Imagine travelling vast distances across space and time to explore alien worlds and distant galaxies. I know I do. Just about my favourite part of writing sci-fi is learning about the mysteries of the universe. I love everything from the serene to the deadly, the ugly to the awesome.
Which is why I find programs like Space Engine — http://en.spaceengine.org/ — so amazing. Check it out, it’s free. (Though when anyone offers a wonderful service for free, I always feel more inclined to donate to support their generous work.)
As it says on the site:
“A free space simulation program that lets you explore the universe in three dimensions, from planet Earth to the most distant galaxies. Areas of the known universe are represented using actual astronomical data, while regions uncharted by astronomy are generated procedurally. Millions of galaxies, trillions of stars, countless planets – all available for exploration. You can land any planet, moon or asteroid and watch alien landscapes and celestial phenomena. You can even pilot starships and atmospheric shuttles.”
Of course, reading about space or watching simulations always ends up leaving me wanting more! I want to go there in person. So then I start to write.
Everything I learn about astrobiology and exo-planets I use to feed my world-building. I usually have to leave a lot out of the narrative, unfortunately. Back-story often clogs the pace and flow of action, however, it does help the writer build characters and shape drama.
Where a character comes from, their biology and their planet’s history will influence their interaction with other characters. Getting it across to the reader without info-dumping is the tricky part. Readers don’t need to know about the specifics of an alien planet’s geology and history, however you can imply a lot of information through characterisation. For example, a tall thin alien might come from a planet with a lower gravity than ours. This would also affect their movement, their sense of balance, their agility etc.
Of course, many would argue against the use of bipedal aliens in sci-fi. Many people complain that films and stories often assume that aliens would look like humans, but with funny noses or pointy ears.
I simply think we make aliens look human because we want to read human stories. Don’t get me wrong, I love sci-fi that pushes the boundaries and dares to portray a more realistic vision of life in space. However, personally, I’m more interested in writing stories that are at their core, tales of adventure. I’m basically writing adventure-fantasy set in space and why not? I understand that some people want sci-fi to be hard and clean and technically 100% accurate, I love that stuff too. But why should ‘space’ be off limits for fantasy writers? Especially when no human, (as far as we know), has gone to other star-systems and met alien life? Isn’t it the ultimate fantasy?
We’re living in an exciting time for scientific discovery, but also for creative introspection. In a world where much has already been discovered, space truly is the final frontier. So get out there and explore!