Friday, March 14, 2014

A Round with Ali

But not that Ali.
Author Ali Cross asked him to do a guest post on her blog, and DWD is such a sucker, he said yes. I suppose if you're interested in why he writes science fiction, you could check it out. This turtle girl? I'm going back to sleep.

I started reading Blood Crown a few days ago, and it reminds me of the animated Treasure Planet from 2002. Love that movie. But instead of the cartoony steampunk feel of TP, Blood Crown feels like shiny Isaac Asimov sci-fi on a backdrop of dark and sinister. It's a fun contrast between two works based on timeless stories. The first sci-fi rendition of a fairy tale I've read, I look forward to the rest.

I'm looking at my own bookshelf, and could you all see it, no one would guess I write science fiction. It's almost entirely fantasy novels, my very favorite being The Lord of the Rings. I'm such a fan that I postponed my first job interview after college so I could catch Return of the King on opening day.

Heck yeah, I still got the job.

In fantasy, I love the nobility and heroism and the archery. The ties characters and civilizations have to powers bigger than their world. I can't say I mind an evil monster beheading, either. The power of sorcery is always fun, but magic brings me to the edge of the map. Here, the monsters be unanswered questions. When reading, I don't care how Gandalf makes his staff glow or how the light of EƤrendil functions. I'm happily distracted by the wonder swirling around me. But when I write, I don't like leaving mechanisms in the realm of the unknown. Details are so much more fun, especially when they're accurate.

As a kid, I thought the superhero version of Thor was lame, and was disappointed later to learn he was going to be integrated into the Marvel movies. Thor and Iron Man? Come on! But the screenwriters consulted real physicists, and instead of gagging on a genre mash-up as expected, I was geeking out at all the science they got right. I want that to happen to others when they read Dalton.

Again as a kid, I noted an apparent schism forming between Sunday school and science class. Genesis painted this amazing story that was even better than Tolkien because I was living in it, but I was told the every-bit-as-awesome mechanical details from the science books I loved were contradictory. I use the apparent word very purposefully. A page and a half of something Moses wrote piqued, but did not satisfy, my curiosity. The more I sought an explanation to the mechanics of life, the universe, and everything, the fainter became the barrier between science and religion. I geek out over gospel and have spiritual reactions to science as easily as vice versa. Those who try to convince me otherwise sometimes remind me of Morgoth, lusting to possess the Silmarils rather than in awe of how they were formed.

Possibly my favorite part of writing science fiction is extrapolating current knowledge to a new setting. In writing Houses of Common, I tried follow the trail of discoveries in genomics, economics, space exploration, and the push for environmental stability and see where they would lead in a century. And where would those trails leave characters from various backgrounds and species, and how do they deal with it? I never had a research project in school that was nearly this fun.

So why not write a fantasy where the mechanics of magic are known? Maybe I will. I've got an outline started...

In my day job as a physician assistant, I was talking with a grade-school patient and her mom. The girl has a genetic disorder that affects her joints now, and in the future may affect her blood vessels and heart valves. The heart problems usually don't start until middle age, so I did some math in my head. Extrapolated. To the answer the year 2055, I added what I'd learned at a conference about a Seattle research group cloning cardiac tissue, all the recent hoopla about 3D printing, the falling cost of sequencing a human genome, and the ability on the horizon to digitize, alter, and print DNA. The conclusion? I think it's safe to say the heart valve problems won't ever come up for that girl. Ever. Clip out the faulty gene, print out a cartilaginous frame, set the cloned tissue loose to grow over it, and replace the whole organ. She may not be allowed on tour ships to Mars, though. Those dream-killing insurance people.

Perhaps even more than the extrapolation, I love writing science fiction because sometimes the fiction part is a misnomer. One of my favorite parts of Ender's Game was reading about iPads when the Apple IIe was the fun new toy. Yeah, I liked the action and horror of Jurassic Park, but I reread the chapter about genetic engineering more than the rest of it. The epitome of awesome, right up there with winning a Hugo or Nebula or Philip K. Dick award, would be for a future sci-fi historian to label my books with an academic-sounding phrase like “ante-historical fiction” or “science non-fiction.”

But for now? I'm just having fun pretending to live in the 22nd century and writing about the adventure.

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