Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Depiction Part 18 -- Interstellar Commerce by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Part 18
Interstellar Commerce
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts in this series on Depiction, a writer craft tool essential to Romance Genre because it is the core of Characterization, and essential to the Science Fiction Genre because it is the core of social impact is here:

China, as noted below, is trying to build a new "Silk Road" - an intercontinental trade route that will give them a sort of ownership of Global Commerce.  The USA did that with the Panama Canal, so now we have a second Panama Canal about to open.  

So let's look at this pattern and project it onto an Interstellar scale.  
Science Fiction as we noted last week, is the Literature of Ideas, while Romance is perhaps best identified as the Literature of Soul Mates -- or possibly just the Literature of the Soul.  Or the Literature of the Happily Ever After -- the Literature of Happiness.  Or maybe the Literature of Relationship -- but "relationship" seems way too broad since it includes too many kinds of relationships.
So Science Fiction Romance might then be regarded as the Literature of Romantic Ideas.
One of the reasons we have the Internet and the Web (they are two separate inventions) is the TV Series, Star Trek.  The series sparked a
"romance" with science in many viewers who could imagine the world in which Spock commanded the Enterprise Computer.  Kirk's romance with adventure, with going where no man had gone before, and Spock's romance with (he has 6 Ph.D.'s) innovation, combined to inspire a generation, which one day might earn the title of The Greatest Generation.

The Ph.D. degree is traditionally awarded for adding to the sum total of human knowledge -- of ideas about how this universe actually works (scientifically).  The Ph.D. degree is all about going where no one has gone before, and doing the impossible while you are there.  Before the Ph.D. candidate does it, it is considered "impossible" because "you can't do that."  

In other words, the main Character Trait of the Ph.D. type person (school or no school) is that they never just do "all I can" -- but they do the job, regardless of what they can or can not do.  The Ph.D. Character Trait is "doing the impossible" even though it takes a little longer.  The Ph.D. type Character accepts no limits, especially those imposed by others, or most especially the limits imposed by the imagination of others.

So Spock is a Character depicted as having earned 6 Ph.D. Academic Degrees.  His curiosity knows no bounds.  That is the core of that Character, according to Roddenberry -- curiosity.  The intangible of "curiosity" is depicted by casting Spock as the Science Officer.  His having been cast ALSO as the First Officer (Command, not Science department) was due to Network Officials who would not buy the show with a female (Number One) as First Officer.  Roddenberry fineagled Uhura onto the bridge by persistence and subtrefuge.  

Star Trek depicted humanity's curiosity let loose in the Galaxy.  The show is a Romance with The Unknown, which is a core definition of Science Fiction and of Romance.  Romance is about getting to know a stranger, and science is about getting to know reality.  Knowing is Ideas.

Humans (and Vulcans, apparently) are capable of establishing and maintaining Relationships with intangibles such as Ideas, and tangibles such as The Enterprise, as well as processes such as Exploration, Innovation, or Commerce, and Curiosity.

No single human can exemplify all these kinds of Relationships, all at the same time.  But over a lifetime, humans can and often do cycle through the panoply of Relationships.  

A Character may "arc" (or learn from the plot events) from the beginning of a Relationship to the end or transition point of that Relationship, a point in the Character's fictional life when the focus of his/her Romance shifts to one of the other types of Relationships.  Each such "arc" has its own readership.  In targeting a Readership, we have discussed the elements of romance stories that different readerships enjoy.

There can be a Romance with Commerce as a process, a way of life, a life style.  Several branches of Romance Genre -- most notably, Historical Romance books -- explore the Archetype of The Trader.  

Science Fiction has many stories and novels about the Tramp Trader, the free trader, the pirate (Pirates are a part of The Trader archetype).  Historically, on Earth, we have had Pirates and Traders, owning their own ships, plying the trade winds among the South Sea Islands, the Carribean, and so forth.  Today it's Liberia and funding some disruptive Causes, but Pirates and the Shadow Banking system have always been part of the human world order.

