Play with your ideas. They can be a great excuse to do silly things and get something done. Several years ago an image came to mind. It was just one image, but something about it suggested it would be a book cover, and the inspiration for a book, a sci-fi novel, my first. Great; but I was busy at the time trying to survive the early stages of My Triple Whammy. Within a year, I walked into a friend and artist’s studio and gallery. Standing on the easel was a sketch of the same image, an image I didn’t share with anyone. HINT. Last night I finished the first draft. And no, you don’t get to read it, yet. Yet. Patience, for me, too. Believe it or not, this isn’t just about writing or science fiction.
I started writing the first draft about two years ago, er, almost four years ago? Wow. Thanks, computer, for a more reliable memory than mine. For me, that’s painfully slow. These blog posts, and even my non-fiction narratives, are typically written at about 1,000 words an hour. A typical novel is about 60,000 to 80,000 words. Writing about science can work that well (at least for first drafts.) Writing about science fiction, well, that takes longer.
I won’t describe the entire book because: 1) it will change with the next draft, and 2) why would you buy the book if you knew how the story ended?
Here’s a teaser, though,
“She stood in the fire, her arms cradling a fresh supply of wood, and smiled. He sat beside the ring of stones wondering how he would live in this new world, this new life. This wasn’t what he expected when they left Earth. He reminded himself this was their home – and that they could love each other, here.”
Watch and read some science fiction. I did and do. Most of the aliens aren’t very alien. If the writer makes things too alien, most humans won’t take the time to understand it. Ah, one of the advantages of self-publishing and personally writing to explore personal thoughts. What would it be like to encounter an alien with no eyes, ears, mouth; no gender or concept of generations; an alien race that’s never encountered animals, only plants; aliens on another planet that can’t see the stars so they think their sun is the only thing in the sky? Oh yeah, and for some reason, I decided to make the ecosystem based on silicon instead of carbon. Hey, that’s the fun and challenge of fiction. Imagine a world, then make it happen – or at least try.
Those first couple of years had great gaps in my writing as I had to invent or understand different physics, biology, geology, meteorology and climatology, as well as the alien’s physiology and sociology. That’s a lot of ‘-ology’s. That’s a lot to study. That was intriguing and has taught me a lot.
But that wasn’t the only fun study material. Watch and read some science fiction – and notice what you like and don’t like. I did. Thanks to Covid and #WorkFromHome, I was able to complete a binge of bingewatching that I’d already started about two years ago. I watched good and bad, partly to fill the silence as I worked at home, partly to recognize what I liked and didn’t like about various series. Here’s the list. It isn’t every sci-fi show or movie series, but it was long enough for me.
TV Series (ordered from good examples to bad, in my opinion – Opinion, get it, Opinion!)
- Firefly (cancelled while they were ahead, and therefore never to fall)
- Babylon 5 (great long story arc, and alien aliens, and alien motivations)
- Deep Space Nine (a near tie with Babylon 5, both with excellent characters)
- Stargate SG1 (come on, MacGyer in Space, plus science and a diverse team)
- Expanse (rising fast, with a budget that helps)
- Star Trek Enterprise (if only they weren’t burdened with TOS’ canon, and modern expectations)
- Star Trek – The Original Series (ST TOS, where TOS does not mean Terms Of Service)
- Star Trek Next Generation (a welcome revival, with very clean characters)
- Andromeda (Hercules in Space, destiny, and a bit of wit)
- Farscape (Muppets in Space, that would benefit from CGI and a reboot)
- Star Trek Voyager (great idea and characters, but it was like they couldn’t figure out how to put a woman in charge – at least not compared to the strong women leaders I’ve worked for)
- UFO (Sorry, Marc, just didn’t get into it)
- 1999 (watching 1999 in 2019, well, they skipped science class, even 1950s science class)
Movie Series (a tie, but for different reasons)
- Star Wars
- Star Trek
Star Wars and Star Trek are great examples of two approaches to science fiction: science and fiction. Another way of looking at it is that Star Wars is science fantasy. Things happen without explanations, while Star Trek had engineers who at least had to spout realistic-sounding jargon.
