Tag Archives: science fiction

Getting Started…again…and again….

“Aanora’s eyes”

The last two weeks or so have been full of life concerns and chores so I haven’t had much time to work on fiction. No, that’s not correct.  I didn’t have much time to sit at my computer and put words on screen, but I was actually working a lot on the Aanora story. That is, thinking about various scenes, asking my imagination lots of questions, and getting a handle on plot points. I’m starting to get a sense of its length, too, and it could end up novella length.  Which is fine.  I’ve not written a novella before.  Always a first time.

What niggled and nagged at me the last two weeks was the beginning. How to start? I have fairly stable scenes down that are in the middle and at the end.  I know now that the story doesn’t begin with Aanora, but with a set of characters at a diplomatic conference. It took me two weeks to get that far.  Yesterday, I decided to devote the afternoon to the beginning with the hope that I’d be able to get something down on screen.  I scrapped what I originally wrote and the first revision and started over. Then I closed my eyes to put myself in the meeting chamber where delegations from 25 planets were enjoying drinks and hors d’oeuvres at a reception.

Who are the sentient beings attending this conference? Do I need to name and describe each one? Ugh. I don’t think that’s needed. But I do need to name and describe the two parties who collide into a dispute. And then the human delegation that gets pulled into the dispute, challenged to find Aanora. They’ve never heard of Aanora, but understand from what the disputing parties tell them that she is the only mediator they will both accept. I realized that the leader of the human delegation (the main character) feels deeply insecure about his diplomatic skills and would like to find a mentor who can help him. And then there is this other niggling in my mind: one of the disputing parties is not known for accepting mediation.  They are known for taking what they want and leaving. So right away, I have the feeling that something is not right.

Where I write

Tension.  A great thing to have at the beginning of a story.  That sense of not knowing what’s going to happen, wondering what’s going on, what’s going to happen next. I was quite heartened with what I ended up with yesterday. I feel much more secure with this beginning than the others I’d written. It may be rewritten or edited in the future, but I now have my starting point for the story.

Another result of my thinking: getting to know the main character better. He’s a physical person, someone who prefers to act rather than think. He operates a lot on instinct, but isn’t good at reading people. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares in this story, if he’s truly open to learning, and if he can figure out what’s going on.  I already know when and how he meets Aanora.  I hope I’ll have more time next weekend for work on the story at the computer!

 

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She Has a Name

Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech.

Creative thinking flows in and out, between thoughts, and feeds more creative thinking. I realized about halfway through this past week that the new character I wrote about last weekend had emerged from an idea that I’d incorporated in the short story I finished (the first draft) last weekend. She’s not a part of that story, though.  She has her own story. But now I understand why I thought she was a Wizard capable of powerful magic.

Parallel universes have been an interest of mine for many years. In science fiction, the notion of them fuels many stories (too many to list here, but there’s a list here).  Sometimes they’re known as alternate reality stories. The story I finished last weekend was about a parallel dimension, i.e. a dimension that existed in the same space as ours, populated with very different kinds of sentient beings. It was this idea that sparked the character I thought was a Wizard. I love the way my mind works.

So, this new character is actually from a parallel dimension and travels freely between our reality and her original one. She is a type of sentient being that has the ability to transform herself into any form, i.e. a shape shifter. They know how to move simply by thinking of the destination. (I’d definitely like that ability to commute to and from my fulltime job!) And she has powers that we humans might regard as magic. She uses her powers for helping others, and has worked as an interstellar diplomat. She’s also worked on earth as a diner waitress. (I have no idea where that came from.)

I had thought that she lived on a desert planet because of the granite wall I saw her eyes in, but I was wrong. She actually lives on a Class M planet in our galaxy, but quite far from earth. I’m actually seeing the landscape as more like northern Minnesota or maybe even northern New York (lots of granite walls there) with forests, lakes, meadows full of wild flowers. I need to know more about this planet, why it’s Class M, why I see it with such a familiar landscape, and why she chose to live there. Is that her story? Or is her story something else? I have a feeling she’s going to get involved with helping someone with something.

Yesterday afternoon, I wrote furiously for several hours, ignoring anything that would distract me from getting the words down. I wrote three scenes, one of which looks like it may be the beginning of the story. I just wrote what I saw in my mind. It’s a good thing I type fast. Right now, I’m thinking that it’s a short story, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it ended up being a novella. I have what could be the end, too. Now the challenge is to find the middle. What happens? What does this character want? What will she do to get it? What are the obstacles in her way?

While it’s exciting to meet a new character, exciting to start something new, I also know that it’s the beginning of a lot of hard work. It’s always a good thing if the character fascinates (yes, she does) and compels me to think about her (she does) and wonder about her and want to know more. She surprised me, too, yesterday — I love it when characters surprise me. She told me her name.

