Worldbuilding: Fashion & the Mirror of Speculative Fiction

Larry Niven wrote a wonderful book called Neutron Star, which I love to read now and again. The book is a series of loosely related short stories in which he lays out the universe he would later use for Ringworld.  In one of the stories, he describes a character as having an “asymmetric beard” that was fashionable on his planet. Niven never gives us any more description than that—part of the genius of his story telling—and as a result my imagination conjured up all kinds of wild facial designs and effects, each on the face of a man confident that he looks good. 

At the time, I had never seen or imagined an asymmetric beard, so the idea tickled me.  It especially tickled me that Niven’s character considered his lopsided facial hair to be totally ordinary, even attractive, and it made me think how many things I wear that might be just as whimsical to an outsider.

This is one of the reasons we read fantasy and science fiction—to have the mirror held up to ourselves, a new glass in which to see our own assumptions and behaviors in a new way.


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