Friday, August 4, 2017

The Challenge of Writing Science-Fiction. Louis Shalako.

Louis Shalako.

One of the great challenges of writing something like Tactics of Delay is that it is science-fiction that must happen three to five hundred years in the future. Proper science-fiction usually focuses on an extrapolation of current science, and tries to predict the future in a relatively short term. In that sense, Tactics is more of a space-opera, one that I have tried to make realistic. This almost presupposes starting off in the present day, with a level of technology that we don’t really have. It presupposes a commitment that we don’t presently have, a commitment to exploring and colonizing nearby star systems.

There’s just no way that this story could be happening fifty or a hundred years in the future.

For that reason, it is extremely hard to guess what the technology might look like, or how it might be applied, and what the results might be so far in the future. In that sense, the story stands a good chance of becoming little more than a rehash of twentieth and twenty-first century military science. (The truth is, the author doesn’t even know very much about that either.) The other thing is that writing a book is an exploration. At some point one recognizes that this thing could go on for a million words. But a novel is more like a hundred thousand words. At that point, one accepts the limitations and tries to figure out an ending that doesn’t leave the reader disappointed. It has to round off at the end, the work a coherent whole that is understandable, readable, and not too wanting in the final analysis. It is, after all, just another form of entertainment.

It is, hopefully, a story.

The fact that we have FTL space-ships and laser communications at great distances only underlines that fact. The analogies are there, calling them ‘ships’ clearly connotes the sea.

The military story is a recognizable trope, and to the reader, men and women in goggs, guns, mines, bombs and rockets are all too familiar in the present day.

That’s not to say there isn’t any science to the story. That science actually helps us to date it forwards, rather than in the past, as an archaeologist would do.

It would take a minimum of three to five hundred years for the process of terraforming a planet like Denebola-Seven, even if the process started first thing tomorrow, in the year 2017. 

Still, if the planet already had an atmosphere and some kind of proper topsoil, fresh water and the right amount of ‘solar’ radiation, i.e. sunlight, Terran species such as corn and soybeans, pine trees, even Terran fish species, and domestic animals, might be well established within fifty to a hundred years of initial colonization. If the planet already had its own plants, animals, insect-like and bird-like species, it would greatly help the process. That’s not to say imported species would be entirely dispersed all over the planet, but they certainly would be within a zone around concentrations of human activity. It’s interesting to speculate how quickly an imported bird species, one with a massive migration, would take to develop something similar in a wholly new environment, one where there is competition from native species, and at the same time, uniquely new opportunities for feeding and breeding.

Imported insects (and other life-forms) that thrived, would spread out and continue to spread out until they had penetrated all conceivably-livable ecosystems and would, over time, reach a state of ‘equilibrium’, one subject to the terms and conditions of that particular planetary environment.

It’s also interesting to speculate as to how governments and self-governance would form under new social conditions. In the story, we find that the few towns and cities are governed and policed—the rest of the planet is almost utterly devoid of human life and so they have developed no overall, single planetary government. The tax base is very small, and all things human have to be paid for. This is probably true of the sentient native culture as well. Yet one might sort of expect a single, united planetary government to be among the first things to happen. In the Old West analogy, such things take time. This is arguably why the planet is a member of a Confederation of independent planets, and also why they have contracted with the Organization, also members, for their defense.

Development, the establishment of the rule of law, spreads out in a wave, from a centre of power and culture. It’s a lot like insects in that regard.

And then there is the wealth. The Unfriendlies are there for a reason, after all. That is the key to the frontier, and its winner-take-all mentality. It’s an entire planet, one eminently suitable for human life, with a minimal ability to defend itself.

It is a story of human nature, as much as anything else.

Over the course of writing such a thing, we squeeze in as many themes as we can get.

We also learn something in the process.


Thank you for reading.

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