Why Do I Write Science Fiction?

Earlier this week, someone asked me this question.

This is not the first time I’ve been asked, but in this situation I was nervous. It was an interview, of sorts, and this question was part of the “Tell me about yourself” section. So I talked about my grandfather, who worked with the space program, and the general technical bent of my upbringing. I threw in something about having absolute control over the universe, because who doesn’t want that?

In short: I babbled, and I suppose in a sense I didn’t give a proper answer.

But it is been something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, since early on in the process of writing Dead Hour. Dead Hour is, in many ways, a traditional mystery (more on that downstream), so why did it need to be in the future, on an alien world? Because I have always felt very, very strongly that that’s where the story needed to be – that I couldn’t tell the story in the present day. That these characters could not exist here, could not have had the lives they have had, could not have made the mistakes they made.

I write science fiction, I think, because I am a woman stuck in the 21st century, and I will not live to see the world as it should be – so I create a new world, in some ways the same, and in many ways different. I speculate about how humanity will change over a time I will never see. I wonder what we will start to get right, and what mistakes we will make over and over again, despite our experiences. And because it’s my universe, I get to choose.

I was thinking this morning of how tired I get of seeing movie promos with no women in them at all – or women only as wives, girlfriends, mothers. (Yes, I know there are exceptions, even notable exceptions; but they are still exceptions.) I am a wife, and a mother; it’s a big part of my life. But it is not the only part. It will never be the only part. My life is not so different than it was when I was single – it’s just there are more people living in my house, more friends I can talk to after a long day. In the media, though, so much of what I see portrayed seems blind to the part of my life that doesn’t have to do with my relationship to my lover or my child. I adore them – I would die for them – but they are not all of me.

Where are the stories about me? About women like me? Women for whom relationships and children are just elements of a larger life? I look at most media, and I feel reduced.

Women’s lives are not so small. Neither are they homogeneous. The stories I write are not the stories of women; they are the stories of individuals who just happen to be women.

And men. A lot of my characters are men. I get exhausted, I have to say, when I run into articles explaining “how to write <insert sex here>,” like there is any useful formula around men and women. People are different; sex is only one piece. I suppose I’ve never bought into sex as the defining characteristic of someone’s personality. I think our culture imposes tremendously different burdens on people based on both sex and gender identity – but it does the same with intelligence, with introversion, with beauty, with strength. We are all buffeted by a million messages that have little to do with who or what we are inside, and those messages shape us.

When people say to me “But men and women are different!” I feel I must remind them that we are all different. In my own life, I’ve run into more people I did not understand than did. I’ve seen enough of the world to know that stereotypes, even when they are true, are rarely more than surface-deep. I have met at least as many women who are alien to me as men.

I bring plenty of stereotypes into my writing. Some I am sure I am not even aware of. Others I play to deliberately. Science fiction is never really about the future; it’s about the writer’s vision of the present, and what she sees in it that is both good and bad.

There is so much that is good in our world. There is so much that makes me despair. And in the midst of it all…there are people, many of whom I love. There are acquaintances, or even strangers, who do kind things for no good reason. These little moments give me hope, in the face of larger issues that seem hopeless. And in the end, that’s what my characters do: they get through each day, doing the best they can with what’s in front of them.

And because they are fictional, and because it is science fiction, they can save the whole universe if I want them to.

So here’s the other bit about Dead Hour. I am not going to query it anymore, but for good reason: it’s being rewritten. (“But – Liz!” I hear you cry. “Are you mad? Rewrite it?? After all this???” Yeah, that’s run through my mind as well.) The question that sparked this blog post came from an agent who read Dead Hour, then read a synopsis of the sequel, and said “I think these two books are one book.” Which, after my brain stopped exploding, started to make sense to me. The sequel is a much more traditional SF story, with larger consequences than Dead Hour. Combining them provides some…interesting opportunities. And how can I resist that?

So I have a lot of work ahead of me; but of course there is no point in continuing to try to find representation for a book I’m going to rewrite. The agent I spoke to has been kind enough to ask to stay in touch with me as I do this rewrite, which is a huge vote of confidence. Despite all of the difficulties of querying (about which I will write someday, hopefully when it’s all far in the rearview mirror), I never would have spoken with this agent if I hadn’t held my breath and jumped. This is not what I expected when I started down this path…but you know? I think it’s actually much, much more.

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