I write a lot of dystopias. Settings with super corrupt or repressive governments, which mostly exist to crack down on and muck about with my characters. Most of the time, this is because my characters are part of a criminal element, and your criminals are usually a little bit more sympathetic when they are—at their hearts—good enough people who probably wouldn’t mind paying taxes so much if the government would just chill out and stop executing all of those dissidents.
I can make good fiction out of that, but even I’m willing to admit at this point that it’s kind of a crutch.
So, because of all this, I don’t want to do a dystopian world for this novel. This is a genre that we’ve already established as being largely about optimism and forward momentum, and I’d kind of like to make the world of the novel reflect that. Which doesn’t mean that it’ll be a utopia, either. God no. I want it to just be a world. A future where there are still plenty of people and circumstances that work to hold humanity back, but there are also plenty of people working to try and build a time not too far down the road that’s a bit more shiny and utopia-ish.
This is the kind of thing that I’m going to have to keep in mind as I proceed with world-building, because I’ve always felt that history and scope are important in the development of a science-fictional world. Things that you don’t even consciously go into the writing process knowing that you’ll need, but that are nice to have when you do. Things that can be mentioned casually by characters and lend depth to the world. Things like knowing that Israel and Iran blew each other to hell in the world’s only mutual nuclear exchange, and that it completely changed the form and nature of political and religious relations in the Middle East. Or that North Korea is banned from space-flight because they got riled up and threatened to use an asteroid that was captured for mining as a massive orbital bullet. Or that someone is trying to do something about the Pacific Garbage Patch, and they’re actually seeing results. Or that the internet is still free.
All of these are things that will have happened before the novel starts. Odds are good that nobody involved in any of those events will make an appearance, but that doesn’t mean that the events themselves won’t have their effects felt over the course of the narrative. These are background things. Items on a timeline of the next thirty years. Maybe they’ll come into play, and maybe they won’t, but they all provide some sort of valuable context and substance. They make the world feel more real for me, and I can present it better the more real it feels.
Does that even make sense?
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I also started reading a new book today: Diary of a Cosmonaut, which is Valentin Lebedev’s personal daily account of the two-hundred and eleven days that he spent in orbit for the Soviet Union’s 1982 Salyut-7 mission. It’s really great so far, and I’m sure I’ll find it quite useful for certain things, but in his preface, Lebedev writes something that I think speaks nicely to the nature of space development and the “firsts” that I was talking about on Tuesday. I’d like to go ahead and leave you with that for today:
“…our understanding of space accumulates slowly, grain by grain, as each traveler adds his experience to those who have gone before. If it were otherwise, future travelers into space would not know what to expect.”