Last column I discussed how getting politics out of media was not just a fool’s errand, but was literally impossible. As an example, I used the guy-from-our-world-in-a-fantasy-world take on Isekai – one that, to do well, would require one to acknowledge politics.
The Isekai ‘transplant” genre would require addressing politics of the world and the “savior-from-another-reality” elements for it to make any sense. Else one is merely stringing together tropes – which is a politics all of it’s own (namely the politics of pandering).
Leaving politics out of something is basically bad worldbuilding. That’s something that, as you obviously noted, I’m very much against. It’s not just a personal thing, but that good worldbuilding leads to good fiction, and expands our horizons – even if our horizon is just “hey let’s have some fun.”
But what happens if you’re dedicated to certain tropes? What if you want to explore them? What if you have audience expectations? What if you like a good sword-swinging fantasy or space opera that has a lot of common beats? How do you explore those – and their politics – while still keeping some of the beats you want?
I am actually all for working with tropes (but not stereotypes) and exploring them. Some of the best work out there, like Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld or Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence starts with certain assumptions – then runs with them. Those series are remarkably political – which is why they’re so good – yet have so many recognizable elements.
And that’s the key, whether you’re a hopeful Pratchett (who is one of my major influences, I won’t lie), or you just want a space opera with lots of explodey drama. Take the tropes and elements and things you want to work with and run with them. It may be obvious in the case of people like Pratchett and Adams, or it can be more subtle (I’d point to Grant Morrison’s work on Doom Patrol and his twists on superheroes).
Want to have space opera with all sorts of human drama while not getting bogged down into too-much technospeak and fiddly economics? Then maybe your universe has so much automated manufacturing economics is an afterthought, and the human factors matter more than shipments of uranium. In fact maybe the universe is so automated that politics has become almost petty . . .
Maybe it’s time for a good sword-swinging monster-mashing fantasy, with elves and dwarves and kingdoms. But we all know that fantasy politics grafts romanticism on top of some honestly crappy medievalist and occasional D&D murderhobo derivations. Then why not do your story where all these tropes collide, so big-hearted adventurers are trying to cope with inbred royalty and the inevitable disappointments of finding how awful everything is? It becomes both real and inspiring.
You don’t do good fiction and good worldbuilding by avoiding politics. Instead you jump in with both feet, wide awake, and start the balancing act of expectations and extrapolation.
And yes this will be surprising. This will take one’s work in unexpected directions. Good – that’s when you’re really writing.
That’s also when your audience gets to be surprised as well as getting certain plot beats you want.
Sure, some people might get angry that you didn’t check every checkbox of what they want or do exactly what they said. But those people are going to be angry anyway. if they’re not angry at you, they’ll be angry at someone else.
At least, because you’ve been honest in your writing, they’ll look stupid being angry at you – and they might just see how good your work is and enjoy it and learn a bit.