Looking back to look forward – looking forward to look back

Looking forward, as you do when you are writing science fiction, can benefit from looking back over what you have written in the past. This can lead to pointers as to where the focus of the writing is going… so let’s have a go at this looking backward malarky…

Like any potential writer, the first steps are always tentative and experimental. Whilst the writing left a lot to be desired (let’s be honest here, it was absolutely awful), the themes I had a stab at were all over the place. Time travel, aliens, near future extrapolation, far future space opera… I’m sure I must have missed a theme out in my blundering around, but as sure as heck, I don’t know what it is.

Finally I settled down to write a novel about the fishing industry in about fifty years time. The reason was simple. I knew a lot about the sea and the ways of the sea. Oh yeah! Like heck I did. I learned more about the sea than I thought possible, including facts like plumose anemones eat starfish. And as for the various types of seaweed and the habits of conger eels… But more importantly, I learned about writing. Sure this novel has what I call all the beginner’s mistakes, but at least I got a lot of those out my system. That novel will never see the black and white print. I still continued experimenting with story themes.

But after I finished that novel, I seemed to drift into writing about the near future Solar System. And you would think that such a ‘universe’ would only have one development line, with maybe slight variations. Nah! I’ve ended up building three very different universes…

The first is the adventure one where heroes save the day against the baddies – the C.A.T.-iverse as I would call it. It’s based on very traditional science fiction themes, the ones the readership feel comfortable with.

The second is trying to predict the near future, which is basically either the consequences of extrapolating current trends or asking awkward questions about current trends. In many ways my first novel – the fishing industry one – fits into this category. However, the hard truth is that pulling together a novel for the near future is fraught with the danger of it quickly becoming out of date. It has to be balanced by those items you get spot one, and believe me I got one spot on when at the time of writing the knowledgable people would have said I was barking mad. But obviously dated novels do not sell well, unless there’s an important theme or issue or famous novelist behind them. So this universe ends up ‘being done’ in short stories.

The third one is trying to predict what the future could be really like. And this is where things take a turn for the strange or putting it another way – It’s the future, Jim, but not as we know it. When I actually sat down to work out what the future would bring, I realised that many novels had one very big thing missing. They did not take into account how humans would adjust psychologically or socially to the surroundings they had to endure or live in. And when I took a place and tried to work on this aspect, I got some surprising results. In fact they were so surprising that I doubt I can ever publish a novel in this universe. And as for trying to get a short story published… that’s not really a goer either. It’s just to off the beaten track for people to feel comfortable to read.

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There is a bit of a but on universe three… I keep thinking of Sherlock Holmes and his (not so) sidekick, Dr Watson. The advantage of this paring was that Dr Watson was the catalyst to be able to explain what could not be explained by ‘showing’ the story. This is all right if you can a sidekick into a society that is in a ‘distant self-contained’ part of the Universe. As they say in the maths world… this is an exercise for the reader…

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