The New Mundane

My favorite part of pretty much any work of speculative fiction is finding out what daily life looks like for the people who live in the world. That’s probably because worldbuilding is my main focus in writing—it’s what I do best. I think that it’s in the quiet moments of a story that we really get a sense for what a world is like. In many works, the plot, where we spend most of our time, is about some change to the norm. Everything from The Expanse to The Wheel of Time to Horizon Zero Dawn is about setting up a world that the main character views as mundane, then twisting it sideways until it threatens to break.

My favorite parts, however, are the ones that make me fall in love with a world. That process is one of the most important things we can do as writers of speculative fiction; it’s the old question of “what makes this world worth saving?” A lot of the time, that question is not, to me, satisfactorily answered.

I want the Miyazaki moments. I want the little bits and bobs that whisper or shout or sing “This is a beautiful normal. This is a status quo that ought to be maintained.” I’ve found that a lot of the time, a hero’s journey involves that realization, but for that epiphany to be satisfying to us as readers, we have to have believed that Saving The World is a worthwhile aim for some amount of time in advance of the hero.

I would go so far as to say that my favorite books are those which spend all of their time in this New Mundanity, not bothering to step out of the exploratory phase. These are books where the drama is not so much about the Death of All Things as it is about the people who live in this world. If there are villains, they threaten something smaller than an entire way of life. Perhaps they threaten to make the protagonist’s family’s life hard, rather than blot their nation out of existence. Maybe it’s a true romance plot, but set in a world with magic or set in space or underground or in an alternate history Rome. That’s what I want to see more of.

So, in the unlikely eventuality that you’re interested in writing specifically for my tastes, here are some works that have done a good job of this:

  • The Tiffany Aching series of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books
  • Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede
  • The Addams Family (the show from 1964)
  • Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis

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