I am a guy that loves background. I love culture, I love language, I love it when an author takes a background premise, and works it out completely, considering each and every variable and permutation in the culture. I love it when I am taken out of my world and thrust into a completely different environment complete with a separate mindset and way of thinking that I have to wrap my mind around.
Of course, not everyone can pull that off. There are two skills that are required to do this, having just one is rare, and having both almost never happens.
The first skill is the creation of a consistent, deep world to immerse the reader in. This requires a mind that can think about our own world from the perspective of a non-resident: someone who can actually self-examine his deepest mindsets and presuppositions, and then experiment by changing them. To create a truly immersive culture, you have to create a complete experience: you have to not only engage all the senses, but also every facet of culture itself. In religion, in philosophy, in tradition, in castes, in work, in play: every little piece that makes up a fully dimensional culture, you have to have in place.
The second skill is the actual immersion of the reader in a way that makes them not only enjoy the experience of being in the new environment, but also enjoy the transition. To be jerked out of everything you hold as solid, and inserted violently into a completely foreign environment might make a cool roller-coaster ride, but it won’t make you many friends (except among hard-core weirdos who do that for kicks, of which number I am definitely one). The skill required to carefully and softly sneak a reader into a new way of thinking, into a new environment without them noticing the transition, is something that is almost impossible to achieve.
A Star Curiously Singing comes very very close. There is a tangible culture shock (which I thoroughly enjoyed), but it wasn’t so much that would throw non-weirdos off. You are immediately engaged and tied to the main character, and the curiosity about the world itself is practically a hook in itself. The deeper you go into the book the deeper the immersion becomes: it never really stops. I love it.
Kerry Nietz weaves a masterful story about a deep character in an intricate world with a powerful plot.
And I can’t wait to get the third book in the series. :)