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Worldbuilding Exchange Letter

Posted on 2017.01.31 at 03:48
Dear Worldbuilder,

I'm requesting:
  • The Fisherman and the Jinni (1001 Nights) (fic or meta)
         No Characters; Original Character(s)
  • Le città invisibili | Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino (fic or meta)
         No Characters; Original Character(s); Berenice; Euphemia; Fedora; Leandra; Tamara
  • Le città invisibili | Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino (art)
         Berenice; Euphemia; Fedora; Leandra; Tamara
  • Original Work (fic or meta)
         No Characters; Original Character(s)
  • Original Work (art)
         No Characters; Original Character(s)
Links to the relevant city descriptions can be found in the body of the Invisible Cities prompts, and a summary of the relevant points of the Fisherman and the Jinni story prefaces that prompt.

Le città invisibili | Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino (fic or meta)
     Inter-city Diplomacy

Tell me more about the religion of Leandra, about the ironical laughter of its little gods, about their worship, what the inhabitants think of them, how the city appears from their perspective... Tell me about Euphemia, where traders come four times a year, not only to trade in market goods, but to trade their own memories. How does that work? How did it come to start? Who wants to trade their memories and why? What is it like to have memories not your own? What do the townspeople make of the traders? Do they ever take part themselves? Tell me more of Berenice, its bathhouses, spies, intrigues; its hidden community of the just; the seed of corruption even amongst them, and the yearning to justice of the unjust; its politics, its history, its way of life.

Or tell me about the food in any of the cities. We hear about the food of the just in Berenice, but what of the unjust? What is it like in other cities? How does it reflect the history of the character of each city, of the travellers who come, of the original founders?

Or what sort of interactions are there between the cities? What is it like to go as a diplomat from one to another? Which cities are allies, enemies, trading partners? Does one city have factions that disagree on what the relations should be with another city? Does one city have an embassy in another, and what is it like?

Or anything else you want to tell me, about any of the listed cities, or some other city. These questions are suggestions, not set desires. (Also, I know this is OR matching - I've provided prompts that match the worldbuilding tag with the obvious city, but if you signed up with a clever idea about e.g. trade in Berenice, or religion in Euphemia, I look forward to reading it.)

Le città invisibili | Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino (art)
     Miniature Models

So, those miniature models in Fedora - I'd love to see one or more of them, or how they're made, or where they're displayed, or how they are similar to and contrast with the city of Fedora. Or what about the signs of Tamara, the signboards, the statues with their conventional attributes (or can you show a building or goods for sale in a way that makes clear it's nature as a sign?). Or show me any of the architecture - the grey stone of Fedora, with its metal museum; the crowded streets of Tamara; the decorated, complicated Berenice with its hidden, shadowy depths, it's elegant bathhouses, its shops; or indeed any of the cities, nominated or not. Or perhaps a map - what sort of map includes both Fedora and the miniatures, does justice to Berenice, describes a city where the mapper's memory may in fact be of somewhere else entirely?

(As above, this is OR matching - I've provided prompts that match the worldbuilding tag with the obvious city, but if you signed up with a clever idea about e.g. signs in Euphemia, or miniature models in Leandra, I look forward to seeing it.)

The Fisherman and the Jinni (1001 Nights) (fic or meta)
     History of the coloured fish

Canon: Can be found online in various translations (e.g. here - the relevant part for this requests starts with the words 'They passed by the town, and came to the top of a mountain'). Different versions have slightly different details, but the main points are:

  • The fisherman, having convinced a Jinn he had rescued to reward him, is taken to a lake in a barren landscape and told he may cast his net there once, and only once, a day. The lake is quite nearby, but no one has ever seen or heard of it before.

  • Each cast, he catches four fish, very striking and lovely and of different colours: one white, one red, one blue and one yellow.

  • He presents them to the local king, who gives them to a slave to fry. When the slave turns them over in the pan a beautiful woman appears, sticks a wand into the pan, and asks the fish if they have kept faith with her - the fish reply that they have. (Some versions have a slightly longer and more detailed dialogue.) She then strikes the pan, knocking the fish into the fire, and vanishes.

  • The same thing happens a second time, watched by the vizier. The third time, watched by the king, much the same thing happens, except this time it is a tall negro with a green twig.

  • The king learns that some time previously the king of another kingdom (the Black Isles), discovering that his wife was having an affair, secretly attacked her lover (a negro slave) and almost killed him. Some time later his wife discovered that he was the one who had carried out the attack, and cursed him to become half stone, also turning the kingdom into a lake and the citizens into fish.

There are so many questions here. It seems possible that the different coloured fish represent the different religious communities, since the queen is specifically described as transforming the Muslims, Jews, Christians and heathens. And one might presume the beautiful woman who appears with the wand is the magician-queen, since it would make sense that the woman who appears is the woman who originally turned them into fish, but of course it might not be. And what faith exactly are they keeping with her, whoever she is, and what faith is she keeping with them? Why does she turn up only when they are being cooked, and what purpose is there in overturning the pan - it's not as though she frees them, or returns them to the lake, despite the fact they claim to have kept faith with her. And who is the man who comes on the last occasion? Is he the queen's lover? But then, he is supposed to be lying ill and injured, barely alive, not striding around interrogating fish. So, what is the significance of the different colours, who is the woman, and who is the man, what bond are they keeping, how is it related to attempts to cook the fish, and how did they all end up in this situation?

