Sunday, December 1, 2013

Not Another Vacuum Story

A friend, Martin Shoemaker lamented the fact that when one writes near-future hard science fiction stories one risks copying from one of the grand masters.
One of the tricky parts of my preferred writing niche -- near future, near space hard science fiction -- is avoiding rehashing of crises that were already explored by Heinlein and Asimov and Clarke and others 80 years ago. There are some obvious, critical dangers in space, and I'm tempted to write about them even though better writers have already written about them.
Any story has setting, character, and plot, but the science fiction story can make the technology a quasi-character that's worthy of consideration in and of itself. Boy can meet girl in any coffee shop on the planet, but if it's on a space station built into an asteroid, the reader of science fiction will be more interested in the space station than other readers will have in the coffee shop. If the coffee shop is in a space station, the writer may want to put some thought into the problems of zero-gee coffee brewing.

The difficulty that Martin addresses here is how to incorporate a likely hazards near-future hard science fiction that the grand masters already wrote about. Space has vacuum, radiation, and zero-gee. You aren't going to do a better job than the grand-masters if you write a plot-heavy story wherein these hazards are encountered and solved in the same way they solved them.

What I believe the writer should do today is update any science/tech that has been learned since the Golden Age, then make his/her story fresh via unique characters. For this reason, when I wrote High Rail Breakdown, I made the female lead character a convicted murderer with anger-management issues.

Maybe Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov never wrote stories with the same plot devices I put into my story, but even if they did, I know they didn't have her.

There's a taxonomy of basic plots for stories that date back to Aristotle. And it's been updated many times. Golden Age Science Fiction was unique in that it added fantastic new settings beyond Earth's atmosphere. This freshened a number of stories by making these settings almost a character in and of itself.

We don't have that luxury today. Thus our stories need to rely upon distinctive characters to be fresh. So, take another look at your Spaceman Spiff, and ask yourself if maybe he would be more distinctive if he was a Calvinist.
What sort of character traits do you think belong in your characters in a near future, near space hard science fiction story? I have some ideas, but want to hear yours.

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