Why Write: Sci-Fi With N. E. White

Today we welcome N. E. White, one of my very first blogging-writer friends! She writes fabulous sci-fi and fantasy, and even won that kooky contest Emmie Mears and I ran over Halloween. Today she’s hear to talk about why she writes sci-fi, so let’s give a big, warm welcome to Nila! *pause for applause*

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

I’m a five foot tall, married, chubby runner/cyclist/kayaker/former fire ecologist/current geographic information specialist that also likes to write. Oh, and I have a fourteen-year-old dog that still thinks he’s two.

I write mostly in the fantasy/science fiction genre, though I’ve been known to play around with magical realism and I’ve even attempted a few literary pieces. After shelving a novel series, my concentration has been on short stories. Currently, I’m working collaboratively on a novella with Joe Bailey about an ageless serial killer on a mining space ship.

What made you decide to write sci-fi?

Science fiction allows a writer to explore questions of social distress in terms of technology that we create for ourselves. In essence, as we rely more heavily on complicated technology to live, we set our own traps and maybe even our ultimate demise. Setting my characters in these situations makes for good drama and, working in the context of a future that we’ve built, allows me to put a mirror up to our desires. Sometimes what we see makes us question the world around us and our own participation in that world. I hope what I write makes people question why certain systems are the way they are or what it truly means to move over to a new technology.

What types of stories does sci-fi make possible?

Stories with awesome space ships! And cool technology! (That’s for sure! Sci-fi scares me because I’m afraid to make up nonsensical pseudoscience.) 

Seriously, though, for me, it is about the how technology changes us. I mean, look at how it has changed the way we, meaning you and me, live today. We are virtually connected to millions of people around the world. Yet, that connection is only secured in rich, stable regions of the world and it is a superficial connect at best. And what about the rest of humanity that doesn’t have the luxury of instant information at their fingertips? What dichotomous states are we seeding and what will that look like in the future?

Then there’s just the way people interact with technology today. So many young people rely on their devices for directions to their destination, or find the best used bookstore in town, even who your next sexual partner might be. We also use it to research items on the fly. But just how reliable or accurate is that information? And just who is feeding us that information? What filters are being used to give us an answer?

One of the issues Joe and I are exploring in our novella is how a young detective uses a virtual data room that stores centuries worth of information about the space ship they live on. The database is accessed through a three-dimensional, holographic interface. However, the algorithms used to retrieve the data “fills in the blanks” for either missing data or makes guesses at what information the detective might need, thus subtly influencing how an investigation might go, or not go. We see this today with Google search algorithms. Google essentially gives us what we want to see, not everything we should.

What audience do you think sci-fi attracts? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?

Wow, that’s a good question. I know I’m attracted to science fiction and my background is a mix of environmental activism and computer modeling. Most of the writers I hang out with over on SFFWorld.com have IT and/or science backgrounds. So, I guess, folks like me.

When I first started to write science fiction, one thing I realized early on is that most science fiction readers are really smart. A lot smarter than me. I thought, if I want to continue writing science fiction, my characters would have to get a lot smarter! The stories I try to tell pit smart characters against terribly hard choices.

How does sci-fi affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?

It offers choice.

In other genres, especially some that follow the traditional fantasy tropes, many of the characters have limited options on how they can act, and what influences their behavior can be limiting. But in science fiction settings, I find the opposite is true. The possibilities are limitless and that gives the character (and the reader) a glut of choices. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but it is one that makes you think.

For instance, I’m working on a short story titled G.O.D.S., for government overt detection system. I know, that’s not a very imaginative acronym, but real-life government acronyms are often very bland so my lack of creativity works for this piece! Anyway, it’s about a society where strict oversight is managed by an artificial intelligence. It tracks everyone’s habits and behaviors, and weeds out unsavory individuals. On many accounts, life is great. Those in the center, who live by the rules, enjoy a level of freedom that we currently enjoy but with the added benefit of feeling completely safe. No rape. No bullying. No murder. No domestic violence. It is all taken care of by the G.O.D.S. In order to maintain this system, all citizens are required to give up the most intimate details of their lives. And most willingly do that – much as we do now with social media like Facebook and Twitter. However, doing so means that your behavior is monitored and corrections can be administered. The final decision to make those corrections (either through corporal or capital punishment) comes from a human, of course. We can’t have AIs going around hurting or killing people, right? The AIs rely on human supervisors to review data when someone is in need of a correction.

The crux of this story is that not everyone is happy with this so-called utopia. They feel stifled and controlled. A rebellion is organized. They infiltrate the ranks of the G.O.D.S supervisors, intent on planting a virus that will destroy the G.O.D.S. database. But our main character, a woman, who has been in the G.O.D.S. training for some time is given a correction case to review – one of a repeated sex offender.

Remember, most people in this society do not know what it feels like to fear people who are close to you. There are no pedophile uncles preying on their nieces and nephews, nor priest or teachers taking advantage of their students. So she is introduced to a world of depravity that is only heard of in stories passed down from aging relatives. The things this one sex offender has done to innocent children shock this rebel, and she has a choice to make: Dole out this man’s punishment (in this case, capital punishment after a series of behavior modifications that did not work) or destroy the system that was used to catch him before he could molest more children. Which would you choose?

Those are the kind of choices science fiction allows me to explore.

Why do you think people love to read sci-fi? How do you think the genre affects its audience?

I think people read science fiction for the same reasons they read other genres – a good story. Of course, in this case, it is a good story with high-tech suits, robots, space ships and aliens.

I can’t say how the genre affects its audience, but I can tell you how it affects me. It makes me question my basic assumptions of what I think is right and wrong, and just what is morality when looked at in terms of the universe. Does an asteroid have a moral code? Would other sentient species? And if they did, what would it look like compared to the myriad versions we have here on earth?

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?

That’s a hard one. Geez. I can’t say. I love both science fiction and fantasy, but I suppose as long as it is a good story, the setting really doesn’t matter. As long as the world-building is done well, and it is written carefully, I’ll enjoy whatever you put in front of me.

How can readers find you?

Come read my rant about writing at http://nilaewhite.wordpress.com. If you like apocalyptic tales, check out the free anthology I put together with the writers over at SFFWorld.com: The End – Visions of Apocalypse (it has a sci-fi bent).

Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks for having me. I’ve enjoyed it.

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