5 min read

Building Beyond: Worldbuilding, Literally

Let's get meta.

Building Beyond is an ongoing series of conversations about how much fun worldbuilding can be. Building a world doesn’t have to be hard or scary. Let’s give it a try, together.

You get to build a world! Like a planet. With your hands. Congratulations, you're all-powerful!

A Filipino-American who grew up mostly in the Midwest of the United States, Bee is a "STEAM-powered" software engineer (STEAM as in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics), FIRST Robotics Competition team coach (FIRST is For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology), and all-around nerd.

Gailey: What non-spheroid shape would you choose for maximum chaos? What non-spheroid shape would you choose for minimum chaos?

Bee: For ease of discussion and comparison, I am going to refer to the minimum chaos planet as “Rosquilla” and the maximum chaos planet as “Gulo.”

For minimum chaos, I would stay within the constraints of our universe. To my understanding, there is one non-spheroid planet shape that is technically possible: torus- or donut-shaped. While Rosquilla would be created for "minimum" chaos, by not breaking this universe's laws of physics, it would still be chaotic compared to Earth (or most other spheroid planets). The torus shape would only be sustainable if the planet spun very quickly, not only causing short day/night cycles, but also causing the gravity at the equator versus the gravity near the poles to vary extremely.

When taking the idea of chaos in a fairly literal way, then applying it to shapes, fractals come to mind. This could be breaking the "rules" (how chaotic 😉) due to being based on spherical coordinates, but for Gulo I would select a 3D fractal shape called a Mandelbulb (constructed by Pauk Nylander and Daniel White). For those unfamiliar with fractals, they are shapes which appear the same when you zoom in on them and/or when you zoom out from them. This fractal shape would certainly cause complications for any potential inhabitants due to the branching topology, and due to the confusing repetition of said topology.

Gailey: What material will you use to build your planet? Don't worry, you're all-powerful, you have infinite supplies.

Bee: For Rosquilla, the less chaotic planet, my material choice would broadly stay within the confines of our universe, but start to veer towards personal preferences rather than stability. When looking at photographs of our solar system, the two planets I find the most striking are Uranus and Neptune. Based on their composition, I would give Rosquilla a rocky core surrounded by methane, water, and ammonia.

The chaotic planet, Gulo, I would form from a non-Newtonian substance like oobleck, consisting of water and silica. In order to maintain the fractal shape, I would have the planet dynamically deform at all levels whenever deformed (say by an asteroid impact) at any given level.

Gailey: Do the planet’s inhabitants worship you for what you've wrought, or do they resent you?

Bee: There would be no inhabitants on Rosquilla. Rosquilla's order would be threatened by inhabitants.

Gulo, on the other hand, would have small pockets of fungal growth, brought to the planet via asteroid impacts. As far as feelings towards me as a creator, who knows the mind of a fungus? I would not make myself known, either to be worshipped or to be reviled.

Shing Yin Khor is a cartoonist and installation artist exploring collections, memory, immigrant identity, and new human rituals. They founded the immersive installation art group Three Eyed Rat, which has built large-scale space desert apothecaries, decrepit space salvage stations in the forest, and lumberjack-themed bars. A Malaysian-Chinese immigrant, and an American citizen since 2011, they are also the author of The American Dream?, a graphic novel about travelling Route 66. Their most recent graphic novel The Legend of Auntie Po is about who gets to own a myth, and about immigrant families and communities holding on to rituals and traditions while staking out their own place in America. It is available wherever books are sold.

Gailey: What non-spheroid shape would you choose for maximum chaos? What non-spheroid shape would you choose for minimum chaos?

Shing: For maximum chaos, my planet would be cylindrical, like an unopened can of beans. It is an especially functional shape for a planet, especially for planet collectors. You can stack them.

I am not interested in minimum chaos.

Gailey: What material will you use to build your planet? Don't worry, you're all-powerful, you have infinite supplies.

Shing: Like a can of beans, it is made of tin-plating, with a non BPA lining. The inside of the planet is bean juice, aquafaba if you’re nasty.

Gailey: Do the planet’s inhabitants worship you for what you've wrought, or do they resent you?

Shing: My planet isn’t really home to sentient life, although occasionally a bit of potential bean shaped consciousness appears. Inevitably and unexplainably, these consciousnesses spawn on the flat sides on the outside of the planet, and devote their brief and beautiful time on the planet to figuring out whether it actually is flat. They do keep on falling off the edges, so progress on further development of sentience has been slow.

Bean shaped life spawns inside the can as well, but they have thus far not displayed any inclination towards fear, awe, or any emotion at all.

My planets would both be cubes. The minimum-chaos planet would be a cube made of one big sponge. Not a living sponge, an artificial one, with a scrubby side and five soft sides. It would absorb whatever tried to impact it. No muss, no fuss, streak-free shine. The maximum-chaos planet would be made of reflective glass. These two planets are in a binary orbit, one perfectly reflecting the other at all times, so there would be no way to know which planet you were landing on until you touched down.

All of these possibilities are just beginnings. Bee's planets are an incredible exploration of the lived reality of a wholly fractal experience, in which all changes occur on all levels at all times. Shing's planet is a stunning rumination on perspective, scientific limitations, and beans. My planets are the start of a thinly-veiled meditation on how hard it is to keep my fucking windows clean during fire season.

What planets would you construct if you had no limitations? Would you be a benevolent creator or a merciless one?

Do whatever you want with these questions. You can write something down in the comments or on social media or in a notebook nobody will ever see. You can draw or paint or sit down a friend and talk their ear off about your ideas. You can stare at the horizon and imagine, letting the infinite landscape of your mind unfold just a little farther than it did yesterday. No matter what you do, take pride in the knowledge that you’re creating something that has never existed before. You’re building a little corner of a whole new world.

That’s amazing.

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In other news, my debut comic miniseries EAT THE RICH is out in the world TODAY! 🍽 Find it at your local comic book shop or at the BOOM! Studios webstore. If you prefer a digital copy, you can find it at comiXology, Google Play, Kindle, and Apple Books.

You can also join me tonight on Instagram Live at 6pm PT with Maggie Tokuda-Hall, author of The Mermaid, The Witch, and The Sea and her incredible forthcoming graphic novel Squad. We’ll be playing a rousing game of Billionaire Buffet, a deliciously unhinged game that we invented. Bring your appetites!

No matter what you do, please find ways to support Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, support Black people and communities, and participate in local mutual aid.

In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.