Recombination

LEGO isn’t just a construction toy. In a sense, it’s a mode of thought.

The particular genius of LEGO bricks, of course, is that they can be anything. The model on the box is a starting-point, but any kid will tell you it’s after that model gets broken up that things get interesting.

Now, I know that there are apparently people (even kids) who build what’s on the box, play with that (or display it) and never ever break it up, but to me, this has always been incomprehensible and missing the point. I’m sorry, people, but you’re doing it wrong…

The whole genius (in its original sense of “presiding spirit”) of LEGO is that any and all bricks can be put together in any and all ways to build (almost) anything you can conceive of.

Part of this among the various FOL (Fan Of LEGO) communities is the urge to use different elements in unique and interesting ways. Banana elements become claws, ninja swords find new use as windscreen wipers, people make mechs piloted by a frog, a monkey, a roast chicken…

I personally have a long-standing ambition and intention to somehow use the horse element in a spaceship model. Whenever I finally build my SHIP (Seriously Huge Investment in Pieces), don’t be surprised if it’s in there somewhere. If I can make it work. And I’m probably not building a farming colony ship transporting livestock.

It’s not just individual elements, though. Whole official themes have partaken of this recombinant spirit, melding different genres together to come up with something new and exciting. Nexo Knights is the most recent example (though I still think the fusion of Castle and high technology could have been handled much, much better), but the old TimeCruisers theme did it to the max.

As a kid on the cusp of TFOLhood at the time, I always thought TimeCruisers was a bizarre theme. I was always fanatical to the point of OCD about colour matching and making things look right in my creations, and the TimeCruisers sets were the weirdest hodgepodge of elements and building styles imaginable, with Town and Castle paraphernalia jammed into some kind of not-sure-what-it’s-supposed-to-be vehicle with Pirate and Spaceship features and a semi-randomised near-Rainbow Warrior colour scheme my admittedly OCD colour sense thought was vile.

But if any theme before the LEGO Movie truly expressed the genius of what LEGO is, TimeCruisers was it. It’s the same sort of wacky laser-armed icecreamtruckplane or chomping trashcompactorspaceship idea, only perhaps even more so. It’s like the Master Builders’ submarine from the movie, with different sections of the vessel expressing the different personalities involved.

Recombination. Combining various diverse elements into a new unified whole. Isn’t this what LEGO is all about?

The recombinant mode of thought that LEGO building encourages and promotes is highly sought after in some careers. Enough that the LEGO Group developed the “Serious Play” concept using LEGO building to encourage out-of-the-box thinking in office and career environments.

For a lifelong builder, Serious Play is probably superfluous. Anyone who spent the bulk of their childhood with a carpet of plastic bricks on their floor has probably been marinated long and deeply in the central concept: things don’t have to go together any one way.

While for me, TimeCruisers still pushes things a little further than I really like (too many styles and elements mashed together and not enough finished unity of the final model), I do like to fuse genres together in new and interesting ways.

As an AFOL re-entering the world of LEGO building and discovering LDD and other digital building programs, one of the first things I built digitally was a series of Classic Space dinosaur-inspired vehicles (They look primitive and studdy compared to more recent creations, but I’ve grown considerably as a builder over the last two or three years). My username on the old LEGO Message Boards, Saurianspacer, reflected this fusion: dinosaurs (saurian) and Classic Space (spacer).

More recently, there have been the spacedozer, the Elemental Dragon of Classic Space, the Constructodragon, and my forthcoming project, the Mechnotaur.

Then, too, as an aspiring writer the impulse to take two or more genres and see what happens when we insert Tab A into Slot Þ307ð serves for a lot of inspiration, and it’s something I usually enjoy reading as well. Eric Flint and Ryk Spoor’s Boundary series is a sort of answer to the question “how can we get dinosaurs and the planet Mars into the same story without rewiring the universe’s fundamental workings?”; Dan Simmons’ Ilium and Olympos dyad does the same for space robots and Greek mythology.

Part of me wonders whether these authors were LEGO builders as kids; it’s a very LEGO thing to do.

For me as an aspiring writer, the part I have the most fun doing is the worldbuilding. Again, that’s very LEGO, and very old-school 1980s-theme LEGO too. The long-running Classic Space theme had no stories or characters or very much definition of any sort. You built a world; what the LEGO people were doing in it was up to whatever you wanted at the time. It wasn’t like it is now where there are plotlines everywhere and named characters and TV shows and story. It was building worlds first, then deciding what the story was.

Take my current building project, the forthcoming Mechnotaur. Building a giant steampunk mech shaped like a minotaur is a classic example of my LEGOlike tendency to recombine genres. But then my love of worldbuilding kicks in and I get inspired by my own creation for the background for a tale. Or at least, a story-world; I’m currently in-progress on a story attempting to fuse steampunk with ice-age beasts and Russian Central Asia and I really don’t need to get into another complex story at this time.