Even non-fiction books have been written about being one of the two or three passengers on a Tramp Steamer, traveling to places tourists don't go, or are not welcome.  Seeing the world is the story that targets the house-or-town-bound readership.  If you live shackled to a single place, your "Romance" is with traveling elsewhere.  If you live by traveling, (say with a Circus) or as a "Military Brat" -- your "Romance" is with the stationary, settled, suburban lifestyle.

Or take the Western, for example.  Best Selling Western Romance has been written about the Drifter who begs a job on the ranch of a recently widowed woman (sometimes with children). 

There is something about the Character who has been doing what enchants readers that sparks Romance.  

All these "settings" -- South Sea Tramp Steamer, Western High Chapparal, Australian Out-Back, African Safari -- are ripe settings for the Romance story to blend with the Science Fiction plot of Confronting The Unknown.

The Science Fiction novel is the Quest of the Hero for a Ph.D. -- for adding some crucial bit to the sum total of human knowledge.  

Take, for example, the movie The African Queen:

In Africa during WW1, a gin-swilling riverboat owner/captain is persuaded by a strait-laced missionary to use his boat to attack an enemy warship.

Yeah, and it's a HOT ROMANCE, Intimate Adventure all the way.  "The Unknown" includes leeches, boat breakdowns, and being hunted.  The plot is about floating around in an old boat, and the story is about how Danger causes two susceptible people to Bond.

You can do that in the Galactic Setting, too.  

So, let's say you decide to write The African Queen set during a Galactic War.

If you've got a Galactic War, you need to depict two conflicting sides.  Maybe it's two human factions, or two non-human species.

Say it's two non-human species fighting each other for the right or privelege of owning all humanity as slaves, or possessions of some kind (maybe they're so alien, the concept slavery just is not translatable to them.)

Now create a Character from one side of that War, a venerably worn down Starship, and a Character from the other side of that War.

Here is where the Theme-Plot-Story-Worldbuilding blend has to be teased apart.

The theme is what you have to say by writing this book.  What is the take-away for the Romance reader?  What is the take-away for the Science Fiction reader?  

Why do you want to write this book (as opposed to some other book)?

Maybe you want to talk about the intrinsic worth of the human spirit?  Or the ineluctible value of the individual?

If you want a theme about the worth of the human spirit, you need Aliens who are fighting each other over some Religious premise, or the lack of Godliness).  The War, the conflict, has to be about Spirit -- whatever aspect of Spirit you want to talk about.  That specific aspect becomes your theme.

If you want to talk about the Value of a human individual -- and where that concept fits into the Idea of the value of humanity as a whole, or specific human Groups -- the two Alien species have to be at War over some sort of issue involving Value.

On Earth, historically, we fight over arable land, over potable water, or irrigation water, over Valuable Minerals (this century it seems to be Oil, but it was Gold at one time).  

So what would galaxy-spanning Alien Civilizations war over?

Habitable Planets - good stars to hold them in orbit, etc.  In other words "land" or "territory" is always a motive that is easy to explain to modern readers.

Shipping Lanes -- or paths from one place to another such as "Worm Holes" or artificial ones left by some previous star-faring civilization.  Command of Commercial Transit has always been worth War -- think of the Silk Road and Marco Polo.

China is funding a rebuild of The Silk Road to open commerce with Iran etc. and the West is suspicious that the commerce involves fissionables.
The maps of the two Silk Roads drive home the enormous scale of the project: the Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road combined will create a massive loop linking three continents. If any single image conveys China’s ambitions to reclaim its place as the “Middle Kingdom,” linked to the world by trade and cultural exchanges, the Xinhua map is it. Even the name of the project, the Silk Road, is inextricably linked to China’s past as a source of goods and information for the rest of the world.
China’s economic vision is no less expansive than the geographic vision. According to the Xinhua article, the Silk Road will bring “new opportunities and a new future to China and every country along the road that is seeking to develop.” The article envisions an “economic cooperation area” that stretches from the Western Pacific to the Baltic Sea.

