Thanks NASA for constantly doing research for me. With a steady flow of inspiration coming from the scientists of the world, all I have to do is do a quick google search and BOOM…super exciting news about the cosmos unfolds before me. Of course the scientists also employ artists to come up with lovely pictures that I can sit and stare at, waiting for my brain to sprout some exciting idea. This image was created by an artist called Karl Kofoed, famous for his sci-fi illustrations. He created this image of the snow fields of Pluto by using data collected by the New Horizons mission. This image struck me instantly since one of the alien worlds in my book was based on Pluto. It’s fantastic to have a visual reference to connect to the imaginary world that I created.
Where would I be with out you science?
This brings me to an issue that I ponder quite regularly. Science and art are closer related than many people think. Back in the early days of modern sceince, before photography, scientists relied on artists to draw anatomical and biological figures in order to document and learn. More often than not, the scientist was the artist. Remember the guy who did this? Da Vinci? Scientist or artist? Is there a difference?
Well, sure I guess there are huge differences, but I think that it’s important to regularly reflect on the interconnected nature of our lives. No aspect of human culture can truly be separated from the rest. Politics, history, human relationships, religion, sport, everything is intertwined.
As Einstein says:
“All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.”
I couldn’t have said it better.
My brother is a research scientist, and while he loves art, he often says that he wishes that scientists got as much credit and notoriety for their work as artists do. I agree with this wholeheartedly, the sciences deserve much more support and praise than they often receive. However, so do the arts. And I’m being broad here, including anything from visual arts, films, and sculpture, through to books, music, dance, etc. I think that without art, the human race could not be what it is today. While I’m an artist, I know that nothing I create could be possible without the gifts of science. My computer agrees with me. What do you think? Are you a scientist or an artist?
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!
My manuscript, Wandering Stars, is all neat and tidy and I’m not looking at it anymore, or I’ll discover it’s not neat and tidy. There are always more commas to add and adjectives to delete. However, it’s time for me to move on. I’m plotting the sequel/s at the moment. Though I have a lot of other story ideas that I’d love to dive into, I feel like I have to make headway on my sequels to this book, especially while the world is so fresh in my mind and the characters like buddies who I hang out with every day. Or perhaps enemies who make me think about ways to make them suffer! 🙂
I’ve already made a start on book 2 twice now. Back in 2012, I made a 40K word start, but scratched it and went back to revise book 1. Then last year in November, I made a 20K word start, and again scratched it to re-work book 1.
Am I daunted about starting all over again?
Throwing all those words out is not a bad thing. Creating a book-universe is just like creating the real universe, it takes time. Hopefully, not as long. I don’t have 14 billion years to get my head around story structure and character arcs. The point is, it’s never a waste to just write words. It helps me get a feel for the characters and the world which I keep refining and refining.
I’ve already got a lot of the basic structure for book 2 in my mind and mapped out in lots of journals. The thing that takes me the most time is researching and developing the planets and all the crazy creatures in them. As my concepts evolve, the next trick is to make sure the world-building never gets in the way of the story. I have to take all my wild inventions and weave them into the plot in a way that develops the characters and moves the story forward. If they don’t fit the criteria, I have to remove them from the book. Some times it’s hard to let go of scenes and aliens and pretty ideas, but at the end of the day, they’re never gone, they’re all in my head. And essentially, that is why I write to begin with. Everything I create is for my own selfish joy. I love inventing a universe in which I can play — a space within my mind that will always be real to me.
So, time for some exo-planet research. Scientists are finding planets these days faster than I can create them. According to the NASA site; there are “150,000 stars beyond our solar system, and to date has offered scientists an assortment of more than 4,000 candidate planets for further study — the 1,000th of which was recently verified.” https://www.nasa.gov/press/2015/january/nasa-s-kepler-marks-1000th-exoplanet-discovery-uncovers-more-small-worlds-in
They’ll never find some of my planets though…
Just looking through all the research being done on finding, categorising and conceptualising these worlds provides me with endless inspiration for my own designs. I will have to start talking more about my worlds on this blog and sharing some of the sketches I’ve made too perhaps.
Until next time…