Like all science fiction writers, I have ended up with bunches of stories linked to a single universe. It’s only natural. Once you’ve built a universe, it’s easier to write stories about that universe. So I put together a graphic of how my published (black titles) and some of the mature unpublished stories (orange titles) hang together. There are a few stories that don’t belong to any universe – kind of oddballs in their own way – which have been placed outside of the boxes. Whilst these are nice stories, I don’t see any of their ideas being carried forward into something else.
Note that whilst the orange horizontal lines represent time, they are not drawn to a uniform scale, not is there any correlation in time between the three boxes on the right hand side.
I’ve mentioned three of these universes before – the near future, the Neptune Universe and the Uranus Universe. Each of the latter two is concentrates on thrashing out the consequences of a fundamental science premise.
[Hint: If you want to know what the premise for the Neptune Universe is, go and read Agents of Repair. I’m not going to discuss the premise for the Uranus Universe, because even though the first chapter of A Void Dance is published, the premise is not explained until later in the book.]
But whilst I’ve not been looking another universe has been slowly and insidiously sneaking into my subconscious. I’ve called it the Angel Universe, though the angels are none of the standard definitions that you would find in the Oxford English Dictionary. It gives me the deja vu feeling. The premises of both the Neptune And Uranus universes snuck up on me too.
Each universe takes its time to grow and be fleshed out, and it really can’t be rushed. Let’s take the Neptune Universe as an example. I was busy writing, in many respects, a standard space opera novel. I needed to liven up a certain at that time dull character, so I gave him a robo-cat. The robo-cat was supposed to be a walk-on-walk-off part and that was it. Then I found in a later scene I had a use for that robo-cat. Then again in another scene. That darned robo-cat was taking over my novel. So I came to an agreement with it. It could have its own story, provided it left my novel alone. That’s when Agents of Repair was written. So I went back to my novel thinking I could get on with it, but I didn’t feel comfortable with it. It was kind of humdrum and boring, and besides that robo-cat had quite a few questions hanging over it. So I wrote a second background story, which turned into C.A.T. This time the robo-cat became a really interesting character. So interesting that it took over my novel. I threw most of the old novel away and started afresh. For very good storyline reasons it is divided into none major stories. I’ve completed the first three to a good first draft standard, with the first two getting an Honourable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest.
The same thing is happening with the Uranus Universe. I wrote the novel from the viewpoint of someone learning about their environment. She was definitely not the most interesting character. Far from it. There was another character in that novel who was far more complex. The scenes he appeared in were only really glimpses of his outwardly nature, even though I had in my mind backfilled his history.
Yep! You’ve guessed it. I started re-writing the novel from his point of view. Only this time there was another problem to overcome. His character is complex, moulded by the environment he has lived in and twisted by the experiences he has undergone. So I took time out, not to write about his history or explain him, but to write about a completely different character who for good storyline reasons needed to learn to understand people like him. Enter stage right Torvinne. Her story will end up being a novella in due course.
So enter a new idea and a new universe. I’ve called the Angels Universe for a very obscure reason. The background idea year and it’s busy gaining description and character. But yes, I’m going to have to do some exploratory writing about that universe. Hopefully along the way I dream up some interesting characters and conflicts that need resolving.
It occurs to me that if I’m taking this long to come up with a universe that’s ready to be written about, how do the more professional science fiction writers do it?
Well, the answer is that they mostly don’t. How many science fiction writers do you know that have series of novels published about the same universe? Quite a few, if not the majority.
There comes a point when the professional author is being pressured to produce a novel and is forced to rely heavily on the universe they’ve built before to get that manuscript out of the door. They don’t have time to develop more universes. And here is me, sitting with three of them in various stages of development. (I’m not counting the Near Future one here as the stories I write for this are based on interested science / technology extrapolations.)
This does beg the question of how many top notch authors are there in science fiction today who feel tired and aren’t able to produce?
Well, Elizabeth Hand over on Charles Stross’s blog, has admitted she needed a break from writing. I say good for her for standing up, being honest and being counted. It’ll result in much better novels coming from her in the longer term.
But in its own way it does beg a lot of questions about how science fiction writers are being treated by the publishing industry.
Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy writing my novels in peace and quiet while I can.