Aanora.

Character: The First Appearance

Yesterday, I had a great afternoon of writing fiction! All the pent up creative energy flowed out onto the page and my imagination just played, and played, and played. The result: a finished first draft of a story that had been stuck in limbo before. I feel as if I’ve flown free of prison — the prison of fulltime work and not having enough time to think creatively for my fiction. My body has finally become accustomed to the fulltime work schedule during the week, I’m not as behind with mundane chores, and I now have the time and brain and energy to work creatively on weekends.

So, wouldn’t you know it? A new character has popped into my head. She doesn’t yet have a name, although I know it’ll be something unusual. I know she’s middle-aged. I know that she’s a shape-shifter. She is also a Wizard, i.e. a master of magic. I think. Her shape-shifting has nothing to do with her magic, it is her physical form so she is not human. She is a White Wizard, i.e. she uses her magic for good, not evil. The first time she appeared in my mind, it was two very feminine green eyes in what looked like a rough granite wall. She was hiding. Why was she hiding? The granite wall was on an alien planet. At this point, I have no idea where or when, although I’m thinking future.

Maybe the power she has isn’t exactly magic. Wizard was the first thing that came to mind for what she could do. She has the power to move from one point to another instantly. She only has to think it.  Although she’s middle-aged for her kind, she would be quite old in human years. I see her as having a high level of integrity, of honesty, of compassion, and of mischievous humor. She is modest. And oddly, I see her having worked as a diplomat at some point in the past. What universe does she inhabit? What does she want? Is she a protagonist, or is she a POV character and another character is the protagonist?  She inhabits science fiction or fantasy, I think, probably science fiction. Maybe a pivotal character in the story somehow.

While doing some cursory research on “wizard – female” online, I ran across a site that generates wizard names. So for the fun of it, I clicked on “female” to see what would come up. A lot of nothing that grabbed me, but a couple I wrote down because I could think about them and maybe they’d spark other names. They already have, actually. So I’ll be writing down names for a while until one really hits me as the one that fits her.

There’s a lot I don’t know about this character, but I have a strong sense that she’s here to stay. Typically, she’ll get around to telling me more about herself eventually, and I’ll find out who she is, what she’s doing in the granite wall (besides hiding), and what the story is. She’s interesting right now, just as she is.  I can’t wait to find out more.

Writing the Future: the Mars Trilogy

KSR Mars TrilogyThis past week, I finished reading the final novel in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy: Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars. Besides bringing our beautiful planet earth’s physical attributes into focus for me to the point of overwhelming gratitude, this trilogy also provoked thoughts of just how difficult it is to write the future.

But how hard could it be to write the future? I mean, all a writer has to do is make things up, right?

Wrong.

For Perceval’s Secret and the rest of the Perceval series, I spent months creating the world of 2048-2050, thinking about all aspects of human life, plus environmental, political, geological, and technology concerns. I read books about futurism, which I hadn’t really known existed before. I read futurists’ predictions about the mid-21st century, fascinated by what they emphasized and what they didn’t. Then I had to put myself into the future I’d created in order to look for major holes in logic or in setting, and to write about it with confidence. It was hard.

I can only imagine the amount of research Robinson must have done for his trilogy.  He focuses a lot of his attention on the science of Mars, the science of human survival on Mars, and surprisingly, the geology of Mars because of one character, Ann Clayborne. Robinson put me there on Mars with his characters, especially for the first two books. I found it totally plausible what the characters experienced in terms of the Martian environment as well as in social and political terms. He didn’t spend a lot of energy, however, on technology which surprised me. He covered as much as he needed and no more. And I was quite satisfied with his future for the first two books.

Mars Bonneville Crater (Photo: NASA.gov)

Mars Bonneville Crater (Photo: NASA.gov)

But not for the third book, Blue Mars. The first two books remained true to their setting, i.e. Mars with all the challenges it presented. In the third book, Robinson takes us elsewhere in the solar system because humans have settled other places and Mars politically wants to have influence over them. While this was plausible from a social political point of view, I missed the survival experiences of humans on Mars. I missed how the personalities and desires of the core ensemble of characters intertwined and propelled the story in interesting and surprising ways. And it wasn’t because I didn’t like the younger generation of Martians. I found it fascinating how, in the third book, Robinson focused so much on the social aspects of living on Mars.

