What I Like Most About Writing Science Fiction
I wanted to share what I most like about writing in the science fiction genre: Evolution of people and societies over long time spans. I was inspired to tackle such a broad span by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series of many novels, which still ranks as one of my favorites of all time.
Okay, what exactly do I mean by “evolution?” There are many, many good sci-fi novels but it takes a whole series of novels to cover say five hundred years of a society’s development. Perhaps, my background in anthropology also tends to push me along these lines. The fourteen novels (more on the way) in the series Planet of the Orange-red Sun begins with a primitive society located on the fringes of the galaxy stuck in what one might call the Bronze Age of development. Their planet has almost no heavier elements. Iron is so rare that a steel sword is worth “millions.” How can such a society develop beyond such a point?
As the first novel in the series begins, the “civilized” space faring rest of the galaxy has discovered this world and are sending a colonizing group, preparing for landing. The vast Imperium with its mighty space fleets does recognize more primitive worlds and should designate them “Closed Worlds,” a classification that prohibits interference in such world’s natural development. The Imperium is keenly interested in this remote world because it is rich in the ore that the Imperium refines to make the fuel for its space fleet. Thus, this first novel explores what happens to the people of this remote world when greedy, highly advanced people arrive and fail to treat them as a Closed World. As you might guess, the result is disastrous, very nearly physically destroying that world.
Ah, but what happens to that world and its people a hundred, two hundred, three hundred years later? The Imperium does recognize its error and tries to rectify it. On a world such as this one and with some contact with “modern” worlds, how will the society and its people grow and develop? Unable to effectively move into an Iron Age and into an Industrialized Age, to say nothing of eventually moving into space, substitutes will appear. In this case, clothing and apparel become the “status symbols” of wealth and class. Beginning small, Elegant Fashions Inc within several generations becomes a major driving force within their society.
However, there is another angle to explore. Telepathy. Because of the unique properties of the world’s near total lack of all heavy elements, in the first novel, certain “witches” are able to use special crystals that act as a mental amplifier, allowing them to have a low level of telepathy with other similar witches. After the near destruction of the world in the first novel, the explosive catastrophe scatters volumes of dust from the crystals over much of the world. Evolution in physical bodies occurs. Suddenly, many ordinary people begin to develop telepathic abilities and many other mind-related skills, now being called the mentales gifts. Thus, beginning in the second novel in the series, the people of the world have to adjust to this new change, and prejudice kicks in. Such people are often burned at the stake, compliments of the Church of God.
Out in the Imperium, an individual with telepathic abilities is highly sought after. They are exceedingly rare and extraordinarily highly paid for their work. Only the Closed World status prevents the Imperium personnel from simply “confiscating” such people from the world, though the black market certainly does.
Just how can a people develop and progress as a society if some have such powerful gifts, while others lack them totally? One solution that is followed is to allow these incredibly powerful people to be the sole rulers of the various kingdoms. Ah, with such ultimate power and no checks on their powers one might well anticipate major disasters will follow. Does this relate to our own time where giant corporations control so much of our society and dump billions into getting certain candidates elected to political offices?
After nearly bringing their world to its destruction, another solution is found. Life goes on, but now in different ways, as the Age of Chaos ends with the installation of an Emperor and Empress to rule the world, who keep the powerful mentales gifted under control.
While peace thrives for a time, soon this system of government is undermined as well. Powerful men and women simply can’t stand to have an ultimate Emperor and Empress dictating what they can and cannot do, especially since the world now has their own Senator to represent them in the Imperium in the ruling Senate. Individual kings and queens, backed by the now submissive mentales gifted, rule their lands. Once more, a different kind of oppression results, as one might well anticipate.
However, sitting in the background all these years are the merchants and guilds, who toil to produce the commodities of life. Now, it’s their turn to revolt and don the mantle of power. People have to eat and have clothing. In a way, this evolution to a guild-run world might be their only avenue to a stable, peaceful world. What shop owner wants to fight in a war? No profit, no benefit.
During all these years, the world slowly makes its mark on the Imperium. However, the Imperium has its own troubles. They control one arm of the galaxy, while another group, the Federation of Planets, controls the other arm. At last, the two meet and a war develops. The remote world finds itself squarely in the middle, since their moon now is a huge fuel refinery for the Imperium.
In any war, the sides do their best to develop new and better weapons of destruction. Just look at history, such as Germany in WWII. Unknown to nearly everyone, the Imperium set up a biological – genetic research station on an uninhabited world, the sister world to this one. Their objective: develop a nasty biological weapon that alters human DNA, rapidly altering infected bodies to match this new “blueprint.” Imagine what would happen if such an agent could be released over say Iran, and within say four days, all humans living there had their bodies mutated such that they had no arms, for example. Well, that’s just what this ultimate weapon was designed to do: totally incapacitate those on whom it was unleashed.
Ah but such research facilities have numerous safeguards. Accidents happen. While this horrible bio weapon was never used during the war, an accident released the agent and many were horribly impacted by the genetic mutations in their bodies. However, bright minds saw another use for such an agent. Penal colonies are costly to maintain and run. Just look at the penal systems in the US today, for example. Bright idea: genetically modify the hardened criminals by turning them into nearly helpless people. Now, they can close down these costly maximum security prisons and simply put the helpless criminals into assisted living housing, for they can never again be a threat to society. Wonderful, cost-saving solution. The Imperium implemented this widely.
But wait a second. Bright political leaders also saw an ultimate weapon here. Secretly, a number of Imperium worlds began manufacturing large quantities of this horrid bio-agent, along with release mechanisms. Purely defensive, just like the Cold War. They won’t nuke us cause we’d nuke them back. Wonderful idea. Guess what? It began to happen, first as an accident and later intentionally. Populations of whole worlds suddenly found themselves waking from genetic mutation comas to find themselves helpless. Imagine the disaster that would result if everyone in the US woke up one morning to find they had no arms and worse.
Bright minds attempted to rescue some of the victims, but how do you get to and rescue ten billion people on a world? While millions were rescued over time, each now had to be housed in an assisted living facility for extended durations, totally overwhelming such facilities on all known worlds. Bright idea: save only the best and brightest young students from these worlds.
Enter robotics to save the day. Fancy humanoid like robots were developed to assist these victims get by in every day life. Even better bright idea: house all of these mutant humans with their humaniform robots on their own world. Then, we don’t have to see or deal with them at all.
At first, this actually began to work, more or less, if you were a bright individual, horribly so if you were not. Still, in time, these bright mutant humans got the notice of the rest of the Imperium. Once more, some in the Imperium felt threatened by these homo sapiens nova and simply nuked the world and attempted to destroy all samples everywhere of this nasty biological-genetic agent.
Evolution of societies: one of the key principle that unfolds is that “the solution to today’s problem becomes tomorrow’s problem.” A secondary key principle is that aberration in behavior is and can be easily transmitted down through many generations, though it can become twisted and distorted as it carries on through the centuries.
In my next sci-fi blog, I’ll discuss a different evolution – that of a society found in the nearly as long series, The Adventures of Elizabeth Stanton.