As a nascent field of inquiry, subcreation studies is rooted in the creation and exploration of imaginary worlds. Relegated to the background of narrative-driven cultural productions, subcreation studies focuses on the frameworks created by storytellers that allow for imaginary worlds to come to life. Imaginary worlds refer to the fictional worlds in which the stories take place. It is the creation of an imaginary world, or what Tolkien refers to as a “Secondary World”, that compels an audience to fully immerse itself in expansive, multi-volume texts or episodic media franchises.
Subcreation studies is particularly interested in “worldbuilding”, or the processes by which creators craft the details and events of an imaginary world that may not necessarily advance the story, but provide what Mark J.P. Wolf describes as “background richness and verisimilitude to the imaginary world” and that usually take place outside the main narrative. These acts of creation, according to psychologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides, enable the simulation of unusual situations through association, thus allowing for experimentation as well as empathy and the development of important cognitive systems that let us participate in expansive and future-forward endeavours. These skills give us the capacity to imagine, and to even work towards, the kind of world we want to live in, and the kind of systems of living that we want to create in the real world.
However, subcreation studies also allows for a re-examination of how these imaginary worlds are created, presented, consumed, and even subsumed by corporations and institutions. For instance, it is not surprising that many of these popular imaginary worlds are coming out of significantly developed countries that have the resources to create, market, and expand on intellectual property. Given their immense cultural significance – think of story franchises such as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Disney’s never-ending parade of sequels/prequels/midquels, the Marvel and DC Multiverses, Star Trek, and Star Wars, among others – there needs to be an examination and interrogation of how these imaginary worlds present and represent concepts and ideas about the world in which we live. As these worlds are representative rather than mimetic, there are myriad ways to read these imaginary worlds in terms that call to mind the struggles and hopes of our world: the violence and the victories, the despair and hopes of many, the ways in which societies struggle, perform, and aspire to surpass their own tragedies and triumphs.
This Special Issue of SARE: South East Asian Review of English on worldbuilding focuses on regional texts and creators, and on how Asian imaginary worlds have been conceived, crafted, and released, how they have interpreted or re-interpreted source materials, and how they have been received or engaged with by their audience. As speculative fiction writer Jeff VanderMeer points out, “The places and spaces in which a story occurs are not inert or merely backdrops to action… worldbuilding is not just about creating colorful stages for your characters — worldbuilding can be part of what is taking place.” These imaginary worlds may be in any form, medium, or genre – from Zen Cho’s The Pure Moon Reflected in Water to Ken Liu’s The Dandelion Dynasty series; Studio Ghibli’s fascinating fantasy worlds, such as in Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro to the bleak horror of Train to Busan; episodic narratives such as the acclaimed historical zombie series Kingdom or the modern fantaserye world of Encantadia.
The focus of this Special Issue is the critical analyses of the production and consumption of imaginary worlds, with other elements such as plot or character being of secondary importance. It is the hope of this Special Issue that by examining the rise and structure of Asian worlds, the practice of world-building, and the audience’s reception of imaginary worlds, we can reorient the world beyond that which we experience today.
The topics that can be explored for this Special Issue include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Creation and/or destruction of secondary worlds
- Imagined cultures and societies
- Creating new races, languages, or creatures
- Gender and sexuality
- Adaptations of myths and legends
- Textual retellings, revisions, and updates
- Historical re-imaginings
- Narratives and narratology
- Transmediality, transnarrativity, trans-authorial texts
- Textual productions and reproductions
- Genre studies
- Creative writing studies
- Media studies
Abstracts of 200 words (maximum), along with a 50-word author bio, are to be emailed to The Editor, SARE at firstname.lastname@example.org, with a copy to the Guest Editor (email@example.com), by 15 November 2020.
Decisions will be sent out by 30 November 2020.
The deadline for the submission of full papers (6000-7000 words) is 1 March 2021. Submissions should be in English and uploaded to the SARE website through the “Make a Submission” portal at https://sare.um.edu.my.
Further submission guidelines can be found on the journal website.
Publication date: July 2021
If you have any questions related to the special issue, please direct your inquiries to The Editor, SARE at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Some sources that can be referred to in preparation for this special issue include:
- Boni, Marta, ed. World Building: Transmedia, Fans, Industries. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2017.
- VanderMeer, Jeff. Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. New York: Abrams Books, 2013.
- Wolf, Mark J.P. Building Imaginary Worlds: The History and Theory of Subcreation. New York: Routledge, 2015.
- —, The Routledge Companion to Imaginary Worlds. New York: Routledge, 2018.