Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Lots of habitable planets and rules for writing science fiction

The people at planetplanet looked at how to maximize habitable area in our solar system's Goldilocks zone.  I first noted it on my creation/evolution blog but feel the image deserves to be repeated here.  The result is beautiful and just cries out for a story to be written as a wonderful example of worlds building.

With technology similar to what we now have, or even had available a few decades ago, these worlds could all be visited.  Could one planet colonize others?  Would the arrangement be recognized as artificial?  With 36 Earthlike worlds, would the author choose to have them all 'seeded' with life? Or perhaps they are a testbed to see how likely it is that life will arise unaided?  Would there be night as we know it?  All these glowing planets and moons would provide a lot of light.  How would tides work? Europa, a moon of Jupiter, might be heated by 'tidal flexing' - would some of these planets be too unstable for complex life?  What would you see looking up?
Standout Books looks like an interesting place for writers, even for wannabe.  Margaret Atwood recently tweeted about their use of her novel The Handmaid's Tale as a way to explain 3 golden rules for science fiction writing.
The article starts by pointing out that science fiction is not 'fantasy with robots'.  It needs to have actual science.
The first rule is "Know your thesis":

So what’s the point of your world? What are you talking about? Try and take the ‘science’ of sci-fi as an approach rather than a topic. Use your world as a case study, almost an experiment, which will prove your point to the reader.
Of course stories are more than one thing, but keeping your thesis central has many benefits when writing sci-fi. Knowing the point of your fictional world will stop inconsistencies. In 1984George Orwell provides detail after detail of the fascist state Oceania. Views on entertainment, dress, behavior and literature are scattered throughout, giving the reader the impression of a totally consistent world.
Everyone should read Orwell but I couldn't take a steady diet of his work.  I worry that sticking to a thesis would make your work oppressively allegorical or political.  Orwell's work is Important, but not all works can or should strive for that.  Michael Williamson was recently featured on a podcast celebrating the tenth anniversary of his book Freehold.  I enjoyed the story but only in spite of the Libertarian message.

On the other hand, Larry Niven's thesis in Ringworld -also mentioned in my evolution blog post - is "imagine some really big engineering" and has no obvious political message.  Perhaps part of the lesson is to 'remember your point and don't get too badly sidetracked'.

Again, Standout Books looks like a great resource for writers.  Have a look.

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