World Building II: Establishing Theme

The Cx Trilogy is the simple story of leaving this planet. As common as this idea might be in contemporary science fiction – including everything from Star Trek & Star Wars franchises to The Martian and Ad Astra – the central idea of abandonment, leaving everything that we know for a complete unknown, remains frightfully undeveloped. In other words, these films emphasize ingenuity and determination over the more likely issues of angst and despair once Earth Out of View Syndrome sets in.

The essential themes of nihilism and isolation are not only developed through character development and dialogue, but also in the speculative technology that identifies the desperate struggle to find identity when the origin of everything known is gone.

Second Skin (a synthetic anti-aging agent) and The Bearing (a ring-like portal to the internet) are prevalent throughout the first book, Anori, while The Hive (a fully immersive place of sensual pleasure) and boochies (doll-sized genetically mutated animals) are featured in Book Two, Aqaara, which documents the generational flight to the destination planet of Mina. All of these devices are intended to fulfill immediate individual desires and lead to division and isolation.

The use of speculative technology as a world-building tool, although present, is not as significant in the final book, Mina. The majority of the speculative devices have been in use throughout the trilogy, leaving the only thing new to build is the planet itself. (You can’t get more world-building than that.) The challenge with building another planet is our limited experience with distant worlds; we actually only have a few planets to use as models, this leading to a tendency toward arctic expanses, forbidding deserts and prehistoric beasts is hard to avoid. (See Interstellar, Dune & John Carter.)

I did use images of Pluto and Saturn for inspiration as well as the distant corners of Earth and settled on a highly volcanic planet with two suns. Water dominates the surface and so many of the life forms are water-borne, including the animal believed to be at the top of the food chain – a sort of hybrid leopard seal.

The ever-present sense of isolation is developed not only through the immense unexplored planet, but also through divisions in the mission itself. While a home-base, Ataa, is constructed on Mina, only a fraction of the people are invested in living there; groups venture off on long-term explorations while another large contingent elect to leave the planet altogether and continue their journey to another distant place. For them, the journey indeed is the destination.

The Impossible World of World Building

World building is writing hell. As incredible – even fun – as the idea might sound, it isn’t. By anything being possible, there is no place to start. Even if it seems like a matter of just picking and choosing and away you go, it isn’t. Not for me. While I might have the germ of an idea – such as using dark matter to fuel an inter-generational spaceship – fleshing that out is akin to chronic constipation. My writing practice is centered on the small things – an image or line of dialogue – and going out from there. It is an inductive approach to writing, finding the bits of evidence to create the whole, such as the serval image at the watering hole that begat My Bad Side.

Photo Credit: Michael Nichols, National Geographic

I didn’t know what that image meant at the time, but I knew it meant something and used it to find what might be next.

Building worlds demands the opposite to my approach to writing, a deductive method, going from the big picture to develop the small, focusing on time machines or warp drives, creating a story from those. This is what grinds my flow to a halt. If I can’t see where I am – the details of what it looks like to live on board a spaceship – I am perpetually stuck.

I got into the world of speculative fiction by accident. The protagonist in an earlier book, Dee Sinclair, stumbled ahead and wondered aloud if she might venture on to something else. As far-fetched as her world appeared at the time – a sex performer holed up with her pet serval – it was nothing compared to Greenland where she witnesses a fledgling world constructed before her eyes. This is the outset of Anori, the first book of The Cx Trilogy.

The crux of the speculative/sci-fi genre is world building, something beyond what we live in today. It isn’t just a matter of a propping up a couple of rocket ships and having characters walk about in space suits. Every detail has to be in tune. My most effective world building elements in Anori are Holoweb and Second Skin because they were simple to envision – a three-dimensional version of today’s internet and a spray-on fashion statement – and only a step ahead of what we have now.

I raised the world-building stakes in the second book of the trilogy, Aqaara, where Dee boards a generational spaceship bound for a planet light-years distant. Daily life aboard the spaceship took a long time to create, not just the details of the sleeping quarters and gatherings places but, more importantly, the mindset of leaving Earth to never return. I was in the Highlands of Scotland while mapping out this world, a far cry from outer space but at least isolated and quiet.

I planned the design of the ship while hiking, soaking wet, through the silence, but could not attain a genuine sense for what it felt like to live in this space, to sleep and eat, to lose all sense of time with a lunar or solar cycle, to see people every day – there was no day! – and to not know when, if ever, the journey might come to an end. That took another two drafts – in Puglia and then New York – to get it so it seemed like it really was so.

The final book, Mina, demands a literal new world. That’s where I am now. The temptation to settle for lunar landscapes and prehistoric beasts remains hard to resist. After all, what do I know about another planet’s flora and fauna? I have settled on a leopard seal/hedgehog hybrid as the creature atop of the food chain, as well as string of camera-stealing starlings. Who knows what the deep seas will offer? Something astonishing should happen soon.

My challenge with world building has given me pause. As transfixed as I can be in the fantastic landscapes of science fiction – where absolutely anything is possible – the writing craft must remain the focus. In other words, while the visions presented in this genre might be spell-binding, the characters, dialogue and construction of the narrative remain the foundation. My aim in writing The Cx Trilogy is to bridge the gap between literary fiction and speculative fiction, and not just build worlds but build worlds where we can literally picture ourselves alive and wondering. We will see what Dee’s progeny find next.

The Ark: Pitching the Trilogy

The Ark: A speculative fiction trilogy, chronicling a transgenerational journey to a galaxy lights years from Earth. Stark and startling, the story conveys an essentially tragic aspect of humanity, impossibly aspiring to escape its barbarous nature. screenshot-1081Part One: Anori The opening of the trilogy follows Dee Sinclair, an animal psychologist, as she learns of Anori (Greenlandic for ‘wind’), a highly advanced space venture, privately funded by a technological empire. After visiting the expedition base in Greenland, she joins a scientific team to collect animal specimens from across the world. Dee eventually returns to New York where she learns of the program’s experiments in cloning and meets the very replica of herself. As world powers attempt to gain control of the Anori, Dee escapes back to Greenland, where she is soon joined by her clone, Em, on the final liftoff to leave Earth. 20150708_130213Part Two: Aqaara The Aqaara (meaning both ‘close’ and ‘far’ in Greenlandic) waits in lunar orbit as they attempt to placate the authorities on Earth and finally depart on their interstellar migration. Mourning the loss of families and friends, Dee and the 3,000 other Aqaarians adapt to life on the vessel, constructing a society dependent on technology, including The Bearing, an information and gaming implant, and create new social norms, such as The Hive, a zone for hedonistic behaviors. Murder and betrayal challenge the community’s standards, and an essential law is introduced to maintain order – F1 is the law. There is no force other than the ship. A previously undiscovered planet appears as an opportunity for colonization, resulting in a near mutiny. The Aqaara stays its course and, at last, enters Mina’s orbit, a planet that truly is much like Earth. screenshot-962Part Three: Mina Mina (meaning ‘taking home’) appears much like Earth, offering a wide range of climates, vegetation and species, as well as an oxygen-rich atmosphere. A Greater Sun dominates the planet, with a Lesser Sun in a parallel orbit, meaning the planet is rarely in darkness. The initial exploratory mission encounters many species – both predatory and intelligent – while they cope with their internal struggles, having spent 30 years on board The Aqaara. Other missions arrive and the community begins. Many people remain aboard the ship, mining nearby moons, as well as considering continuing the mission. The two groups become polarized, verging at times on violent conflict when further explorations of Mina yield an astonishing result – they are being observed. 20150801_110528

It’s time to go.