When people ask me about what I do, I often say I have the best job in the world. I get to make stuff up for a living. And, yeah, that’s pretty damned awesome. But it’s also a somewhat flippant response along with being an incomplete one.
Being a writer means you do live in the “world of pure imagination. . .” (Sorry, not sorry for the earworm!)
But that imagination, even if one is writing the fantastic, is based on or extrapolated from the real world. In fact, there is a degree of irony in that we in the speculative fiction business strive to write ‘the other’ but ‘other’ is created in relationship to the known.
In my work, I strive to create worlds that are realistic in their unreality, or perhaps simply internally consistent and cohesive. And often, much of what I write is seated in the known. This is what I believe is behind the (incomplete and often wrongly cited) advice to ‘write what you know.’ Rather, I take what I know about and twist it into what interests me.
My most recent book is book 2 of an ongoing Science Fiction series (Halcyone Space) whose world, characters, and problems I have been developing and expanding for several years now. In book 1 (DERELICT), one of my characters uses his knowledge of music – both theory, composition, and performance – to communicate with a damaged artificial intelligence. I am neither a computer engineer/programmer nor a musician, but I know enough about both fields (along with a good deal of competence in neuroscience and motor learning from my physical therapy background) to make a plausible case why Barre’s music would effectively reach the AI. It seemed to make perfect sense to readers and worked well for them, for the character, and for the story.
In book 2, (ITHAKA RISING), a character is struggling with the after effects of a head injury. Again, I was able to use my knowledge base to create a believable situation in a future world. One in which Jem’s best treatment option was a risky neural implant procedure. In the world of Halcyone Space, this technology was an offshoot of smart prostheses that received, enhanced, and transmitted brain waves to control artificial limbs. I knew that there had been some research into this in ‘real’ life. In the past few weeks, I’ve seen references to two different articles that could have been pulled from the history of my SF novels.
This is one about the development of brain-wave controllable prosthetic limbs.
This is one about direct brain wave control of electronic devices.
Pretty cool, right?
In the books, space travel happens in two ways: through interstitial (or regular space as we conceive of it) and jump space (using worm holes.) I allude to the early worm hole explorers – who jumped before science understood the need for temporal shielding – as being susceptible to jump sickness. This was essentially an uncoupling of personal time from elapsed time, so that the afflicted pilots had, at best, persistent and disabling deja vu, and at worse, lost all sense of cause and effect. Then I found a link to this article that posits schizophrenia as being primarily a disorder of temporal logic.
From the article:
The cohesiveness of consciousness is essential to our judgments about cause and effect—and, therefore, to our sense of self. In one particularly sneaky experiment, Eagleman and his team asked volunteers to press a button to make a light blink—with a slight delay. After 10 or so presses, people cottoned onto the delay and began to see the blink happen as soon as they pressed the button. Then the experimenters reduced the delay, and people reported that the blink happened before they pressed the button.
Eagleman conjectured that such causal reversals would explain schizophrenia. All of us have an internal monologue, which we safely attribute to ourselves; if we didn’t, we might think of it as an external voice. So Eagleman has begun to run the same button-blink experiment on people diagnosed with schizophrenia. He reported that changing the delay time did not cause them to change their assessment of cause and effect. “They just don’t adjust,” Eagleman said. “They don’t see the illusion. They’re temporally inflexible.” He ventured: “Maybe schizophrenia is fundamentally a disorder of time perception.” If so, it suggests new therapies to cajole the brains of schizophrenic patients into recalibrating their sense of timing. [emphasis mine]
That just blew me away, given my imagined disability of jump sickness.
One of my favorite parts of being a writer is when I can either extrapolate from current world reality into my fiction or when something in my fiction echoes some new find in current science.
So, yeah, I’m a writer. I get to make stuff up for a living and I can’t imagine (no pun intended) a better life.