Hey Chat GPT, write me a pitch for a speculative story about an intergenerational starship and incorporates themes of greed and sexuality.
In the far future, a massive intergenerational starship, the USS Hope, is built to take a small group of humans on a centuries-long journey to a distant planet. As the ship sets off, the human passengers are faced with the challenges of living in close quarters for an extended period of time. Personal relationships, both romantic and familial, are tested and strained as the years pass by.
Greed and power struggles threaten to tear the group apart as they navigate the challenges of living in an enclosed space for so long. As they near their destination, the ship’s leaders discover that the planet they were headed to has already been colonized by another alien species. In the end, the group is forced to confront their own humanity and the flaws that have accompanied them on their journey. They must decide whether the pursuit of their own desires is worth the cost of potentially destroying an entire alien civilization.
Sounds more like Avatar than The Cx Trilogy. I guess I’ll have to try a few more thousand regenerations (drafts).
Some years ago, I read what I thought must be the worst sci-fi novel of all time (Dan Simmon’s Hyperion). And then I read Andy Weir’s Artemis.
Weir, known for getting the science right in The Martian, set this novel on the moon. Hailed by Esquire for “his attention to detail” and the The New York Times Book Review for depicting “near-future technology”, I thought this book might be an inspiration for details related to lunar life for my novel, Anori. I was wrong.
Weir’s choice of a young woman, Jazz Bashara, as the protagonist is a misogynic train wreck, focusing almost entirely on her sexuality. I was pretty sexy, I have to admit. (203) ‘Did you watch me strip on Dale’s feed?’ ‘Yeah, thanks for the show!’ (236)
He tries to hide his failure behind her smart-aleck quips – God, I was such a dipshit (173) I was pissed. And I don’t mean drunk. (139) – all of which is painfully sophomoric.
The narrative reads like an outline, the descriptions like a first draft. A frumpy Midwestern woman giggled at her window and turned to me. “Isn’t it amazing? We are on the moon!” (78) And the dialogue…my god, the dialogue. “You just…you really need to learn about woman and how to interact with them, all right?” “Oh,”, he said. “That could be really helpful.” (203) And even if Weir does get the science right, much of it come across like a 17-year-old explaining life. Don’t believe me? Put ice water in a saucepan and cook it. The water temperature will stay at 0 degrees until the last ice cube melts. (250)
I’m not sure what this book taught me beyond that terrible writing can not only get published but also praised. And what’s the lesson in that?
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.
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.
Seven straight weeks of writing an average of 3-5 hours a day, culminating in 55,000 words, more than half of my second science fiction work has left me feeling empty. I think that I have done something – a summer well spent – and then I think, “So much for what?”