A Padawan’s Journal, Entry #16: Story-weaving in the Science Fiction Age

This is how we roll…

dash_rendar_hothI’ve heard it suggested that the only difference between one genre of fiction and another is the mode of transportation. If Our Hero is getting around in a Lamborghini, it’s a spy novel, if it’s an aging Rambler, he’s a PI, the cowboy rides a horse, science fiction guy flies an X-Wing. (Which you can now have as an icon on your GPS system, by the way.)

Star Wars has been described as space opera or “a western in outer space.” As a writer of science fiction, I take exception to the idea that it is merely that. Everybody has to get around in some sort of vehicle, whether a horse-drawn carriage or a taxi cab or a teleportation device. To me, the issue is how you’re using those technologies. A science fiction story is defined by those who ought to know (the editors of science fiction magazines and imprints) as a story in which the futuristic or science fictional elements could not be removed without changing the story at the deepest level.

By that measure, Star Wars is legitimate science fiction. The concept of the Force and the way in which it’s used goes far beyond the “transportation” definition of SF. And while you could argue that throwing the hero in the pokey is no different than freezing him in carbonite and using him as wall-art, really, there is one key element that runs through all the movies that is not only central to the theme, but inarguably SFnal. I refer to cybernetics.

darth-vader-costumeCybernetics are a vehicle for asking questions about our humanity: Can a droid achieve sentience? Do Darth Vader’s cybernetic prosthetics make him more or less than the man he was? Clearly they obscure his humanity—do they hijack it irrevocably?

As a story element, cybernetics came to bear a great deal of narrative weight in the original Star Wars saga and they take center stage in Michael Reaves’ Coruscant Nights series as well. It is exactly the type of element that makes storytelling in science fiction potentially rich.

When I approach an SF story, I’m mentally picking up elements both old and new and turning them over, looking at them from different angles and asking, “How does this mesh with human nature? How does this affect or illuminate the human/alien condition? Can it help or hurt my protagonist or antagonist? Is there potential for unexpected results?”

When I take stock of some of the elements Michael and I have for Holostar in the technology category, two stand out. One is the very concept of a holostar. In this day and age, stardom speaks of a weird mixture of celebrity and anonymity. What does the ability to create virtual environments for the performer and audience do to these opposing elements? Does it create more of both? More of one or the other? When are celebrity or anonymity beneficial? When are they a pitfall or pratfall?

The second prominent tech element is Leebo, the wise-cracking droid. There’s rich material here, too. What sort of situations might transpire when the character is programmed for humor, but possibly doesn’t  really understand how humor works or when enough is enough … or too much. I can only imagine the possibilities for inappropriate or oddball humor that arise out of this technology. What sort of consequences might they have—humorous, serio-comic, dire?

That’s the sort of thing that makes writing science fiction both challenging and fun. Writing is a lot like painting. You have a palette made up of ideas and words and technologies and character relationships. Every “color” interacts with every other color and alters it subtly or not-so-subtly. The technologies affect the characters’ relationships which, in turn, influence the way they react to and use the technologies at hand. All this, hopefully, contributes to creating a vivid science fiction world.

Next time:
Hardware

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A Padawan’s Journal, Entry #16: Story-weaving in the Science Fiction Age — 2 Comments

  1. Cool post, Maya. It’s cool to hear your passion about the topic infuse itself into the page. I agree wholeheartedly with you assessment.

    I think the one thing that does remain the same throughout all types of fiction is the need to showcase whatever you choose to in relation to human experience. The threads of “life” that we all encounter in one way or another. Truth tied to human emotion and behavior, if you will.

    Those have remained the same since the begining of time and will remain the same for as long as we’re around.

  2. Great post!

    I don’t think I have too much to add to the above comment. I agree with the poster’s general thought and with what you seem to be getting at–that literature is about taking a look at what it means to be human, and that science fiction provides some useful lenses for doing that which other genres simply can’t offer.