So you want to write Science Fiction?
Isaac Asimov wrote an essay for Modern Science Fiction (1953, ed. Reginald Bretnor) in which he claimed there were essentially three types of science fiction—gadget, adventure, and social science fiction. Let’s say, for example, you are applying these categories to a post-apocalyptic parent explaining the world to their kid:To see how this works, I turned once again to the ever-helpful Plot Generator and chose their Science Fiction genre to create the following plot.
A long, long time ago in a resource raping galaxy…
After leaving the resource-raped planet Old Paradise Earth, a group of computer programmers taking part in a 12-step program for recovering internet addicts flies toward a distant speck. The speck gradually resolves into the mysterious, plague-infested Space Temple of Solitude and Video Gaming, where their ship crash-lands near an organic seaweed farm.
Civil war strikes the galaxy, which is ruled by Major Planetraper, a global warming Government Bureaucrat capable of infecting seaweed farms with genetically modified kelp and who has even been suspected of premeditated coral reef destruction.
Terrified when he is proclaimed the Chosen One by a consortium of Broccoli and Kelp peoples, a teenaged Organic Seaweed Farmer known as Mickey Megachin flees the Empire, accompanied by his protector, Gaia Treehugger, and the recovering internet-addicted computer programmers.
They head for the Soulless Suburban Cluster-Trucks on the planet Fake New Earth. When they finally arrive, a fight breaks out. Treehugger uses her climate-warming alien computer virus to defend Mickey.
Treehugger and Organic Seaweed Farmer Mickey decide it’s time to leave Fake New Earth, so they steal an environmentally responsible Soccer Mom 8-seat NCF (no-carbon-footprint) vehicle to shoot their way out.
They encounter a tribe of soft-spoken but terrifying Kindergarten Teachers. Treehugger is attacked and Organic Seaweed Farmer Mickey is captured by the Kindergarten Teachers and taken back to the Soulless Suburban Cluster-Trucks, where Mickey is forced to spend his days reading The Rainbow Fish to insatiable five-year-olds. (Its actual moral: If you don’t want to be lonely, you need to rip off your skin or hair or anything that people are jealous of and give it to them. That way you’ll have friends. At least until you run out of skin and hair…).
Treehugger must fight to save Organic Seaweed Farmer Mickey but when she accidentally unleashes a computer virus while using her cellphone in a crowded theater, the entire future of the climate-warming, resource-raping galaxy is at stake.
- If Major Planetraper is actually a former Vice President who imprisons our heroes in a darkened movie theater as he goes into a detailed explanation of climate change—there may be flowcharts and a power point presentation because his evil knows no bounds—it is Gadget SciFi. (Probably written as fanfiction by a 34-year-old computer programmer still living in his mother’s basement. He will have a long ponytail.)
- If Major Planetraper followed the trail of easy money over to the dark side and began developing genetically enhanced kelp beds (esp. if he’s actually Mickey Megachin’s real father), this is Adventure Science Fiction.
- If Gaia Treehugger is The Chosen One (esp. if she has red hair and big green eyes), this is Social Science Fiction. In that case, it could belong to one of several sub-genres:
- if Gaia Treehugger is actually an intergalactic were-badger, this might be Science Fantasy.
- If Gaia Treehugger, the intergalactic were-badger, speaks in iambic pentameter, occasionally eats bits of Mickey, and now and then is inexplicably back on Earth-That-Was, it’s New Weird Fantasy.
- If Gaia and Mickey join the crew of a lovable bunch of misfit space smugglers and often have to shoot their way out of trouble, it’s a Space Opera. If there are horses (even genetically modified talking android horses), it’s a Space Opera Western.
- If the recovering internet-addicted computer programmers wear matching red uniform shirts and are killed by aliens before we really even have a chance to learn their names, this is Trekkie fanfiction. Probably really, really bad fanfiction because seriously? Star Trek?
For a superb application of science fiction tropes and all three of Asimov’s categories blended so well you should just stop reading right now and go out and buy it, I recommend Inside Out by Thorne Moore. My review follows.