It took me several days after I finished the third book to figure out why I felt so dissatisfied with that last book. I realized that Robinson had abandoned the explorer and survival aspects that had begun the trilogy and shifted to a medical aspect. In fact, I realized that the gerontological treatment he introduced in the first book had struck me as a mildly interesting literary device to extend the lives of the original settlers through the trilogy. But it didn’t bother me at all in the first and second books. It bothered me in the third book which became a meditation on memory. So, the trilogy ends not on new ideas about space exploration in our solar system and beyond, but on a small group of people who are trying to remember their pasts. While interesting at times, I thought it belonged in a different book entirely, one about the medical and physical aspects of living off earth.  A book about the future trying to recapture the past or the old chestnut of humans seeking immortality.

Mars (Photo: NASA.gov)

Mars (Photo: NASA.gov)

Had Robinson run out of ideas about Mars settlements in the future? Had he lost interest in the science? Or had he written all he wanted to write about them? I don’t know, although it felt that way while I was reading the third book. Robinson showed that humans would do everything possible to recreate earth and life on earth in his trilogy, and I wondered how humans would evolve to adapt to the Martian environment. I continued to read despite my growing dissatisfaction and impatience with the third book because I really enjoyed Robinson’s prose, and I loved the way he threaded two elements through all three books: the Red vs. Green struggle, and John Boone and his death.

Finally, Robinson demonstrated just how difficult it is to write the future. I was very impressed, however, with just how far he went.

Reading as a Writer: “Gypsy” by Carter Scholz

November/December 2015

November/December 2015

Science fiction short stories have the power to transport my mind into another time, onto another planet, or into an experience that I’d never imagined before. Carter Scholz’s novella Gypsy in the November/December 2015 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine took me completely out of my mundane holidays 2015 world (and away from the pain of a sprained foot) and transported me onto a earth spaceship hurtling toward Alpha Centauri.  At first, I thought maybe I was reading an homage to Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but as I continued reading, the story twisted and turned in ways that Clarke’s didn’t.

Space travel in this story is dark, cold, uncomfortable, full of danger, and the ultimate challenge for a human being.  I’m not that interested in hard science in science fiction, but I admired the math and hard science that Scholz included in this story.  They made sense.  Space travelers would need to calculate deceleration, how to change course, thrust, etc.  I didn’t need to know if Scholz’s math was correct or the hard science was true.  What he included in terms of specific detail was enough to convince me of their plausibility.  The details about Alpha Centauri captivated me.  I know little about other solar systems, and researchers in 2012 discovered a planet in the Alpha Centauri system that appeared to be earth-like.  The space travelers in Scholz’s story are on their way to that planet in order to establish a colony.

What fascinated me about this story was the characterizations and human details, both in thought and action.  The reader is dropped into the middle of the “action,” i.e. the space trip.  Each astronaut who wakes to deal with a spacecraft issue adds a layer of backstory through memory and a layer of perspective on the story’s present.  Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to earth but it’s still over 4 light years away.  The trip was supposed to take 72 years, and the crew were put into hibernation.  The ship’s computer has been programmed to waken a crew member if it detects a problem.  So each crew member that wakes has a different problem to solve, challenge to meet.  As each new section begins, more time has passed, more potentially fatal problems arise.

Alpha Centauri - the brightest star to the left

Alpha Centauri – the brightest star to the left

Through it all, each crew member remains committed to the trip’s purpose which allows each to do his or her best to resolve the problems.  The problems are mostly due to human error which I also found fascinating.  We may know a lot but we still don’t know about space travel outside our solar system.  At the same time, Scholz’s writing details what space is like and how the crew members react emotionally.  After about 80 years, crew member Zia awakens to deal with a course issue.  He looks outside to check the coordinates of the stars and discovers an unfamiliar “sky.”  It takes him a few minutes to get his bearings and identify the stars.  He looks at the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, Polaris and Cassiopeia, noting

“a new, bright star blazed above it, as if that W had grown another zag. Could it be a nova? He stared, and the stars of Cassiopeia circled this strange bright one slowly as the ship rotated.  Then he knew.  The strange star was Sol.  Our Sun.

That was when he felt it, in his body. They were really here.”

When I read those words, I was there, too, and it was an amazing feeling in my mind.  This sense of displacement, distance, and being surrounded by the vastness of space continued as I read through to the end.  Scholz does not make it easy on the reader, but while the ending left me gasping, it felt totally inevitable given what had occurred in the rest of the story.

Alpha-Centauri-planet-illus-L-calcada-esoS-1024x640

What an excellent science fiction short story!  It is to Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine’s credit that they chose to publish it.  Their stories are consistently good reading, and then every once in a while there will be a story like Scholz’s that reaches beyond  the visible world to reveal humanity’s courage and depth.  Whether you like science fiction or not, I highly recommend this novella, in this magazine, for its human truths.