Since I began to write Scat, back in summer 2010, I’ve asked myself some deep questions. Of late these questions have been getting a lot more abstract.
Scat was my first novel. I wanted to write a straightforward adventure with an unconventional, genre-busting ending, but, the further I got into it, the more questions I had, and the more I had to question what I had previously assumed or taken for granted. Now I’m up to my neck, writing the sequel, and the questions are getting quite scary; they are making life, and the writing, extremely complicated. It’s not that I’m a particularly complicated person, superstitious or religious, but, having left Scat where I did, I do want to make sure I’m covering all the angles and offering the deepest possible follow-up story.
Army of Souls is an adventure, it is a thriller, but given the topic, it does need a solid foundation–something based in logic–and one thing I have discovered since asking the questions, is that our belief systems are not based on logic. It is now no surprise that today’s human religions (as opposed to alien, or fantasy religions) are rarely included in scifi.
So, what am I asking myself? Well, they are hardly practical questions; they don’t impact on me right now–I’m not asking anything that affects me today–it’s just that they’re questions for which we don’t have the ready answers. Listing them, they fall into two main categories: matters concerning the colonisation of new worlds, and assumptions about our belief systems. Some are economic. Some are political. Some relate to how our beliefs may follow us into a pure science-based environment. Or not. As the case may be.
Which nation will be the first to travel to an Earth-similar planet? Or will it be a company? If it is a company, which company? And will it claim this New World for mankind or their shareholders? And, if these planets are operated on a pure profit motive, how much will it cost for man to migrate to them when Earth is finally depleted, exhausted–ie what will be the one-way ticket price? Will this method of space exploration benefit all of us, or a small group of one per cents? If the latter, what happens to the billions of us who get left behind? And what are the social consequences of that? Will my DNA ever get off world? And if it did, to whose world; and what kind of world will my descendants travel to? Will it be yours and mine, or will it be the company’s? And how many Earth-similar planets and alien species will we screw up before we nail down our emigration procedures? When we colonise other Earth-similar planets, will we subjugate the current occupants, or integrate? Will we impose our ways or adapt? And who’ll decide which or how? Who’ll regulate it? And with so much at stake, what are the chances of corruption?
Theoretical problems aside, what of the practical problems of writing about something for which we have no experience; where the economics and social pressures will be so very different from today? Do I attempt to draw on loose historical comparisons? And what of the development of the main characters in such an environment? Just how different will they be from the heroes we are used to? If they answer to companies and not to well-meaning governments, and are selected for space migration based on their psychological profiles, does this affect their priorities, their attitudes, and base-line thinking–does it affect their likeability? Do our heroes need to hold our values? As readers, must we like our heroes, or just respect them? And given the dramatically changed environment, would our hero’s problems and his personal challenges be recognisable in today’s universe?
Army of Souls asks even more difficult, more controversial, questions related to our belief systems. It’s a given that religion isn’t based on science. It is based on faith. Atheists point out there is no empirical evidence of a God. Cynics point out that God can’t exist. They tell us to look at the facts. They point out that much our modern knowledge disproves so much of the Bible, and yet, Stephen Hawking offers us theories (Big Bang, String theories) that, ironically, require us to have faith in an, as yet, unproven science. And we spend Billions on projects such as the Large Hadron Collider, largely on faith, hoping they will give us answers. They say religion is based on faith, that it’s hardly scientific. But isn’t our belief in the Big Bang based on our faith in scientists?
Now let’s assume science eventually proves we do have souls? Would our religious houses believe them? How would the competition for followers between these houses change? How disruptive would this knowledge be? Would God prefer we had faith, rather than proof? If not everyone is suited for space (even if we could afford the suits), how many of us are suited for heaven?
I’ve written two sifi novels, both of them based on the same universe, largely with the same characters, but in different styles. The first, Scat, is the bigger story. That one made me talk to myself. The second, Birdie Down, is a more straightforward rebellion story–it’s less complicated, more for adventure junkies– and it didn’t bend my brain like Scat did, and as Army of Souls currently is. The difficulty in writing AoS it in keeping it moving and to let the questions pop up (and to show how I might have answered them) inside the wider story, without slowing it down. The focus is on writing an original, memorable scifi story, not in solving the universe’s unsolved mysteries. And this is why I may be going crazy.
I’ve got to say, Army of Souls is proving a tad more difficult than Scat was to write. In Scat, the question of belief in, and the existence of, or not, of souls, was not the central issue. In Army of Souls the existence of souls and the alien dominance of them, changes everything, and drives the story on from the get-go.
So, to keep my head straight, I take regular breaks; I watch The Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead and Dexter to chill out; and look forward to the uncomplicated innocence of Christmas. It appears to be working–I am at least muddling through;-)
Army of Souls should be ready late Spring, 2013.