This will be a thing soon


To be published soon: a series of three novellas featuring agents Jonathan Bartell and Gaby Larsen.

Realistic science fiction mixed with mystery and a touch of whodunnit.

Set in the real solar system, the three novellas explore the difficulties in maintaining healthy environments for people in space and the many, many ways in which people can sabotage them.

When micro-organisms were discovered on Mars, Jonathan was one of the flood of students who went to study exo-biology. Students who are now all flipping burgers because the micro-organisms weren’t very interesting and no one was willing to fund enough research into the them to absorb all the new graduates.

Jonathan wants a job in space. Any job. Quarantine Officer at the Orbital Space Station is a start, right?

Gaby Larsen is a doctor in the tiny hospital at the Orbital Launch Station.

Jonathan is new and blunders into things that he would be better to keep out of.

Gaby has seen these things and knows for sure that the truth is better hidden.

This is the main premise of three novellas in this world. Each will be an independent story that follows the previous but that does not require that you read them in order.

The first novella should be done shortly.

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How much science does there need to be in Science Fiction?

This is a question that gets asked a bit in writer’s forums, and frankly, I have some trouble with it. I mean, it’s called Science Fiction, isn’t it?

Yes, I know there are many stories out there that don’t seem to have any science at all. Look at Star Wars, for example. It’s so full of semi-magical rubbish that you can hardly call it Science Fiction and… yeah, yeah. That said, how do you know that some real science wasn’t behind the inspiration for some of the admittedly cool worldbuilding? Sure, there was a lot of stuff that’s plain impossible and more like magic, and overall, Star Wars is probably closer to fantasy. But, you wanted to know how to write better and more sellable Science Fiction, right? You’re not writing Star Wars and your name isn’t George Lucas, so let’s forget about them and all those stories that have questionable science. You want to sell a story to a good magazine. How much science do you need?

In the last year, something changed for me. I went from being able to sell stories at semipro level to being able to sell them at pro level. In my case, I can pinpoint the exact moment of change. It was that hot Sunday afternoon in January 2010 when I went to Officeworks and bought that pair of titanium scissors. I became interested in titanium and after reading about it, I cobbled together a number of ideas into a strange ecosystem that relies on titanium. From there, it was only a small step to invent characters and a story. Ultimately, not that much science made it into the story, but the science inspired almost every bit of worldbuilding the story has.

The story I wrote next, Party, with Echoes, which I sold to Redstone SF, had even less science visible in the story, but that doesn’t mean none went into the writing of it. In fact, since it’s set on Europa, I bought a book on the moon. The same book has given me ideas for further stories.

His Name in Lights, which I sold to the Universe Annex of the Grantville Gazette, has even more science, and more of it made it into the story, but again, the science formed the basic inspiration for many elements in that story. The science told me what should happen, and gave me ideas for cool scenes. Having asked myself the question: could one possibly sign-write on the clouds of a gas giant, I set about writing a story that involved just this.

The quality of my stories took a big leap when I decided to start taking the science in Science Fiction seriously, and using the science to inspire and guide the story rather than tacking some pseudo-science onto an existing story, and hoping no one noticed. About using facts in Science Fiction, someone at the Analog forum said this very true thing: don’t think no one will check; they will. Very true. You have to get the facts right. Better still, make sure you’re one step ahead of the editors and readers in terms of research.

So I think those people who ask how much science a Science Fiction story needs don’t fully understand the concept of the genre. Science is not optional. Science Fiction is, breathes, and lives science. The inspiration for it is the science. The resulting story may or may not have an obvious science component, but without the science extrapolation or inspiration, it would be dull, commonplace or clichéd.

That doesn’t mean dull, clichéd stories don’t get written. Heck, sometimes they even get published. But if you want to give yourself the best chance at getting published in a decent Science Fiction venue, it is my strong feeling that you had better start looking after the science other than spending five minutes on Wikipedia checking the most obvious facts.

When I talk about science, I include the social sciences. There are many great stories that can be written about concepts in such fields as psychology, political science and linguistics.

