Have you seen space? It’s massive, and full of weird phenomena right next to mind-bendingly huge swaths of nothing at all. We’ve been studying it for millennia, and we still discover new things every single day. Every time we learn something, we find out we’ve only got a piece of it, one tiny glimpse of a complex reality we’ll likely never understand.
I’ll never be an astronaut. (I’m too old. Also, I have a phobia of flying.) So I write people who spend their lives traveling through the stunning expanse of space. I get to imagine what it would be like out there, up close and personal with light year after light year of epic weirdness. Why would I write anything else?
The first computer I ever used required a paper roll and a telephone handset; now I can write code on a machine that fits in my pocket and also lets me call my mother, video my kid’s band concert, and slaughter colorful zombies without sucking the life out of the battery. Fictionally, most of us will not be making technology predictions that come true, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to try.
Take faster-than-light travel. This is not likely to ever be a thing. (So much falls apart if it’s a thing. You’re talking time travel, at the very least, and possibly a complete dissolution of what we currently recognize as reality.) But there are theories about how it might work if we could manage to survive the process, and so I used my Authorial Magic Wand to *poof* it into existence. FTL communications, too. (Which does become a plot point in BREACH OF CONTAINMENT, which is part of why I started thinking about FTL travel and non-FTL travel and relativity, but I went with the Magic Wand anyway.)
I sometimes see the sentiment that writers should leave politics out of their work, because readers don’t want to hear it.
Which is funny, because I’m pretty sure there’s no way to write anything without it being political. I don’t try to write politics, but when I’m done, there they are, throughout the story. I’ve invented the governments, the social systems, the bureaucracy, the ways people live with them. The personal is political. This has always been true.
Fiction being fiction, I could make it all pretty, but as the author I have to personally find it plausible. This is why my endings generally involve so many open threads: life doesn’t get tied up neatly, so neither do the stories I write.
4. More Politics
There are aspects of society that I enjoy examining through fiction, and others that I really, really don’t. I’ve been female on this planet my whole life, and I write to escape. I don’t want to write about institutionalized sexism. Or racism, religious bigotry, hatred around gender and sexuality…all the ways humanity apparently can’t get out of our own way. (Of course, by imagining a universe where bigotry’s been gone so long people don’t even think about it, I’m examining it, after a fashion.)
And it’s worldbuilding, too. Are we going to make it a thousand years in the future if we don’t figure out how to deal with this foolishness? Hell, no. For my universe to be at all believable, I can’t have this stuff in it.
Which brings me to my very favorite part about writing science fiction:
Any piece of writing that’s set in a future in which humanity exists is optimistic. The heaviest, most doomsday-ridden dystopia is optimistic, because humanity—chronically warring, climate-change-denying humanity—is still there.
Sometimes I listen to my kid and her friends, and what matters to them, and what they want to do with their lives. I listen to their passion and practicality and intelligence and hope, and I think maybe, just maybe, we will make it through this science-phobic isolationist phase of our species’ existence. Maybe we’ll cobble together a set of solutions that works. Maybe we really will be here in a thousand years.
No matter what I put my characters through in the story, I always end with hope. Because in the real world, hope isn’t the ending. It’s the beginning of the next story, and of every future we can imagine.
Elizabeth Bonesteel began making up stories at the age of five, in an attempt to battle insomnia. Thanks to a family connection to the space program, she has been reading science fiction since she was a child. She lives in central Massachusetts with her husband, her daughter, and various cats. Massachusetts has been her home her whole life, and while she’s sure there are other lovely places to live, she’s quite happy there. Her newest book, Breach of Containment, is available now.