Obviously there are any number of fic possibilities here. For meta, you could write an extract from a history book, or perhaps from a magic book explaining how that sort of spell works. Or reports to some foreign ruler from his spies or diplomats about what the hell is going on (a new kingdom suddenly appears! Right where an old one vanished and no one seemed to notice!). Or a collection of snippets from different sources (books of different sorts, personal letters, official reports, folk tales, songs, etc) offering different points of view. (I'd be fascinated to have all my questions answered, but I'd settle for some of them, and some things left a mystery, if that fits what you're writing better.)

Original Work (fic or meta)
     Folk religion (Original Work - Fantasy)
     Planetary cultures (Original Work - Pulp SF)

For Folk religion - Fantasy: Fantasy often deals with formal religion, with powerful churches, or the decrees and prophecies of gods, but what is it like and a more personal, day-to-day basis, for those who are not caught up in such great matters? In our world, people believed in local gods, in spirits of the hearth, the byre, the forest, in minor supernatural creatures, helpful or baleful as the case may be, in little rituals and local taboos. Does it make a difference if people are living in a world where minor supernatural creatures really do exist? What is that like?

For Planetary cultures - Pulp SF: Ah, the good old days when all the planets (and probably the moons, and possibly any decent sized asteroid) were perfectly habitable, without any particular problems with gravity or atmosphere or radiation. And I loved it. I loved the sense of wonder, of endless possibility, the sheer playfulness with which real world elements could be remixed into a kaleidoscope of foreign worlds, the never-ending possibilities for exploration and discovery. So, what sort of ships ply the Venusian seas? Are there cities of ice on frozen Neptune? What sort of trade once followed the canals of Mars? Are there strange forests on Saturn? Tell me something about some other world, about its ecology, its people, its scenery; about its nomads or its city-dwellers; its rich perfumes or strange foods; its religion or its arts...

Original Work (art)
     Planetary cultures (Original Work - Pulp SF)

See above for what I love about this prompt. Artwise, I was thinking particularly of architecture or landscape, with a sense of grandeur, or wonder, or playful invention. But I'm also very fond of ships, whether at sea or in port (or airships); also of marketplaces, or of city scenes in general (a view of a famous and important monument/building, or of the tiny lanes in a poorer quarter, or unusual building types, or the shopping district, or of people using whatever transport system there is, etc). You could also do illustrations from a book on zoology or botany. Or a map - you know the very old maps, with monsters filling in the uncharted areas? Except they'd be different monsters of course, and everything drawn in a different style - why should a Venusian map look like a medieval European map?

In General


I don't think you can go wrong here, actually. Travel guides, history books, spell books, academic works, folksongs, letters, anything and everything. If you're wondering if I'll like your idea, the answer is yes, yes I will.


If you're writing fic and want ideas for the non-worldbuilding elements of your story, I like: established relationships, clever and competent characters, witty banter, slash (incl. femslash), political intrigue, moral ambiguity, apparently simple conversations with a great deal going on under the surface, angst if done with restraint, metaphor, clever use of literary allusions, relationships where each party thinks the other has all the power. Fierce loyalty (the tear the world apart for you variety, not the sit here passively putting up with anything variety), complicated love/hate relationships with lots of backstory, unflappable characters, arrogance if the party concerned has the requisite ability to back it up, committed partnerships between people who see the world at the same angle (even if they aren't always on the same side) ...

IF is always welcome (though for this exchange probably a great deal too much work to do on top of the world building).

Things I’d prefer you avoided: I’m not terribly keen on stories focused on pregnancy or children, humiliation, or stories told in the 2nd person, and I do have something of an embarrassment squick. Oh all right, I also don't tend to like issuefic, but I'm not sure that's something people generally set out to write - one person's issuefic is another's searingly honest portrayal. (This is my usual DNW list, but perhaps, just this once, and with particular reference to the Pulp SF prompt, I might stress that I really, really do not want issuefic for this exchange.)


One reason I never ask for art is because I fear I don't know how to prompt well for it. But it seemed such a shame not to ask for it for this exchange, when there was so much art I'd love for it - I can only apologise, however, and ask your indulgence if my art requests are confusing or unhelpful or poorly phrased.

Examples of things I like (this part is probably poorly phrased! I've tried to indicate examples of what I mean, but they may not have made anything clearer.)

A sense of detail and precision (e.g. illustrations in late Victorian children's books; botanical sketches; complicated repeating patterns; Indian and Persian miniatures; bird-and-flower paintings, particularly of the gongbi school)

Conversely, also bold and simple (particularly if black and white, or black, white and one other colour, and more graceful, sinuous lines, rather than angular or blocky), or with some parts trailing off into misty imprecision (e.g. Song dynasty landscape painting), or merely an impression created by a few brushstrokes.

Colour schemes either fairly muted, or with rich jewel tones, but generally not neons, pastels or deliberately clashing colours.

Play of light and shadow, especially in black and white works.

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