Monday, December 18, 2006

WARNING: Contents Under Pressure

One of the things that differentiates science fiction and SFR from other fiction is the genre's inclusion of setting (or world building) as a non-removeable part of the mix. In essence, the setting often functions like a character. This is most easily seen in media SF where ships like the Enterprise or Serenity become as much a part of the storyline as the sentient characters. But it's also found in novels, such as those by Anne McCaffrey with her ships and worlds, and my own Cirrus One Station in An Accidental Goddess .

I was reminded again how and why Cirrus One Station was constructed as I was (once again) at sea, in an 85,000 ton vessel that was--when you really think about it--the only thing between me and the deep dark ocean.

I'm sure most people on a Caribbean cruise don't want to even think about how perilous a situation they'd be in should something serious happen to the ship. Sure, there are lifeboats and such, and the chances of the ship going down a la Titanic are very slim. But a cruise ship--like a space station--is still a solitary, closed environment.

And it affects how people act. Because consciously or not, people know they're stuck there until they make the next port. They're stuck with not having an item they need. They're stuck without having a certain comfort they're used to. They're stuck with other people they may not like and can't actually get away from. Sooner or later they will, yes, run into that same loud-mouth, obnoxious guy because they are on the same ship. They're in a closed environment.

It's contents under pressure. Moreso after two days at sea.

The whole issue of personal space is raised and those dynamics may change, depending on how each person handles that closed environment. Some people purposely become more easy-going. Others ramp up their rudeness factor in an effort to take control. People Day 1 at sea are not always the same on Day 2.

I watch these dynamics with interest because of what I write. And I write situations that incorporate "contents under pressure" because of all the things I've seen after more than twenty-five years of being a cruise ship passenger.

But it's not just the passengers. Ship's crewmembers and staff have to deal with even less space and more pressure. They can't leave their troubles at the office because home is their office. And it's damn hard to tell your boss to take this job and shove it when you're hundreds of miles from the nearest port.

What happens then--in both real life and in my books--are that people must face their problem and handle it. Writing guru Dwight Swain states that a successful novel has characters who "start fires they can't put out." Well, I like to take it one step further in my books and have my characters not only not be able to put out the fire, but they can't even run away from it.

I made sure Gillie couldn't run away from her issue of being an accidental goddess by making sure her ship's damage kept her on station. I put Chaz on a space station with people trying to kill her and her only hope a rescue from a man she'd been trained to hate. And then I took away their only means of escape from the station and put them directly into the hands of a man who could harm them both.

And in my upcoming (February 2007) Games of Command, I strand my characters not only in another dimension but I taunt them with plenty of ships--none of which can survive transit back to their 'normal' space and time.

Because this is SF and the setting, the world, the ship plays an important and threatening part.

Contents under pressure. Trouble confined by four walls. Death awaiting outside.

And you all thought I go on vacations for fun.



  1. Anonymous2:47 PM EST

    Ooohkay, now take away the contraception and you've got my story. What happens when this starship is waaaay out in the middle of nowhere for years at a time? People, being people, are going to fall in love. Someone's going to be overcome with passion in Cargo Bay 2 and not have a phased-energy-condom (just made that up, not in my book, honost!) handy. Babies are going to get conceived. Whatcha gonna do with 'em, hmmm? Tuck them away and forget they exist? See it all the time. Science fiction authors are scared of babies, it seems. On Star Trek: Voyager there wasn't a baby born on that ship after season 2 (and that baby was conceived on Deep Space 9) until the final episode of the final season, Season 7. They even rescued a baby from the Borg and poof! It vanished! Never mentioned again. To their credit, they did integrate the older Borg children.

    There's a Voyager marathon on Spike today. Can you tell?

    In any case, since I'm a retired professional nanny I can't help but have babies and children all over my stories. And being a long-married woman who has been frequently knocked up, I know how babies are made. So, it should come as no surprise that the female captain on my starship in my story turns up - you guessed it - pregnant. Sooo, how does a starship captain retain command of her ship under such a circumstance? Sexism having been eliminated by the 23rd century, there's still the logistics of breastfeeding while the bad guy aliens are trying to blow your ship out of the stars. Can't be done? Ooooh, sure, it can. Just got to know about babies and childcare and mothers-who-work-outside-the-home AND space opera AND how people develop friendships over long periods of time stuck in the same place together. Now, that's fun stuff. Well, to me, anyway. ;)

    And, really, I think we're mostly women writing romantic science fiction and some of us are mothers. We know how babies get conceived. Let the hardline science fiction writers ignore the consequences of copulation if they want to. Ever notice how even if a baby is made, the rugged manly man doesn't raise it? Like that's the ideal man? Not in my book (metaphorically and literally speaking) sister!

