Why Write: Science Fiction with Sarah Paige Berling

sarah paige berlingReaders, welcome Sarah Paige Berling! She writes speculative fiction of all stripes, but she’s here today to talk about sci-fi. She also says some great things about science and how sci-fi affects the world, so check it out!

Hello, Sarah, and welcome!
Thank you for having me, Kristin!

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
Well, primarily I write speculative fiction – science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Recently, I’ve delved into contemporary fiction, but my first love was science fiction. I started reading science fiction in the fifth grade with the Animorphs series and just went from there. I have just finished my contemporary fiction novel and now I’m working on editing my sci-fi/horror novel called Forgive Me If I Sleep, which is a post-apocalyptic tale, similar to World War Z and The Road.

What made you decide to write science fiction?
I have a lot of science in my background. I spent four years studying meteorology and geology, before finally realizing that my true love was creative writing. But because I spent so much time with the physics, math, and chemistry part of college, science remains a fascination of mine.

My favorite sci-fi author, and the one whom I respect the most, is Dan Simmons, who frequently combines hard science fiction with classic literature. My favorite stories of his are his two most recent novels, Ilium and Olympos, which chronicle hard science fiction mixed with Homer, Proust, and Shakespeare. And I believe it takes place in the same universe as his Hyperion Cantos, which makes the story that much more intriguing. I really aim to emulate him. He’s amazing.

What types of stories does science fiction make possible?
Science fiction shows how the world COULD be, if we could just work towards getting our butts in gear and focus on science and space exploration. I had an argument with an acquaintance once, because he believed NASA was obsolete. “The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever.” That was Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. I explained to him that there was no way humanity could remain on Earth forever, and that we needed to explore space if we were going to survive as a species. And I honestly believe that to be true. We need to leave our cradle and work towards becoming self-sufficient adults – in this case, exploring new planets and expanding our civilizations.

What audience do you think sci-fi attracts? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?
Science fiction attracts all types. My sister, who was an opera major in college, has read science fiction, but so has my husband, who is your quintessential nerd. It really depends on the person, I suppose.

I try to write stories aimed at the more scientific aspect of the sci-fi culture. I have a couple of stories in mind revolving around meteorology, one sci-fi and one contemporary fiction. Write what you know, but write what you don’t know about what you know, and also, write about what you’re passionate about. Lots of rules for writing, but those three stick out in my head most of all.

How does science fiction affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clarke

If we work the science correctly, it leaves the audience guessing: how will they get out of this bind? The majority of your sci-fi audience does not have a PhD in theoretical physics, so you can get away with more, if you need to. But because the majority of your audience doesn’t have a whole lot of science background, the story changes from science to magic.

The characters, for the most part, are aware of the scientific limitations of their world. The audience is not, not entirely.

Why do you think people love to read sci-fi? How do you think the genre at large affects its audience?
Science fiction is definitely an escapist form of literature – and that’s okay. It leads to alternate worlds, and sometimes, that’s just what you need.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?
My favorite genre to read is “books.” I will read most anything. My list so far this year has included “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman, “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd, and “The Hyperion Cantos” by Dan Simmons.

Where can readers track you down?
My blogs are http://sarahpaigeberling.com and http://paigejohnsson.com
My facebook is http://www.facebook.com/sarahpaigeberling
and you can follow me on twitter at
@sarahpberling
@paigejohnsson

Thanks for stopping by!

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.