I love building worlds completely from scratch, just like I love preparing a meal from fresh ingredients instead of using ready-to-cook food. And since both processes require real working physics, we won’t talk about magical fantasies here.
I don’t really know when building worlds became a passion of mine. But I do know that each year’s scientific discoveries make it grow stronger. I didn’t even notice I became swallowed by this amazing thing. I am a science fiction writer and my primary purpose for building worlds came as a necessity. Later, however, I realized that those worlds were much more than just settings, backstory and historical events.
World building itself is a form of science fiction. Just like a novel may draw you in to go on adventures you never had or will never have in real life, a well designed world may provide you with the same experience of escaping reality for a while and enjoy the realm of the unknown and vast universe. And you don’t just create things. You learn about them. You enrich your experience of the world you were born from and are living in.
Also, world building is fun.
You can go anywhere, anytime. And the playground is immensely huge.
And believe me, the commitment is worthy of the sense of accomplishment you’ll get in the process. That’s why world building matters. As any form of fiction does.
Science fiction, to various extents, focuses on the objects within a world. The technology itself is a character, if not the de facto main character. Since most people are people-oriented, an object in a center of attention is a deceit of a sort. And as a matter of fact, the more I know about the current state of scientific and technological research and development, the harder it is for me to read most science fiction. I often find that, rather than being too imaginative, it’s not imaginative enough.
Serious world building, to me, is hard science fiction and it is imaginative enough because it is based on our current scientific understanding and technological developments, not some futuristic predictions about it. This is where past, present and future overlap and are within one’s grasp. Science/technology itself is not the main character but an instrument here, as it should be for a human.
Interacting with your own creation, being the intelligent observer of your own universe, makes it alive and realistic. And, if by any ‘coincidence’ you are a writer, it leaves more options for you to focus on characters. You are, after all, building the whole thing for them to exist. The world and its inhabitants should be inseparable.
There you have it, your borderless sandbox.
P.S. A note to some lazy folks.
I dare to say world building is a form of art. And it follows the same rules as any other art form out there. You don’t draw portraits without getting familiar with the object of drawing (even purely fictional) nor without examining the works of others beforehand. You don’t build worlds without learning how they function and what are they made of. Even sketching out a few quick details requires understanding what you are doing. How you do it — it’s your business. However, it’s your personal work, don’t expect others to do it for you.