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So just expand that map into a connection among the "arms" of our Galaxy.  Suppose that, with some massive capital investment, one faction of your Waring Species could gain CONTROL of the access to all the others?

Of course, one of the species fighting for control might be "part human" or some kind of genetic hybrid.

Suppose it was not humanity per se that these Aliens are fighting to own.  It isn't slaves they want or need -- but genes.  

They need to inject human genes into some Aliens (maybe their own species, maybe some non-sentient species they've found somewhere) to create Pilots or some kind of necessary functionary to explore, open and/or hold the Commerce Access Points -- the Interstellar Silk Road.  

And of course, at some point, someone uses the same process to inject Alien genes into humans.  

Would they engineer the hybrid to be sterile?

Would such a sterile hybrid be able to Love?  

So, suppose the galaxy is fighting a Trade War, and the object-item-resource being Traded -- the market being cornered -- were fresh human genes.

Many good Science Fiction novels have been written about genetics, even interstellar civilizations at war, and many of the "species" involved are genetic hybrids between Earth humans and Earth animals.  S. Andrew Swann is master of complex galactic civilizations, plots-and-counter-plots, all mixed up with arcane (and fantasy) genetics.
S. Andrew Swann creates many complex and compeling Relationships for his Characters, but not Romance Genre.  Check out the Moreau Omnibus.
This does not narrow the choice of Theme very much.  There is the morality of genetic commerce to explore, and there is the morality of mixing species to discuss.  There are the ramifications of creating such living hybrids -- what are they?  What rights do they have?  What will they do to assert those rights?  

So another thing humans and Aliens might go to War over would be the entire spectrum of "rights," "priveleges," and where there are no rights or priveleges, then "power."  

Leading science fiction writers, such as David Brin and Robert Sawyer, have suggested interstellar commerce, especially with Aliens, would be conducted in beamed transmissions of coded patterns from which things can be constructed - 3-D printing of genetic constructs.  The human genome has already been "reduced" to code, to numbers.  

So the transport of physical objects might not be what "commerce" means among Alien civilizations.  

Knowledge -- that Ph.D. concept of adding something new to the sum total of human knowledge -- could be what is trafficed via interstellar commerce.  

Jack Campbell has done Interstellar War (two wonderful, related, series) among human factions, with some Aliens fomenting the humans to a 100 year war by playing "Let's You And Him Fight" so they can pick off the weakened winner later.

His books depict wonderful space battles that use plausible understanding of time and distance, plus 3-dimensional maneuvering.  The technology is likewise plausible.  And there are some good Love Stories!  
Jack Campbell's themes center on the Human Spirit, and the value of the individual in combination with differently talented individuals.  He relies on inherent personality, plus acquired skills, to round out his Characters.
Ownership can be very sexy.  We often evoke the satisfaction of "possessing" in depicting sexuality.

And we have seen what the Creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer did with professionalism in Prostitution in Firefly.

 Read the one-line descriptions of the episodes to get an overview.

Note in Serenity -- "precious salvaged cargo" -- in The Train Job "cargo turns out to be badly needed medication" -- in Shindig we have a "smuggling transaction."

The prostitution/companion hired-woman concept is about "commerce" and the material goods being moved theme is about commerce.  Commerce is the envelope theme, and each story depicts a sub-theme of commerce.

In Old Mrs. Reynolds it says:

After ridding a peaceful planet of a group of bandits, Mal and his crew are honored for their heroism. But when he returns to the Serenity, a horrified Mal is told he inadvertently married one of the local women during the celebration.
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Bandit, married, two types of commerce, as is "being Honored."  The trade of tangible and intangible value -- commerce.  Firefly is famous for the lack of non-human Characters.  What if there were non-humans? 

