How weird can it get? Pretty weird

I just finished reading Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Sci Fi epic The Mote in God’s Eye.

I don’t necessarily agree, but Robert Heinlein said:

“Possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read”.

It was alright.

Actually, the story had a bit of a cycle. It was three pages of absolute garbage, and then a page or two of sheer genius. I seriously had to fight to get through the beginning. There’s a lot of background information to get through, and it takes forever to get through it.

The end result is actually pretty good though, as I said before, so I wanted to cover some things that make this novel a worthy read and some things we can pull from it as Science Fiction writers.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW

 

Absolute Weirdness

If nothing else, the ideas in this book are absolute gold. In most ‘first contact’ type books, the aliens come to Earth and are warlike or way more advanced than humans. Not really so in this one. For one thing, the humans go out to find the aliens in this one because the aliens went crazy and tried to go find the humans…you have to read it to get that.

Aside from the unusual meeting, the aliens are SUPER weird! I was honestly blown away by how original the aliens were. They are asymmetrical, breeding dependent, and live in a ridiculous caste system that they genetically engineered. Yeah, go check this junk out. On top of that, there are leftovers from all of their genetic experiments, which reveal the true nature of their species to the humans.

Plot. When it finally got there…

For all of its shortcomings in execution, the plot was actually pretty good. The Moties (the aliens) are actually aware of the humans existence, but have no way to leave their system. They actually try to hide their breeding problems from the humans in order to leave their planet! The humans discover all of the deception however and set up a military blockade. The unfolding of the plot is somewhat slow and labored (at one point, you the reader get told all of the Motie secrets but have to wait for the rest of the characters to catch up) but it really is very clever.

Accessible Hard Sci Fi

This book is definitely nestled in the hard sci fi genre. They accelerate in gravities, the military is very prominent in space, and explanations are given for everything from Motie physiology to how the airlocks work on multiple ships. And yet there’s enough action off of the ships to give it a little lighter feel. One of the things that gets buried under the Moties’ weirdness is the humans own societal systems at work. There is a somewhat complicated love story and all kinds of resentment on both sides.

The characters get a little hard to sort at times, mainly because there are so many of them, but they are generally accessible. I felt sympathy and empathy with a lot of them, along with anger and astonishment at some of their decisions. All in all it was way more enjoyable than this garbage I tried to read.

Interesting Futurism

If you don’t know, I’m a Christian. More specifically I’m a pastor. So the thing that stood out to me the most in this book was the religion. There was talk of the Motie religions, and a few offshoots within human religions, but there are definite human traditions at work. The Christian Church is still going strong and one of the characters is a sort of Muslim. I say sort of because he fights his upbringing in his head the whole time. I simply found it interesting that the authors projected these two religions forward. Most authors don’t bother with that. Something to think about.

 

If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry I didn’t spoil too much. In fact, the first half will make you forget everything I’ve told you, so go pick up a copy! It’s definitely an interesting read.

It’s summer time, and I have two things going: reading list and baby watch. My wife is due in July, so I will be reading a lot of books while I wait for the baby. On top of several non fiction books I have lined up, i will be reading Ender’s Game and Rama II this summer. Join me? Or send some suggestions? Whatever you do, keep writing!

Secrets to Writing Good Sci Fi part 2

Last time I talked about Genre, World Building, and Character Development. All important ingredients in the recipe that is Science Fiction writing.

And yet they are only part of the recipe. So today I want to talk about some other ingredients.

1. Voice

When I write stories, I always think about Genre and World Building when starting to write. These two things greatly influence the voice, or tone, of my story. If I’m writing a cyberpunk noir story in the vein of Bladerunner, I write in first person and speak of the world through the eyes of a hardened detective. Attention to little details like that are what give my story just the right voice. It sets the mood and helps push the story along. If Star Wars had been a first person narrative type of thing it wouldn’t have worked. There would have had to been one main character who was followed the whole time. That means we wouldn’t have many scenes with Vader.

WHO WANTS STAR WARS WITHOUT VADER?!?!?!?!

Appropriate voicing does a lot for a story.

2. Plot

Plot is very important to your story. DUH. But seriously you should spend some time on it. I write short fiction, but my plots can get pretty convoluted. The main thing to remember is that the plot is what will make or break your story. The plot is the story you are telling, not just events that unfold. Give it room to breathe. I know you want the cool scene in your story where there’s a bunch of cool tech and robots and bombs and cars and flying motorcycles and… but if there’s no point to that scene, why is it there? We all have cool Sci Fi ideas, that’s why we want to write. But if we can not organize those ideas into a coherent story line, we’re basically writing a magazine article for futuristic tech with no pictures. Boring.

3. Character Relations

Last time I talked about character development as it related to a situation. Now I want to talk a little bit about how they interact with other characters. I’m currently working on story, and the excerpt I gave last week was very character heavy. It opens with a conversation between a rich businessman and his chief of operations having a conversation about their workers and the cost of saving their lives. It reveals that one loves money and the other loves people. This affects how they interact with each other, and later with other people. The science of relationships is a hard one to pin down. I’m fortunate enough to interact with people on a daily basis, forming my thought processes when writing dialogue. This helps drive my story in a number of ways, and saves me time, and lots of prose, when developing character relations. One of my beta readers loves that my stories are dialogue driven ‘just like comic books.” He loves that I do just enough world building to focus my story into dialogue and build characters, their relationships with other characters, and their relation to the plot as a whole.

WOW. Lots of thoughts this week. Hopefully it will spur you to write more Sci Fi. I’ve got my plate full with this story I’m working on, and it’s already in novella range as far as word count. I hope all of you are having good writing days.

 

Keep it up!