I am not a science fiction writer.
And yet I am working on a story that is often classified as sci-fi, (though I think it leans more towards post-apocalyptic and what I have dubbed “pre-dystopia”). I have only recently gotten into engaging with science fiction stories (books, TV, movies) but my main problem with writing a story within the genre has always been, well…the science.
Brief recap: My novel focuses on a kick-ass group of mixed Asian-American women and their token male, all of whom form a transporter crew left behind on an uninhabitable Earth, with all the other people deemed “unnecessary” by those that launched to a new world.
When I decided to expand the original short story into my full-length thesis — oh, sweet summer child! — the original sci-fi-less premise faded fast. What replaced it was a crash course in developing a science-based story and a corresponding cohesive environment. Why? Because I wanted to get the majority of characters into space to leave a certain population of people behind. This scenario corresponded to my growing interest in social justice at the time and a look at diverse main characters that represent those considered “unnecessary” to society. That required creating an apocalypse. So the first thing to do was both the most frustrating and informative:
I needed to figure out how to destroy the world.
The science of creating an apocalypse requires significant thought, research, and luck. The easy way out, (and oft suggested “solution”), was either a) Comet from the sky! or b) Alien attack! Both are adequate ways to get mankind off the surface of the Earth (see: Deep Impact, Ender’s Game), but they are also fairly played out (Armageddon, War of the Worlds, Titan A.E., etc.)
Luckily, somewhere along the way, I stumbled onto geoengineering and actually became interested in the concept and execution. Geoengineering efforts are usually made in attempts to alleviate global warming. For example: Russ George “seeding” the ocean with iron to create plankton blooms that will absorb carbon dioxide, burying carbon emissions at sea as the plankton sinks to the bottom.Unfortunately, the impact of this illegal ocean fertilization is yet unknown: Adding iron could shift ocean ecology radically to plankton better at removing carbon to plankton more efficient at removing iron, which makes no sense.
In any case. After some discussion with a botany professor at the state university, I decided to mimic the Red Tide effect (long story short: too much algae, bad times) and choke out and poison the world’s oceans. This is where the science part really kicked in and I had to actually start paying attention to how one event or species can impact others in a chain reaction, changing the environment and how each organism continues to exist in this new and changing environment.
Ugh, science. (But also: yay, science!)
So, why go through all this work and partial agony to figure out how to blow up the world? Why not just leave it ambiguous? Why not just go with the aliens-riding-in-on-comets scenario? Well, the environment and apocalyptic catalyst did tip the scale, but having such a diverse cast was also a deciding factor. The novel handles minority characters whose backgrounds and problems parallel current issues of racism and classism. A story about those problems in a non-sci-fi world would be labeled as “niche” fiction, minority tales told by minorities.
However, add in the science fiction genre and suddenly there is an immediate suspension of disbelief which ironically includes a blind eye to a mixing of races (and species; though you won’t find that in this story, I’m afraid, unless you count lots of radiotrophic mold). Which, we can talk another time about messed up diversity in sci-fi and fantasy (elves and dwarves but all white protagonists, yep, that’s not racist), but it’s also important to push representation in these genre books because studies have proven that readers are more susceptible to moving towards acceptance of diversity when reading about diverse characters (racial minorities, religious minorities, LGBTQAI, etc.) in fictitious stories. (Read more about this here, here, and here.)
The safe space of suspended disbelief allows readers to consider these issues without feeling pressure of judgment or a need to be on the defense that real-world issues can provoke (e.g. being asked an opinion about Trayvon Martin or what’s happening in Ferguson. Both are important issues but those still trying to learn and be informed, as well as those who are not informed, can often shut off opportunities to learn by being provoked into the defensive position. This can close them off to real discussion and changes/growth in opinion in the future.)
I’m still looking for resources with break-downs of diverse characters by genre, but I’m interested in exploring this issue in future blogs. Any book recs regarding this, science fiction or otherwise, are always welcome! I’ll be blogging about the difficulties in describing skin colors next time. Got a quote with an awful description? (Skin like “sunlight through honey” is just a pretty way to call an Asian yellow). Send it my way.
Also! Chebk and I are trying to step up our blogging game and are moving posts from Wednesdays and Saturdays to Tuesdays and Saturdays for me and Thursdays and Sundays for Chebk. Stay tuned for Chebk’s post on world-building on Thursday!