Triton station, Outer Circles headquarters of Ragnox Inc, on the moon of Neptune, is as far as the intrepid can go. It’s a place to make money, lots of money, and for seven lucky travellers, bound for Triton on the ISF Heloise, that’s exactly what they intend to do.
Maggy Jole wants to belong.
Peter Selden wants to escape.
Abigail Dieterman wants to be free.
Merrit Burnand wants to start again.
Christie Steen wants to forget.
No one knows what David Rabiotti wants.
And Smith, well, Smith wants everything.
Does it really matter what they want? The journey to Triton will take them eleven months – eleven months to contemplate the future, come to terms with the small print of their contracts, and wish they’d never signed. But changing their minds is not an option. Sometimes it really is better to travel… than arrive.
My Review: 5 out of 5 Stars for Inside Out by Thorne Moore
I can make this a very short review by saying you really should just go buy Inside Out. You’ll thank me.
Still reading? Okay, here goes.
What do a zombie apocalypse, a western, a dystopian epic, and a spaceship have in common? I think it’s that they’re usually stories of the triumph of regular people. The people who go from delivering pizzas, staffing civil service jobs, driving buses—any of the not-famous, not-rich, not successful people who blend into the background. Then something happens: a virus wipes out the wealthy/beautiful/powerful, leaving the normal ones to band together for survival. Or zombies get really into eating brains until the bus driver and pizza guy pick up an axe and a torch. Or the bad guys are rustling their cattle and disrespecting their daughters, so the farmers pick up their rifles and defend their town from people with bad haircuts and excess facial hair.
Or even better: they hop on a spaceship and head for the final frontier where the Future is as full of boundless possibilities as space itself (unless it’s one of those stories where aliens come ripping out of their chests, which I’m happy to report this isn’t). Inside Out tells the story of the spaceship Heloise and of seven ordinary passengers on a year long voyage. At first it’s a glittery space cruise with a suave and genial captain. As passengers gamble, drink, and generally manage to ignore the fact that they’re sailing through space, the seven grudgingly share the only thing they have in common: their contracted agreement to spend the next seven years on Triton doing whatever they’re told to do. If all goes as planned, they’ll come home with wealth and security. If they make it that far.
Midway through the cruise, everything changes. The tourists depart at the edge of ‘civilized’ space, the glittery trappings are discarded, and the Heloise is refitted to face the realities of the frontier. Shocked, the seven try various ways to change their agreed fate and avoid their delivery to Triton as cargo. It is, of course, far too late for that.
Captain and crew shed their smart uniforms to reveal blade-sharp warriors with their own agenda. And the seven change too, or more accurately—discover or reveal their true selves. They have half a year of travel, and only that much time to make themselves indispensable to the brutal reality of life on Triton.
There are wonderful subplots and rifs on old memes (including the captain who has just explained the cold hard facts of space life to his hapless cargo but ends by telling them to “live long and prosper”). There are many and obvious references to medieval lovers Abelard and Héloïse, two of the most brilliant 12th-century scholars of their day whose romance suffered a setback when her family had him castrated. (No, this isn’t a spoiler for a literal plot point, so you can all just uncross those legs.)
But what I loved most about this book has almost nothing to do with its genre or tropes. You could close your eyes and the story would work well in anything from the Old West to Interbellum. Because what’s really going on is the subtle realization that the Triton-bound passengers are on a journey to become exactly who they’re meant to be—with the help of the Heloise’s Pygmalion-like captain, of course. And all the while, we see tiny reveals, get hints, and finally realize what his goals are as well. Or as Smith suggests, “Ask him what happened to Heloise.”
I can’t end without an awestruck bow to the world-building AFTERWARD, which shows up…well, afterward. And yes, I know I said this plot could be set almost any place and time. But that’s not good enough for author Thorne Moore, who has a fantastically elaborate world spelling out the stakes, the players, and the epic scale of the stage. Hopefully, it’s a sign of more to come in the wonderful character-driven world she’s created.