with terms that wouldn't apply in the made up world that will also distract your reader. It's a fine line! Thanks for sharing, Diane!