Explore Space Now!

alien pic1

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!

 

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Crazy Animal Wednesday

Since my book is set in space, I spend much of my time thinking up weird creatures that could inhabit other worlds. I spend a lot more time than I should perhaps on this, I think it is just about the funnest part of the process. Maybe one day, I should start to introduce my catalogue of creatures onto the blog.I should do proper illustrations first.

I like to think about how the planet my creatures come from could have produced such an organism. How gravity, temperatures, topography, sunlight and chemistry etc, can influence their evolution. One of the best ways to get inspired for creatures though, is often just to take a look at what we have on Earth. There is such a variety of life on our own planet that you don’t have to look far to really find something bizarre. The amount of people posting videos on You Tube of their ordinary cats and dogs doing ridiculous things is a great example of just how alien things that we think of as ‘common’ can sometimes appear.

But if you want to go full alien…this is a pretty good place to start.

http://wtfevolution.tumblr.com/

Updated weekly, this tumblr page constantly gives me examples of really kooky animals that have some extreme features of adaptation. Often with some pretty funny captions too.

For example, this is the piglet squid. I have never heard of or seen anything quite like this, and if I came up with a creature like this in my book, everyone might think I’m crazy…but see…anything is possible.