It’s hard for a science fiction writer not to be taken aback by the unexpected events of 2020. Given that, I asked author Melissa Riddell to share her thoughts on the difficulties of writing science fiction that occurs in the near future.
Here is what she had to say:
When I wrote The Descendant last year, I had no idea we were going to have our own viral outbreak in the real world. Even though my book’s apocalypse starts with an electromagnetic pulse wiping out all electronics and electricity, it also throws in a deadly virus killing most of humanity. With The Descendant, though, Tilly and Jareth’s romance and character development is at the heart of the story, so the virus takes a backseat to the true narrative.
There have been many apocalyptic books written where a virus is the driver to end times, such as Stephen King’s The Stand, and most readers (me included) gobble them up because we feel safe. We enjoy imagining what it would be like to survive the chaos—from the comfort of our favorite reading chair with our favorite beverage at our side.
The only true danger after reading these apocalyptic novels was developing a sniffle during the reading. We might’ve rushed to the clinic and explained what Mr. King called this type of sickness. “Oh, sweet Jesus, I think I’ve got Captain Trips.”
Calmly, the doctor informed me—uh, I mean those readers—they were suffering from allergic rhinitis, nothing more. He might’ve shaken his head and walked away, probably adding the patient to his psychosomatic list. And he was right—a little loratadine or cetirizine cleared Captain Trips right up. I digress, though.
Enter 2020 and COVID-19. Now that the world has had a tiny taste of living through a real pandemic, some readers want no reminders of what’s going on. Their whole purpose of reading a book is to escape reality. This poses problems for this type of near-future sci-fi and kills the “joy” factor.
On the flip side of that coin, the other crowd loves it, because they can relate to the book’s characters in a much more intimate way. Heck, they might even read it again to ensure they didn’t miss any tips on how to survive the virus.
Any writer trying to “cash in” on the current pandemic is probably going to find their book in one of these two crowds—those who love it because of what we’re living through, and those who detest it due to the current situation. My advice? Write your story. Even if it’s not popular right now, every genre experiences fluctuations in popularity, so who knows? Maybe a few years down the road, when we hopefully have COVID-19 under control in our past, those who passed over the book might be willing to give it a try.
In general, without the viral threat we’re facing, I think the difficulty in writing near-future sci-fi technology is in the technicality of the world or gadgets. If the story’s setting or tech is based on proposed developments, say in 10-30 years, then it’s imperative the writer does his or her research. Why? Because the technology isn’t that far away, and the author must prove to the reader they know what they’re writing about. Imagine getting it all wrong, and in a few years, the book is outdated and unbelievable. That’s not a good thing for the writer—or the reader.
In my opinion, it’s much easier to write science fiction for the far-off future or an advanced race, because I can make up stuff that can’t be disproven so easily. As long as I stick to fundamental laws of physics and biology (as we know it), then I can create the “fiction” part of science fiction and hopefully, the reader will happily come along for the ride.
About Melissa Riddell
Melissa Riddell is from a small, West Texas town in which she still lives with her husband. Her writing career started as a hobby when she was a teenager, writing poems and short stories. Eventually, she branched out and began constructing novels. When not contemplating new story ideas, she can be found traipsing around Texas State Parks, herding her cats, or reading a book.
I thank the author for such a well-thought-out and interesting response!
For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out The Descendant.