Do you have any specific inspirations for spanreeds?
Like most things in my books, you can ask me what my writerly inspiration is, and what my worldbuilding explanation is. And let me explain that.
Writerly inspiration for spanreeds is me acknowledging that I wanted to have a society that acted more like a post-Industrial Revolution society (or very close to it) than a Medieval society. And there’s lots of ways to do this. Fantasy worlds do not have to progress socially the same way that we progressed. A lot of people want to tie technology to social progression, which you don’t have to do. You don’t necessarily have to say “people from the Industrial Revolution in our world acted this way; therefore people in this world…” You just don’t have to do that.
But there are certain technological revolutions that happened that do form a technological basis for some of these things. For instance, trade was very essential to the expanding political entity that was a world economy. We needed people to at least be travelling consistently to Asia before that could happen. And I really think a lot of what makes people act the way we do, perhaps, in some of our societies is this kind of mass communication.
And I didn’t want to be there yet, but I wanted to give a way that news and ideas could travel around the world in a consistent way on Roshar, to make the continent feel like a single entity. Because otherwise, I would probably have to tell the story as not a worldwide story. You just can’t travel, and ideas can’t move fast enough. Even if you look back at Roman times; Roman times took place in a fairly small geographical area, and even that, it was really hard for them to know what was happening. And you would have to spend months and months getting information that was then months and months out of date. And there’s a lot of sitting around and waiting in those cultures for things to happen, even with having the Mediterranean to sail around and bring this information. I just wanted information to move fast, both culturally and narratively. And so I said, “I’ve gotta find a way to do this. I did it with Seons in Elantris; I need find a way to do something similar to that on Roshar.”
Real-world inspiration, if there is one, is an auto-pen. Where authors can have a little machine sign books for them; it moves on its own. I’ve never used one, but politicians use them quite a bit. When you get that hand-signed letter when you’ve donated whatever to whatever political party. That hand-signed letter was probably machine-signed with a real pen, rather than hand-signed by the individual.