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Now don’t get me wrong – I love reading Spaghetti Western Sci-fi as much as the next guy. You know the stories: we’re out here in Space, I’m the captain of the starship, we receive a distress signal and check it out, then we try to A) figure out what went wrong or B) find out the real problem and blow up the bad computer/alien. There’s always a suitable mate for the captain and after making out a little, the captain soars off into Space, promising to return someday. Gene Roddenberry even pitched the idea for Star Trek to CBS calling it “a Wagon Train to the Stars”.
However, in my writing – as in my life – I try to relate the stories of ‘the little man’. True, when we finally make it into Space, there will be heroes, but there will also be the basic mechanic dude who lives his life in anonymity but is necessary to getting us further into where no one has gone before. Life on a space station will have the same capability of being lonesome as life on present day Earth. How will people cope with the distances, the light-years, between family members and loved ones?
Philip K. Dick was also interested in this everyman – in all his stories you always know what the main character’s job is, and the things that make him/her twitch.
H.G. Wells had the trick of taking an everyday person and changing one thing in some fantastical way. The main character in The Time Machine was proposing marriage to his girlfriend when he was mugged and the love of his life was shot and killed. How horrible! – BUT – what would happen if we could turn back time and change things!?
What would happen if someone discovered a paint that would make things weightless? Could we fly to the Moon?
H.G. Wells was also interested in the social issues of his day as he saw a soft upper-class living off a hardened, determined, restless society of laborers. As a vast number of people were no longer farmers, but urban dwellers – he couldn’t help but wonder which class would eventually prove the stronger – and the end result was his electrifying vision of the Eloi. Holding a mirror up to the inequalities of the present should be as much of a goal as thinking up a new contraption or piece of technology. A good piece of sci-fi should say as much about us as it does about the surface temperature of a moon circling Saturn.
What would happen if everyone in the world really did make the same amount of money – if all resources were evenly divided? Would it solve all our problems or produce a few individuals ready to try anything to deviate from the blandness of the rest of society?
That’s another trigger to writing Sci-fi: Where there’s a question – there’s a story! When I’m reading a scientific magazine and they’re wondering ‘why did this do that?’ – I jump on it. Getting the answers will help build a story, definitely, but stumbling upon an intriguing question will start a story. In science fiction especially, the question ‘What would happen if we…’ can lead into a story.
And talking about stories – here’s a few we hope you’ll enjoy. Perhaps thinking about these techniques will enable us to take a second look at how good science fiction writers develop their ideas.
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