What kind of world could make a steampunk mecha-minotaur reasonable? Well…

I’m tentatively calling it “Labyrinth World”. A place in which a race of self-appointed “Gods” use a combination of immortality/longevity treatment (“ambrosia”?) and high steampunk technology to keep the mortals in forced ignorance and slavery.

Though united in their oppression of the rest of humanity, the gods bicker and fight among themselves and against the remnants of their predecessor Titans, near-gods who also kept the mortals in forced technological ignorance but did not claim godhood or desire to be worshipped. These struggles provide openings for the Prometheus, a struggling band of mortal technologists who oppose the tyranny of the so-called gods using the left-over mechanical constructs of the Titan War and their own engineering…

It sounds like a cool story. In fact, it sounds like a story much cooler than I can actually write; I’m sure I’d ruin such a high concept with mediocre characters and crappy dialogue and a wandering plot. Like I said, the worldbuilding is the part I most enjoy; I write because I get to develop a world, and I write sci-fi/fantasy because it gives me the most scope for doing so.

And so I come around to the realisation that what I really want to do is not so much write stories as it is build worlds. I want to play at being the Creator. I want to create the story-universe, the milieu, the Wookiepedia of the fusile interior of my brain… And I think I’m pretty good at it, too.

There’s got to be a way to make money off this weird skill I seem to have, but I’m blowed if I can tell you what it is. Author might be a fairly good match if I can develop the rest of the craft, but what really springs to mind is “LEGO theme designer”.

In the meantime, here I sit in the real world with a heavy-construction day job and a strange mind…

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4 thoughts on “Recombination

  1. Luke Skytrekker

    Lovely post. And that Mechnotaur and Labyrinth story sound like pure awesome.
    It’s funny, though, because I’m sort of the opposite of you when it comes to writing. Worldbuilding, to me, has become an afterthought. I used to do it a ton—I had the language, culture, history, geography, and even apparel of an entire region worked out at one point. It was, unfortunately, a horrifically boring and poorly-thought out region, but I learned a lot. I’ve written (or tried to write) more languages than I can count, and brainstormed almost as many fantasy races. Nowadays, though, I’m all characters and all plot all the time. I almost never stop to worldbuild or conlang, and I let my world mostly look after itself as the plot requires. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, but it works for me. My worlds are still very important to me—more important than ever with my current projects, in fact—but I tend to just let that drip through the description rather than work it all out myself. I feel more like a traveler within my worlds of story than a Creator; a foreign wanderer who has been blessed to wander these strange lands for a time, knowledgable but not omniscient.
    At one point I was actually planning on making a site to serve as a sort of open-source Wookiepedia. A place for worldbuildly people to get together and develop a sci-fi universe, and for storywriters to commune and be inspired. I actually had a mockup site ready, but it’s been overshadowed by my current Lego roleplaying forum plans. Apparently I want to build a community, but I’m not sure exactly what sort. 😛

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    1. geoffhorswood Post author

      That’s cool. Do let me know when you get your community going.
      I’m considering creating a wiki for Wind Horse’s world. The world-concept itself is fairly interesting and open-ended, and I’d actually be completely ok with other people helping to develop other parts of it, for once. A story in the same world, but set in North America or Africa or Western Europe, for example, would be quite interesting, but I don’t have any ganas or inspiration for it right now.
      You conlang? I used to; haven’t done it for a while. Another example of my “I do this so I can build worlds” mindset.

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      1. Luke Skytrekker

        I shall be sure to! At this point, it’ll probably be aforesaid Lego roleplaying site, but I’m honestly really excited even for that. Nobody’s ever made a roleplay that actually incorporates MOCs so closely, at least that I’m aware of. Not sure if anybody will want to participate, though. I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s interested in using math to crunch stats from their MOCs. The civilization-building opportunities should excite people, hopefully.
        Oooh, that wiki thing would be cool. If you do set it up, I’d love to contribute.
        I did a lot of conlang at one point, so much so I probably burned myself out, but my only language that ever got anywhere considerable was rather unpronounceable. Echlümentatëosed just doesn’t roll off a lotta people’s tongues. 😛 Not to mention it was linked to aforesaid poorly (but extensively) developed fictional region, and that just became too much of a mess for me to go back to. I am technically developing some fictional slang (con-slang?) with my brother, primarily for that “Retropunk” (probably need to change it to Rocketpunk) idea of mine. I’d say it was skipping notch, but I’m sure plenty of lums would say it was phleghmy. 😛

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Labyrinth of Steam | Square Feet

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