    What would a child who's grown up on a starship be like? The confines of the starship would be her home and she would know it extremely well. What a child is born into and grows up with is considered normal to her. She'll see the starship differently than adults. If you can't remember how a child views her environment and responds to it, that can be tough to write in a believable way.

    By writing the consequences of love in the farthest reaches of space, we can make our stories feel more real. And that's what grabs a reader and makes her (or him) hold on. My humble opinion, of course. Just another dimension to add to 'Contents Under Pressure.'

    Kimber An

  2. Anonymous7:17 PM EST

    Wow, Kimber, you and Linnea have both given me food for thought. I've got a protag who grew up on a farm but longed for, and wound up in, space. His love interest is a hard-core planet-lover. She doesn't care for space at all. I've painted this guy a pretty good shade of insensitive/clueless and it's likely his kids will grow up shuttling between a number of places, including an alien world. I've no doubt they're going to be somehow affected by this and I'm sure there will be those who see my protag as a lousy father, which he is, I suppose -- loving, deep down, and a good provider money-wise, but sorely lacking in the "dad" department: too much wanderlust. I wonder if there's such a thing as a too-flawed character.

  3. Anonymous7:53 PM EST

    Well, it really depends on what you mean by 'good dad.' If he leaves his kid to be raised by the mother or someone else or beats the kid, then he's a lousy father. But, if he takes his kid along with him for the adventure and teaches him and does his best, then he is a good father even if he's all thumbs when it comes to changing the diapers. No man starts out a good dad. It's something that's learned, but it takes a man who is willing to learn. In my story, the father, Delano, doesn't learn he's a father until his 'secret baby' is a teenager! He hires a nanny to take care of her. Duh. Insert finger in nose. Bumbles and trips and generally gets driven out of his stark, raving mind, but through it all it's obvious that he loves his child and will do anything to care for her and protect her. And my women critique partners just swooooned over him for it too. The men over 40 found it all very irritating, but the men under 40 thought it was way cool. And that really gives me hope for the future of mankind. ;)

    Kimber An

  4. Anonymous9:00 PM EST

    P.S. Mr. Gray, I do have a character in my book whose wife hated life and space. They divorced and she returned to Earth, leaving him with full custody of their son. I think when we write stories, it's important to include a variety of relationships. Again, it just makes it feel more real.

  5. Kimber said: And, really, I think we're mostly women writing romantic science fiction and some of us are mothers. We know how babies get conceived. Let the hardline science fiction writers ignore the consequences of copulation if they want to.

    All good points, Kimber.

    Actually, I rarely have children in my books and don't intend to feature babies. My books will always have an HEA but you won't find weddings, picket fences or prams. ;-) There will be either implied or outright mentioned contraception.

    I personally don't see what falling in love has to do with babies. Probably shouldn't admit that because now I'll get flamed or dropped by some readers, but it's something I don't feel is a given. Maybe I've just known too many children whose parents had very little to do with love.

    So my stories don't go that way. I know others' stories do. That's fine. No problem. Mine just don't.

    Kimber said: Ever notice how even if a baby is made, the rugged manly man doesn't raise it? Like that's the ideal man?

    Since I don't read romances with the pregnant woman or baby-toting women on the I do agree it's a societal misconception (pardon the pun--LOL!). So I know where you're coming from on that. I just personally haven't read it.

    Actually, my husband was an excellent diaper-changing, story-reading, helping with homework, school-play attending father. (I'm wife #2, in case you're trying to figure out how he could be a father and me not be the motherly one...I've been stepmom for 26 years.) And he's a big, rugged, 6'4" dude. He's marvelous with babies. I personally get the yips around infants unless they have fur, four paws and meow.

    Kimber said: What would a child who's grown up on a starship be like? The confines of the starship would be her home and she would know it extremely well. What a child is born into and grows up with is considered normal to her. She'll see the starship differently than adults. If you can't remember how a child views her environment and responds to it, that can be tough to write in a believable way.

    This is something I love to play with--how characters are often heavily shaped by their environments. The city kid raised in a high-rise who learned to rollerskate on a sidewalk is far different from the farm kid who helped grandpa muck the stalls... Cherryh addresses this in her Foreigner series (genuflect, genuflect), where she has generations raised in ships in space who--when they come planetside--are all flipped out over the wide open spaces, winds, smells, etc.. They would get physically sick--much as some people get sea sick or air sick. Jason was one of the characters--he was an adult when he finally went to the surface. I forget the female's name...Yvonne? Something like that. Anyway, it's a terrific issue to play with.