See how tight, focused, pointed the thematic structures are, then see how the fans of this show react to the show. Few, if any, fans will say they are reacting to the tightness of the thematic bundle structure -- but that tightness almost always attracts dedicated fans.

Inside the envelope of "Commerce" -- you find your statement, your theme, your reason why you want to write this particular story.  For example, "All commerce is good."  "Commerce is only trade for profit."  "All commerce leads to war."  "Trade is Trickery."  

Pick some statement about barter, value, as a theme and it will instantly define the Main Character and the Mate to that Character.  The Plot begins when the two meet, working at cross-purposes, or to similar goals but by different methods.  See again, the film, The African Queen.

If your theme is, "All commerce is good and leads to Peace," your Main Character may be trying to Open Trade Negotiations with Aliens while the Soul Mate Character is a thief, grifter, guerrilla warrior, freedom fighter, or just plan smuggling scalawag. 

Or perhaps the Soul Mate is an Alien guerrilla marketer looking to promote a product on the cheap to humans.  Maybe the product would be the Fountain of Youth for humans, or perhaps it would be the most potent poison known (possibly a drug that gives a High then kills.)  Or maybe he's selling Tribbles.  Or perhaps he's selling "protection." 

Choose the Soul Mate's endeavor or business model from the master theme, and give it a sub-theme of that set.  

For example: "All commerce leads to Peace" might generate the sub-theme for the Soul Mate of the Trade Deal Negotiator of "Creative Accounting is in the Cost of Doing Business" (meaning skimming and bribes are included in the shelf-tag price as are tariffs.)

The skimming, bribes, etc. are a normal part of an employee's compensation in many countries, and there the Peace Shattering Offense would be to object to skimming or bribery.

Many low or minimum wage employees in the USA today look at Office Pilfering and approximating the "petty cash" envelope's due when making change out of it as a legitimate part of their compensation for loyalty to their jobs. 

So suppose your Trade Negotiator tried to hire a local for the equivalent of what we call minimum wage.  Then various items go missing from the Embassy offices.  That is PLOT generated from Theme via Character.  "Items go missing" is a Plot Event that illustrates the envelope theme of Commerce and the sub-theme of Creative Accounting (minimum wage being redefined as only part of the job's compensation.)  What your Main Character does in response to discovering items missing is Plot.  Why he/she does it is Story. 

Falling in love with your New Hire, accusing some High Ranking Noble you are negotiating with of petty theft, then discovering the New Hire is your Office Thief generates the STORY that is welded to the Plot via the Theme.  The story is about trust and betrayal, two of the core elements in a Commercial Transaction.  

Entire civilizations and even religions open up behind that bare bones conceptual outline set in a Trade Mission's office where the objective is to make Peace with Aliens, not fleece them.  

Some other member of the Trade Mission may have orders to fleece the Aliens (because it would be stupid to expect to make Peace with Aliens), and see the theft by the New Hire as proof it is morally obligatory to fleece the aliens. That is Story generated by the Setting which is generated by the Theme.  

Each of the characters has family, trigger issues, blind spots, and mission-critical, life-or-death results to deliver to superiors.  Each of these Character Traits is derived from the Master Theme, and depicts the individual Character's theme. 

By the time you have all these elements put together, they become so blended you can not distinguish plot from story from character from theme -- all these elements contain and depict all the other elements.  Often the best way to communicate all that to the Reader is via Symbolism.

Pick a set of elements and blend them into a Depiction of Interstellar Commerce you could write.  As an exercise, you might do three or four outlines of this type.

If you run out of Ideas, check out Polesotechnic League: Book 1 of 7 (also known as The Man Who Counts):

Poul Anderson was famous for his socio-economic science fiction with believable Aliens, derived as I've said many times, by imagining what various Earth animals might be like if they developed intelligence and an interstellar civilization.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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