Making Stuff Up

Okay, it’s time for the second part of the “long post” I promised.  I did the astronomy bit last week, so today gets to focus on the sci-fi part…

I’ve already done a couple of posts on why I write sci-fi (most recently here), so I won’t go too far down that particular rabbit hole, other than to say that I like sci-fi as a tool.  That genre lets me play with social and political and cultural questions and problems in ways that “real world” fiction wouldn’t really allow.

Okay, that’s it for the theory part of the post.  Instead, I want to get to the nuts-and-bolts of how (and why) I turn my love of history and astronomy into science fiction stories…


That’s easy: I like making shit up.  I make a lot of shit up…and that’s the fun bit.

Crap…maybe I should expand on that explanation just a bit…

**By the way — if you’re as much a fan of cognitive dissonance as I am, you might enjoy the fact that I’m listening to a band called the Avett Brothers while I write…this song has many things going for it, but I’m pretty sure no one would ever associate it with sci-fi!**

First off, I am in no way or form a writer of “hard sci-fi.”  Hard sci-fi, for the uninitiated, focuses on evolving real-world, modern physics and science into the future.  It tends to be the product of those astronomers and physics professors who have turned their hand to writing…folks like Clarke and Benford* and a handful of others.  Now, a few guys have made it work, but the vast majority of “hard sci-fi” concentrates just too much on the “hard” part — the science and engineering become the story most of the time, and…well…that doesn’t often make for a good read.  Even good ol’ Arthur C. could get dry and boring at times…and that’s as close to science-fiction-blasphemy as I can come without an angry nerd-mob coming for me with torches and pitchforks.

*An old professor of mine, by the way…thanks, Dr. Benford!

No, when I write sci-fi the, err, science part is NOT foremost in my mind.  Character and story — and those social, cultural, and political problems that I mentioned before — are what I’m thinking about, not the details of orbital mechanics.  Don’t get me wrong, the science part of sci-fi part is important, but it’s there to serve what really matters, not define it.

A bit of perspective on that: in last Friday’s astronomy-nerd post I jokingly described faster-than-light travel as space magic, and it is.  The limit of the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) is the most fundamental and iron-clad of the universe’s many fundamental, iron-clad laws.  But, to be blunt, I wanted to write about a shaking/tottering/decaying Earth “empire” that is ready to fly apart without having to focus on voyages of many, many decades.  Even less did I want to even try to deal with the effects of relativity in terms of the passage of time.

So…space magic!

A wave my magic space bar and *WHAM* ships can go many times the speed of light.  Okay, okay … so they can only do so outside of a star system — I managed to restrain my baser impulses and keep enough “scientific integrity” to limit my ships to realistic accelerations and velocities inside a special (magic!) red line.  I haven’t completely surrendered my nerd-dom, after all…


And gravity…

Don’t get me started on gravity.

No, I did NOT want to deal with all the bullshit that comes with spinning ships/stations for gravity, and the Coriolis Effect.  Nope, not me.  Too much work.  Another wave of my magic space bar and *WHAM* artificial gravity!  My characters get to walk and talk and function like real folks!  Err, except when I don’t want them to.  Then I just turn off the gravity.

See…making shit up is fun!

I do, by the way, keep the universe itself the same.  I mentioned before the 3-D computer model I made of all the stars within 50 lightyears of Earth.  Well, part of that model was to create a list of the stars most likely to have planets suitable to supporting humans..and then to create “travel lanes” based on the limitations of my magic-FTL-drive.  From there, it was “simply” a matter of writing a few hundred years of “history” to define the expansion and development of my tottering/reeling society…

Okay, I have to admit, that bit was fun, too.

I do, I should add, have aliens…in spite of the realities I wrote about in last Friday’s post.  Those aliens figured in a big way into the two “trunk novels” that started/inspired my DockRat universe, but they have nothing whatsoever to do with the more “realistic” stories about Connor and Oz.

Of course, when the time comes to go back to those two novels and give them a (badly) needed rewrite…well…I’ll get to indulge my nerd-side quite a bit more than I can in the dark, gritty settings of two street kids…512x512bb


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