    Someone raised on a space station would have vastly different concepts of "personal space", for one thing. They would be more aware of the fragility of their environment. They'd probably be more responsive to authority, perhaps less independent because listening to those in charge in times of an emergency will keep you alive.

    There are a whole bunch of issues I'm playing with in that regard, for a WIP (Moon Under Glass) that I've plotted out. The female protagonist was raised on stations and didn't go dirtside until she was in her late teens. It was very traumatic for her and shapes much of her self-opinion as she fails to fit in with "dirtsiders".

    So yeah, these are great things to think about. ;-) ~Linnea

  6. Anonymous12:48 AM EST

    You sound wonderfully blessed with your family, Linnea. Not every woman is born wanting children of her own. I can't comprehend it since my own maternal instinct is so high-octane I actually paid lots of money to learn how to take care of other people's children as a career! But, I do accept it as valid.

    What was really amazing to me as a nanny was observing women going from high-powered careers to mommy mode. Some never even wanted children. Two, a doctor and a lawyer, gave it all up to become stay-at-home mothers. And I loved them all, mothers and babies, very dearly. ;)

  7. Anonymous1:53 PM EST

    So much to think about. My protag's kids are way down the road, not even in what's plotted out, but I've got inklings about them. His relationship with their mom will likely be a rocky one because although he was well loved as a child, he's never really learned how to reciprocate it himself. I do know he'll learn a great deal of that as he goes along, though. My thoughts so far are that he'll totally blow the relationship angle of parenthood early on (partly due to getting marooned away from home), but get better. Earliest child gets the worst of that, second one fares better. There's more to it than that, and things could change as I write it, but that's my gut-level take on it at the moment. I do have some fellow scribes, all females btw, who will not hesitate to tell me in no uncertain terms if I allow my character to become too much of a jerk.

  8. Anonymous2:18 PM EST

    Sounds good, Mr. Gray. I love novels in which the characters start out beautifully flawed and grow over the course because that's how it is in real life. Nothing comes instantly. Not becoming a swordmaster. A pilot. A good lover. A parent. These things must be learned.

  9. The original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA was set on a family ship. I haven't watched the new series, but I would assume it kept that feature. And of course families with children lived on Deep Space Nine. I'd think that in the SF series where we don't see children on starships, women who become pregnant (accidentally, one assumes, and we'd probably take it for granted that contraception would be very reliable in a culture capable of traveling between the stars, so it wouldn't happen often) would be transferred to shore duty, just as in today's Navy. Of course, a woman on a ship that has suffered a disaster that strands it far away from any planet has a more serious problem. Marion Zimmer Bradley's interstellar fiction postulated that something about space travel made it impossible for a pregnancy to be carried to term. If a woman became pregnant and didn't choose to stay planetside, she would have a miscarriage.

  10. Anonymous12:37 PM EST

    Another terribly convenient way not to include babies in the story. I think the reason this all feels so unreal to me is because, as a Certified Professional Nanny, I was trained to be extremely understanding and supportive of mothers who work outside the home. They are my heroes and I loved them. I saw women in very powerful professions become mothers everyday. If they can do this in the 20th and 21st century, why is it so difficult for them to do it in the 23rd and 24th centuries when humanity will have, hopefully, evolved beyond sexism and archaic attitudes about motherhood?

    Kimber An (yes, again!)

  11. Actually, in Bradley's story that turns upon this point (the impossibility of carrying a pregnancy on a starship), called "The Wind People," the woman decides to keep the baby. The premise is used as a plot device to force her to stay alone on the distant planet where she was impregnated by one of the ethereal aliens whose existence her shipmates don't believe in. I think these aliens are a "practice run" for the elf-like Chieri who later appear on Darkover. I'm pretty sure it's stated in the Darkover series (although never emphasized or used as a plot point) that a pregnancy can't be sustained aboard a hyperdrive ship. RE the prospect of humanity's evolving beyond sexist attitudes about motherhood, such things go in cycles. The "traditional" stay-at-home mother model, in the form we know, was mainly invented among the middle-class Victorians, and the late 1940s to the early 1960s were the only period in history when any large percentage of families could actually afford to live that way. Sure, in preindustrial times mothers spent most of their time at home, but so did fathers. Most economic production was performed in the home or a shop directly attached thereto. Mothers didn't spend all their time lavishing attention on children; they were too busy being "helpmeets" in making a living. Children past weaning age were mostly cared for by older siblings or (in wealthier families) servants. A family starship would be a far-future analogue to this situation, come to think of it.