You do not need a PhD in any of these fields to learn about them. Your readers will probably never have heard about the interesting concepts you have used as inspiration for your fiction, and therefore, the stories will have that spark of being different and fresh, as well as feeling authentic and interesting.

the trouble with Science Fiction…

The trouble with Science Fiction, especially near-to-medium future SF, is that it frequently seems… dated.

Consider the following two books (both of which I enjoyed tremendously, btw):

Greg Bear’s Eon, written in 1985, features two groups of space explorers: the Americans and Soviet Russians as per pre-Berlin Wall communism. Oops.

Stephen Baxter’s Titan, published in 1998, features the Space Shuttle Columbia. Oops.

Do you think a fantasy book, or even a literary book written in either of those years would feel so out-of-date?

Now if I were either of these two authors, I’d have been bashing my head against the wall after the historic events that screwed up my fiction had taken place. You know, Science Fiction is meant to be futuristic and all that and how dare one little event date my book so much? You do all the work to make your book as realistic as possible, and then real life turns around and provides some dramatic change from an angle you hadn’t considered and renders your work dated.

Of all the time periods writers can write about, the future dates most quickly.

So what do you do? Writing Historic Fiction is one option, but not one I find attractive.

I can’t say I have a clear-cut answer, but:

– I’d try to avoid being too specific about things like politics, countries and companies (although you may try giving the voodoo kiss-of-death to big-name companies everyone loves to hate by featuring them clearly in a novel, and hope that this will ensure they go out of business).
– I’d assume the world will change dramatically, and portray a dramatically changed world-political landscape. The only thing we know is that the world will change, so no change isn’t a believable option. To this end, one of my future worlds has no US, the philosophy being that no empire lasts forever.
– I might just shrug and recognise that my fiction is a product of the year it was written, but realistically, I’d like my fiction to remain fresh for longer than a few years.

Alternatively, many writers of space-based SF excise Earth from their fiction altogether. In those books, Earth was a planet where people once came from, but it is either too far away to matter, it has been destroyed or lost or just doesn’t feature at all in the story.

You have any ideas on how to make realistic SF date-proof?

damned if you do, and damned if you don’t

There’s been a fair amount of kerfuffle recently about the representation of certain groups in Science Fiction, both as authors and characters. Granted, it feels like Science Fiction is one of the last remaining bastions of traditional white males.

I think part of the male/female problem is the very nature of Science Fiction, and the boundaries of definition of the genre. When reading SF anthologies or magazines, invariably the stories written by women represent ‘softer’, more sociological aspects of culture. Technology doesn’t seem to draw interest from many women, and there aren’t many of us writing anything near what could be termed ‘hard Science Fiction’. A lot of SF written by women slants off into fantasy, and one could argue, by some definitions of the genre, whether it is Science Fiction at all. For myself as writer, I can see a practical solution to the under-representation problem. I am a woman. I write hard Science Fiction.

A similar debate is raging over race/culture representation in SF. Alastair Reynolds says it eloquently here.

For me, as writer, this brings a different set of feelings. Yes, I’m a woman, and I also happen to be white. Not much I can do about that. I write about characters from different races, but often those races are made-up. I feel uncomfortable about writing characters from different existing cultures. I feel I’m intruding upon their turf. I feel like I have no authority to write about them, because they’re not my culture, and using the culture in a story may be construed as ‘patronising white person’. I just don’t want to go there. So I write about existing Earth cultures only in future worlds.

Race is not the issue, I think. I don’t spend a lot of time describing my characters, and don’t really care what colour they are on the outside. I leave that for readers to fill in. Culture, though, is on the inside, and I can only truly represent cultures that are my own, either real or made-up.

All of which means that my present-day characters are usually white.

a thought about Science Fiction

… put in a seperate post, because it gets confusing when you mix up subjects in blog posts. On second thoughts, cross-posted from my personal blog.

A while ago, everyone was discussing the boundaries between Science Fiction and Fantasy. I don’t know that anyone got a satisfactory answer out of the discussion, but just recently, I was wondering: what is the boundary between *some* space opera and hard SF?

Where does hard SF stop being hard SF and become something else?

Any opinions?