Posts Tagged ‘optimism’

Sometime in the last few months, I read someone’s Tweet about space travel. I don’t remember who it was, but they said something to the effect of how science fiction set in space felt irrelevant or dated to them. Like it was nostalgia and nothing more. Of course, this was right around NASA’s final space shuttle launch, so depression about the space program and the likelihood of humans doing much in space is understandable. But more than the final space shuttle launch itself, that comment depressed me, and I’ve been thinking about it off and on ever since.Has space really become so passé that stories involving it are outdated? I began thinking of my own (admittedly small) body of work, almost none of which takes place in space. I have a few subtle nods to the idea that there are humans in space, even though the stories in question take place completely on Earth, and I believe I have one scene of a trunked story that takes place on the Moon. And that’s it. But I’ve written a lot more fantasy and contemporary fiction, so I don’t see myself as indicative. I actually see my lack of space settings as more of an oversight than anything else.

I love space. I love learning about space, and I love reading stories set in space. Many of my all-time favorite novels and series are set in space, and some of the most formative of my reading experiences came from space operas (the Hyperion books and Dune come to mind). As sad as I am that the space shuttle has been discontinued, I would be a whole lot sadder if science fiction that explored the possibilities of space was no longer being written.

Here’s the thing. Economics and politics are always changing. Technology is constantly being developed, and scientists are gaining new knowledge about the world and the universe around us. Our world isn’t a constant–it’s always in a state of flux.

So there aren’t any huge, aggressive space programs right now. Given the present geopolitical and economic climate, this isn’t a huge shocker. But does that mean there never will be a great space program in any country in the world? I don’t think so. The confluence of events, powers, and technologies during and after World War II led to the Cold War and provided the perfect pressure cooker in which the space race could occur. Such a perfect storm could happen again, this time with different political pressures and different emerging technologies.

In the meantime, it is science fiction that keeps the dream of space alive, whether that be in literature, film and TV, or video games. It reminds us of what is possible. Beyond that, space provides an evocative backdrop for storytelling, in which we can enjoy stories of truly epic scope, explore the other (often in the form of an alien race), celebrate innovation and a spirit of adventure, and encounter different cultures and ways of being human.

Just in the past few days, I saw another Tweet from someone who said they were watching Firefly just to see the spaceships. And i09 had an article about how we need more space adventures. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my love for and appreciation of fiction set in space. Yes, I’m an optimist in a gloomy time, but I hope I can find space in science fiction for a long time to come.

ETA: Just found another great article on the importance of science fiction that seems relevant to this conversation: China has decided that science fiction is the key to its future success in invention and design of new products.

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A fringe benefit of being a writer (or other artist, since this certainly applied to my songwriting and singing) is that everything that happens in your life can be recycled into your work later on.  And by everything, I mean the bad stuff.  I recycle the good stuff too, of course, but while that good stuff was happening, I probably wasn’t thinking, “Oh, this is character building and I can use it in a novel someday, which will make it worthwhile in end.”  I was probably just enjoying my happy moment.

No, it’s the repurposing of the bad stuff that is the real benefit.  I find it oddly comforting that when life throws something unpleasant my way, it might come in handy later for some character or plotline.  Of course, we’ve all heard the phrase “stranger than fiction”; one has to be careful not to stay too true to the actual facts for fear it will sound unbelievable (or be offensive to the involved parties) — I’ve personally had a story slip into the implausible from mirroring reality too closely, from which I learned that writing in too autobiographical a fashion can be a mistake.  But the feelings, those are a rich mine to draw upon, as are the general categories of experience.

Write what you know is the kind of writing advice that is misleadingly simple.  If writers literally only wrote what they knew, there would be precious few fantasy novels and no science fiction novels whatsoever.  Instead there would be a lot of boring novels in which nothing much happens and a lot of time is spent sleeping and doing chores and working in tiny increments towards the exciting goal.  I’ve never known anybody who was murdered, for example – does that mean I can’t write a murder mystery?  Plus, even when I do write what I know, sometimes I can’t remember all the details, at which point I’m still back to relying on Google to fill in the gaps.

But I think write what you know hides a deeper truth.   Maybe we should say instead: write what you feel.  Write what you believe in.  Write what matters to you.  Look deep inside and see what all that life stuff, good and bad, has left you with, and write about that.  Don’t shy away from the stuff that’s dark or scary or sad, because some of that will give your work the lasting resonance you’re looking for.  But don’t feel you have to look away from your streak of idealism or optimism, either.  It’s all material.

So I write a lot about death and mortality and family relationships.  At some point I’ll add in a dash of chronic pain and difficulty walking.  I also write about romantic relationships – usually in which something goes crashingly wrong (the story’s got to have a secondary conflict, after all), but once in awhile in which it goes wonderfully right … at least for awhile.  If I didn’t feel these things myself at some point in my life, I wouldn’t be half as convincing when writing about them.

And the stories that it kills me the most to write are the ones without happy endings.  Because fundamentally, I believe in the happy ending the most.  Or at least the silver lining ending.  Just as in life, in my narratives, I’m always searching for that silver lining that will make even the bad stuff worthwhile.

Ask yourself: what material has your life given to you?

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