Believe it or not, this isn’t just about writing or science fiction.
I applied lessons learned from photography. They also apply to life.
Humans react. Sometimes positive, sometimes negative, sometimes purposely neutral. When I am on a photo trip, I pay attention to what attracts my eye. Attractions are also distractions. What made me look away from one thing to notice another thing? Pay attention to that. Literally focus on that, or if it is distracting for the opposite reason, purposely put that out of focus.
Star Trek with Kirk and Spock is laughed at for being campy, cheap, and poorly acted. But it redefined the genre. It was cancelled, but that happens to almost all shows. (Except the Simpsons, who are ageless and immortal and invulnerable). But, don’t compare it to what’s on in 2020. Compare it to its competition. Star Trek had people. Every character was more real because every character had a flaw. They had real conversations about real topics, not just another space battle with everyone throwing themselves around the room. Fascinating. And also influencing our world with ideas and inventions from 1967.
I don’t intend to reach those ranks, and considering my book, I’m not sure how it could be filmed. It is inevitable, though, that many aspects of my book are reflections of themes, plots, and devices from those shows. That’s true of language in general. Take away every word or phrase used or invented by Shakespeare and English falls apart – not that it is stone solid, anyway.
As for novels, for me that list is short and strong: Larry Niven, and Dan Simmons. If I reach those heights, well, first I need to write for myself.
So, the challenge I gave myself was to take that image mentioned above, imagine alien aliens and their reality, respect the necessary changes in vocabulary (someone without eyes can’t see, someone without gender may not understand marriage or sex, and their vocabulary won’t have those words), and deal with real topics with at least plausible science. (Well, except for one bit of physics and one bit of biology I use which are highly speculative.)
Here are some of the benefits of writing:
– It doesn’t cost much money.
– The writer gets to express themself without being interrupted.
– Do it enough and writing a story becomes more entertaining than watching some other writer’s story. (Bored with what’s on TV/Netflix/YouTube? Write your own!)
Here are some of the costs of writing:
- It costs time, and time is more valuable than money. (But if all you have is time, then it might be a way to make money.)
- The writer becomes emotionally vulnerable. Everyone’s a critic, eh? That includes the writer. Self-criticism is necessary and hard to avoid.
- Dive in too deep and your dreams can change.
The details above are the mechanics for letting me play with some personally pertinent ideas: digital singularity, climate change, social justice, a definition of life, good intentions gone bad, sustainability, theoretical physics and mathematics, and the interconnections of everything. Vibrations and imaginary numbers. Cool.
As a friend mentioned; “You’re not making this easy on yourself, are you?”
Like any new skill, practice makes it easier. Now that I’ve invented a reality, editing it will be easier. I’ll have one fellow writer read the first draft. Instructions will be necessary because the characters don’t have their final names, and certain themes must be woven throughout. In the model of the best science fiction, I hope to make the characters less fictional. And, it has to be a good, or at least good enough, story. The next drafts can take less time, but it may be a couple of years before I am done.
This is actually part of a bigger plan. Without intending to, the backstory for my book describes what happens on Earth in about 2045, a time which can also be the backstory for a book Don Scoby (co-host and co-producer of the podcast WritingOnWhideyIsland.com). If our books work well enough, we may invite other Whidbey Island writers to expand into the same universe.
The world runs on unintended consequences. An image came to mind, and then I saw it, too. Our world is changing in ways that I want to explore before we get there. My finances improved enough that I could spend more time writing. Covid hit, which accelerated the process; and wildfire smoke kept me inside long enough to sprint to the finish – of the first draft.
Stay tuned, be patient, and thanks for the inspirations and support. Oh yeah, and I’m not quitting my day job over this.