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World Building Science Fiction

World-Building is both its own sub-genre and a term used in the writing world to describe the task of creating a complete fictional world. World-building is a huge part of all Science Fiction (and Fantasy) stories.

World-building is a big task that involves more than just describing setting--although this is important. World-building describes how the world works, and aspects like these are important:

Biology, specifically of alien races

History and timelines

Politics and religion

Civilization's development

Technological development and its consequences

Setting (i.e. ecology, geology, astronomy, architecture, populations)


Stories within the World-Building sub-genre tend to be quite expansive. To a degree, all science fiction requires a certain level of world building; indeed, all speculative fiction requires world building to create something different than the ordinary. However, if a book is categorized in the World-Building subgenre, then extra emphasis is given to building a completely new world, with the rules often highly divorced from "reality." Often a huge level of detail filling out the "new world" is given.

Readers will notice the level of research done by the writer to create the fictional world. Usually, the worlds are unusual. Alien races and an evolved humanity that is nearly unrecognizable tend to populate these worlds.

Other Features of World-Building SF

  • Level of Real Science

    Typically High. Science is a key component of world-building because it establishes the physics of the world (how the world works) and its level of technological development.

  • Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications

    Typically High. World-Building develops entire societies and cultures so there is plenty of room for social commentary.

  • Level of Characterization

    Typically Low. A hard example of the World-Building sub-genre will have relatively low characterization because of its focus on creating the world.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    Typically Low. World-Building tends to have lengthy descriptions and this pulls the reader away from the plot.

  • Level of Violence

    Variable. Violence may be a component of a world, but it may not be.

Related Science Fiction subgenres

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    All the sub-genres! World-building is a significant part of all Sci Fi--some stories may focus on the building more than others, but all sub-genres at some point need to construct the story's world.

Popular World Building Science Fiction Books
  • 1 Mission of Gravity

    By Hal Clement. This story is a discovery of the oceans on planet Mesklin--a planet with an iron core, a rapid rotation, and a sentient species that resemble yard-long centipedes.

  • 2 Rocheworld

    By Robert Forward. Rocheworld is a double planet, meaning the two planets share an atmosphere and are egg shaped.

  • 3 Big Planet

    By Jack Vance. A craft crash lands on the Big Planet and the survivors face a 40,000 mile trek across a dangerous landscape.

  • 4 Dune series

    By Frank Herbert. An expansive saga, this series has a complex political system as well as a well developed setting in the planet Arrakis.

  • 5 Ringworld series

    By Larry Niven. This series takes place in the Known Space universe, created by Niven, and consists of several colonies and alien species.

  • 6 Discworld

    By Terry Pratchett. More Fantasy than Sci Fi, this series takes place on a flat planet that is carried by four elephants who stand on a space-turtle.

  • 7 Neuromancer

    By William Gibson This novel inspired the Cyperpunk sub-genre, but its evocation of the world--neon streets, electric atmosphere, the blackness of cyberspace--is striking.

  • 8 Windup Girl

    By Paolo Bacigalupi. This Biopunk novel creates a setting that is very real--the setting happens to be a future Earth.

  • 9 Culture series

    By Iain M. Banks. A sprawling series with a well developed society complete with social norms, language, biology, artificial intelligences, and the list goes on.

  • 10 Dragonriders of Pern series

    By Anne McCaffrey. Pern is a planet colonized by humans, but the technology of their ancestors has been lost.