Writing

Making a world come together

A large part of any science fiction author’s job is creating a world, far from a chore this is a large part of the appeal of science fiction.

The great secret of course being that we can’t really create whole worlds, creating everything a whole world holds would be the work of thousands. However like all artists you can cheat.

You create enough details to make people think the world is full and whole. There are any number of large and important things that effect the whole society, however you also need the small things.

The first is entertainment. This is not just what people do for fun but what media do they use? Do they do full VR, holodecks, books, TV ect. Also how much do they cost? Do rich people have access to holodecks, while the poor have to settle for books and movies and the middle class has VR?

And of course if they are anything like us they are going to have some taboos. How would people feel about a VR where strangers can having sex with them?

And of course don’t neglect to think about shows or VR’s or whatever people talk about over the fusion cooled water cooler.

Next of course is what people dislike about the government and how things work. There will always be people who have a problem with the government. Make sure to distinguish between grumbling and real rebelling, you don’t want someone who just started your book to think the character is a revolutionary because he is grumbling about the 2% tax hike.

Sayings and swearing are next. Both sayings and what swears people use do shift over time, not as much as you might think but they do change. If your writing a book set in fifty years you might not really need to change anything, but if its set in five hundred? Yes you should change them, even if just a little, just enough to show the difference.

Where do people meet? By this I mean where do they congregate, after all things like shopping, working and maybe even being taught could be done from home. So think about how people would meet, you may have a lot of social clubs that exist solely to get people out and let them mingle for example.

Nudity

One of the things that annoys me greatly is how nudity is used, and not used, by Hollywood. Nudity is almost only used for sex. While there are exceptions to this it is rare that you will see nudity for any other reasons. This annoys me because some of my favorite stories would require nudity be used for things other then bringing in the sexy.

The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein (Very good book, spoilers for that ahead) is the best example I can think of, you could not faithfully adopt it for TV or a movie if you were unwilling to use a lot of non-sexual nudity.

In the book you aliens invade who can wholly control your body if they are touching any part of your skin. They are flat and about dinner plate size so they can easily hide under clothing. When they are discovered they had been working for months and had already spread through more then a third of the country. They would have taken the entire continental US in a few more months with no real fight.

The only way to stop them required the main characters to convince congress to make wearing clothing a capital offense punishable by death. This was the only way to make sure invaders could not just walk into any city they wanted and start converting people.

That was about as easy to do as you would think, their also was the issue of winter, it was a few months away and they had to win before they would be forced to wear winter clothing.

You should not assume that everyone wears clothing like we do for the same reasons we do.

The first of many reasons for nudity would just be that a people don’t have the same taboos we do. One example of this is in the lensmen series, about half the planets with people like humans don’t have the nudity taboo.

There is nothing wrong with using this, in fact I would use it for sure if there was a huge disincentive to wearing or making clothing for a people. For example if clothing was not needed and a people were on the edge of starvation they would probably not waste time making it.

This also can be a way to show a people are different, it is easily something that could change over the course of a couple generations on a colony.

Under some conditions I would be surprised if this did not happen. For example if everyone on a colony were genetically engineered and always perfectly fit that would remove one big reasons for the taboo. This would be even more likely if we are talking about a people who live on a station or somewhere that weather is not a factor.

Another reason is humiliation, if you want to humble or humiliate someone stripping them bare can help. If your book has a slave class you could have clothing be a way that status is shown. For the same reasons it can be used for interrogation.

Honestly this is one thing that bugs me when I see someone being tortured on TV, this is the first thing you would do. Its not like you would be okay with torture but not okay with stripping someone nude.

Government structures are reactionary

One thing you will be doing when writing Science Fiction is creating governments, something that I think is not done as well as it could be. Often writers just take current governments, scale them up then transplant them. This I think is a wasted opportunity.

One lesson that history teaches is that when a people are writing a constitution, and deciding what basic shape their society should take it is almost certainly going to be reactionary. People are going to see the problems they had with the previous government and want to avoid them. The entire US Bill of Rights is written in this way, each one is something that the British did that the colonies did not like and did not want to happen ever again.

That in fact was why the US’s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, gave the federal government almost no power. It could not even tax, the only source of income it had was from selling land it owned.

To understand the reasoning for the new government all you have to understand is what the sentiment is for the old one. This is why I say that government structures are reactionary, they almost always reflect what the people don’t want to see again.

The point of the post is this; If a people were starting a colony and were mostly happy where they were from I would expect to see them create a government similar to their home. However the odds are they would not be, you don’t become a colonist if you’re happy and content with life were you were born. If your leaving everything you know you have to have a good reason, it could be anything from too much religious freedom (pilgrims) to wanting more upward mobility (much of the early American immigrants) to almost anything else.

So when your talking about setting up a new government think about what problems the first generation had with its previous government, think about what they disliked and why they left. This is where you can get a lot of drama and some real world building.

Religious colonies are nothing new, all you have to do is open a history book to see examples, I think going in directions that are new would be more interesting. Even within the confines of a representative republic there is a lot of room for new and interesting governments.

Maybe a nation was founded by people who hate large corporations and don’t want them to form. How would they do that? And just as importantly what problems would that cause? How do they deal with colonies from other systems?

Or a colony was founded by the super rich who want a place away from taxes and oversight. They might create a system where bills are voted on by money, or your vote counts for more if your richer.

All government systems are flawed, no matter the one in place a large number of people will dislike it. And never forget your a writer, you want problems, even small ones can be useful.

Aliens

Often what writers do when they try and make aliens really alien is to make them incomprehensible, they act is ways that don’t make any sense to the characters. This will often fall flat, there are certain things that even aliens must have if they have a technological civilization (Note that if a race was uplifted these need not apply).

First they must have a survival instinct, if they give up on life too easily they would hardly still exist.

They also must have a sense of community, a need for social contact. You can’t build a civilization working by yourself. They would almost certainly have to raise their kids.

Third and most important they must be curious, if they are not they would never do any science, they might never even get to the fire and wheels stage.

They also have to be both intelligent and rational enough to do the science and engineering needed to get out into space. We may meet aliens that we can’t have a talk about love with, but I doubt we will meet aliens we can’t talk about math with.

The thing is though that your aliens need to be different, but still have the above and still able to interact with humans to some degree (or they would probably not exist in your story).

For my money there are really only two things you need to decide; goals and motives. Everything else will take care of itself.

First give your aliens some goal, something that we can understand, but may not know, something we would not do ourselves. For example the Borg in Star Trek have a simple goal “Multiply” that is really it, everything they do supports that one goal.

Their motive is “To achieve perfection” not that they define perfection like we do, but they don’t have to think like we do.

One of the reasons the borg are so effective as villains is that you know why are doing what they are and that they will never stop. They are a force of nature that you can’t even hope to reason with.

There are any number of motives and goals you could give your aliens but the most important thing is that YOU understand them. You don’t have to tell the reader but if you don’t understand them then they will probably not make any sense to anyone. As a rule simple is best, it should be something that can be expressed in one sentence.

One way to get across this difference when dealing with them on screen is the way they talk. Don’t have them talk like a human, have it clear that whatever is translating is having to work hard. The best example of this I can think of is the Vorlons from Babylon 5. When they speak you hear a set of almost musical notes then something like “The avalanche has already started, it is too late for the pebbles to vote”.

You don’t have to go that far but it should be clear that the person talking is not human even if they are using a translator.