Monday, June 20, 2011

Writing Science Fiction

Writing science fiction is tough.  Or rather, writing good science fiction is tough.  Anyone can churn out Star Wars-esque fan fiction.  Writing an original piece, complete with its own logical science and believable steps in technology is a lot harder.  In fact, I'd venture a guess it's at least as hard as any other type of fiction out there.

When I started writing The Plexus a few years back, it started out simple.  Actually, if truth were told, it started out a long, long time before that.  For the first decade and a half, it was nothing more than a cute beginning and ending of a short story, one that went in a circular pattern and left everything precisely the way it was in the beginning.  Sort of a "did this really happen" thing.  I didn't even have the story itself for the longest time.

And when that story came, boy did it come!  The story burgeoned into a novella and then a regular novel.  Then it burped into a trilogy and is now a tidy nine-book series.  Don't worry, each book stands nicely on its own as a story.  There's just a whole lot more to the story, and I can't tell it all in a single book.

The story has been easy.  The story has practically written itself.  It just unfolds as the characters do their best to do things according to their varied and different morals and goals.  It's the technology that's been the more interesting Gordian's knot.

The whole thing is set a hundred and fifty years in the future.  At least that's when the major time continuum is.  Being a time travel piece, the characters obviously use time like Spock and Kirk use space.  Coming up with new, futuristic technology isn't the hard part.  It's bridging the gap between our technology today and what it would most likely morph into in the future that's the hard part.  It's making it a truly believable, logical part of the story that is so difficult.

Many science fiction pieces have hugely fanciful technology, developed it seems from the author's dreams of the coolest, most awesome technology imaginable.  Flying cars, space travel to distant planets in mere minutes, interstellar cruisers, space age weaponry, space stations the size of planets.  The list goes on and on.

My approach was different.  I wanted to create a world that was entirely believable.  In fact, so believable it would make the logical conclusions in the story undeniably frightening because of how personal they felt.  If I took technology from where we are today and projected it into the future using a framework of the pattern of development it's already taken, I'd arrive at a much more logical version of the future.

And that's what I did. I stripped out all the fanciful thoughts of über-cool futuristic modes of transportation such as flying cars, fantastic space age weaponry, and all the other sci-fi standards and concentrated on where things were headed now.

And where is that?  Communications.  The Internet.  Gadgetry.  Electronics.  The basics.  We've seen viewable media go from crackly black and white silent movies in the theater to our own homes, to flat screen HDTV, to portable devices, to streaming through our telephones.  Same goes for communication.  From early telegraphs to the latest Bluetooth technology running to miniature computers we call telephones, it's all going smaller and smaller, and more convenient to use.  That's a no-brainer.  The harder part is determining where it's going from there.

With the advent of hands free devices, we've seen a push toward automation and ease of use.  Our computers advertise to us based on how we surf the Internet.  The auto-correct features automatically correct our spelling, even if at times we don't want it to.  We can speak the name of who we want to call into our phones and they will dial the person for us.  If I really wanted to, I could simply talk my novels into the computer instead of typing them in with my fingers.  Everything is pushing onward toward what we think, rather than what we do.

And that's the logical conclusion.  Yes, it's been done before.  Thought control of technology.  Melding human with machine.  But what hasn't been done, or what has been done rarely, is push that to a societal level, one where that technology is created for the masses being entertained by the latest pop divas instead of the megalomaniac government agents or corporate tycoons in a hunt for absolute power.  It's all about the money.  Always has been and always will be.  And this means that the technology developed will sooner or later end up in Walmart, to be marketed to the masses.

The conclusion is there.  It's getting there from here that is the tricky part.  I'm essentially creating technology before it exists.  Hell, if I could actually do that, I'm in the wrong business!  Luckily I only have to look like I can do it.

The kinks arrive when the technology I've dreamed up starts thwarting my story's plot.  How is the technology of the future going to deal with identity theft?  Find a solution for that and it's going to sound plausible.   Of course, it's also going to throw a monkey wrench into one of my character's ability to actually survive in the world of the future, so I have to create workarounds in the technology to allow her and those like her to survive.  Of course, then I have to respond in kind with technology that addresses those weaknesses, because that's what happens.  That circle is quite vicious, and it's a delicate line I am forced to walk to allow both sides to coexist in the story and still have it make sense.

And then there are the logical conclusions one arrives to based on the technology I've already set up.  Those present other problems.  For example, integrating the virtual world with humanity will logically be done through the body's own optics.  This allows not only full integration with the virtual world, but also the ability for one's mind to interpret the input as needed, such as translating into their mother tongue, overcoming colorblindness, and even tailoring advertizing to suit their tastes better.  It's logical.  And of course, we're back to creating problems some of my characters can no longer overcome.

This delicate balance is absolutely vital in creating a realistic science fiction world.  Too little time is often put into science fiction works, and the authors rush their works off before giving them a look from the position of a harsh critic.  As soon as you start punching holes in the logic of something, especially technology in science fiction, you start having a problem with the story.  We've even seen it with some of the greats in the genre, and that's too bad.  It's tough work, but in the end it's worth it if it makes those elements of the story more believable.

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