Alastair Reynolds on writing an optimistic future

Paul Raven @ 28-05-2010

The Borders Sci-Fi blog is currently hosting Alastair Reynolds as guest blogger, and it’s interesting seeing him talk about optimism in science fiction, and his personal quest to avoid melodrama in his plotting; evidently writing a piece for the Shine anthology got him thinking about the idea pretty seriously (even if his story in said anthology isn’t very serious).

Here’s Reynolds describing the basic setup for a new series of novels he’s starting on, and pondering the obstacles to producing an exciting plot when you eschew the now-traditional dark background of sf:

I wanted to keep the whole thing entirely free of those naughty thriller elements, but at the same time I wanted to make it readable and exciting. It can’t be impossible, I reasoned – Clarke did it all the time. Of course, Clarke had a mind like a planet … but you’ve got to try, haven’t you? So my groundrules, going into book 1, were basically as follows:

  • No wars. War is effectively eliminated by the mid 22nd century, largely due to a benign world-spanning mesh of ubiquitous computing, implant technology and robotic telepresence – something I call the “Mechanism”.
  • No crime. You can’t steal anything, since everything in the world is tagged and trackable. You can’t injure someone, since there are no weapons and anything that might, in principle, be used as a weapon is being tracked and monitored by the Mechanism. You can’t even pick up a rock and try and club someone. The Mechanism will detect your intentions and intervene.
  • No one is ever unintentionally out of contact with anyone else. Almost all conversations are effectively public. Nothing is ever forgotten or misplaced – “posterity engines” are recording every second of your life from the moment of birth.
  • No poverty. No famine. No plagues. On the plus side: mass literacy, and global access to technologies of seamless telepresence and information retrieval. Almost no accidental deaths due to technological failure. A median lifespan of 150, and increasing. Rapid interplanetary travel, and a burgeoning, peaceful, solar-wide economy.

But it’s not utopia. There are still lots of reasons to be miserable or less than ecstatic. There’s still money, but not enough for everyone to have as much as they’d like (so scientists still  have to fight for funding, and artists still have to take on tacky commissions), and there are still nation states and governments and politics. There are still some forms of scarcity and the environmental damage of the previous two centuries is only slowly being undone. In other words, it’s a future that, right now, I can sort of take seriously … but that’s just my take, of course. You might find it laughably implausible.

The hard part is, how do you get a story going when you can’t have crime, you can’t have war, you can’t have accidents and disasters? That, really, is the problem I’ve been bashing my head against for the last year.

Now that’s a book I really want to read. What about you lot?

And Mr Reynolds, just in case you’re reading this, and you maybe wanted to kick around ideas for this new setting in the short fiction format, but you were wondering where you could get them published, well… 😉


Crowdsource your plot snags: Twitter as brainstorming tool

Paul Raven @ 08-12-2009

I expect many of the writers in Futurismic‘s readership are already using Twitter to communicate with colleagues and friends across the globe… but have you considered putting it to the more practical use of getting people to help you brainstorm your plot problems? PR maven Steve Rubel points to a friend of his, Jeff Kirvin, who has done exactly that.

Personally, I think I’d struggle to ask the hive-mind a question that specific about something I was writing; outsourcing some of the imaginative process would probably derail the pleasure and focus of creation for me, I think. Do you lot ask for help on sticky plots, or do you conquer the mountain alone?

And speaking of help with plot points, I got an email from one Helen Callaghan informing me that she’s hosting a guest blogger whom you might want to ask questions of:

Marcus Chown, popular science author of We Need To Talk About Kelvin [and cosmology consultant to New Scientist – Ed.] will be guest blogging on my site!

He’s agreed to answer science questions from SF writers, so the idea is, if you’ve got a plot issue or setpiece that’s bugging you, or you ever wondered what would happen if a certain scenario came true, here’s your chance to get an expert opinion.

The idea is that we can start asking questions now by posting them in the comments on the site, and the answers will be posted on the 11th.

Thanks, Helen; that gives you a few days, so pop over and leave your questions if you got ’em.


Dream Logic, Redux

Sarah Ennals @ 22-11-2009

Dream Logic redux - Does Not EqualDoes Not Equal is a webcomic by Sarah Ennalscheck out the pre-Futurismic archives, and the strips that have been published here previously.

[ Be sure to check out the Does Not Equal Cafepress store for webcomic merchandise featuring Canadians with geometrically-shaped heads! ]


In Medias Res

Sarah Ennals @ 15-11-2009

In medias res - Does Not Equal

Does Not Equal is a webcomic by Sarah Ennalscheck out the pre-Futurismic archives, and the strips that have been published here previously.

[ Be sure to check out the Does Not Equal Cafepress store for webcomic merchandise featuring Canadians with geometrically-shaped heads! ]


Horror movies

Sarah Ennals @ 11-10-2009

Horror movies - Does Not Equal

Does Not Equal is a webcomic by Sarah Ennalscheck out the pre-Futurismic archives, and the strips that have been published here previously.

[ Be sure to check out the Does Not Equal Cafepress store for webcomic merchandise featuring Canadians with geometrically-shaped heads! ]


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