I’ve shoveled the driveway six times in the past two days.
After digging out from the “Sixth Worst Blizzard In Minnesota History!”, we are facing several days of sub-zero temperatures (-10 F) and brutal wind chills (ranging from -15 to -40). It started me wondering why no one has ever attempted to write a hard science fiction novel set on a world with a biology, ecology and sociology that would match Frank Herbert’s and Brian Herbert & Kevin Anderson’s DUNE books.
Not that we aren’t happy sending our heroes TO snow worlds! Luke Skywalker nearly died on the drifts of Hoth and Captain Kirk was almost eaten on the ice fields of Delta Vega in one time line and sentenced to prison on the Klingon ice moon of Rura Penthe in another.
Ursual K. LeGuin’s THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS takes place on Winter or Gethe and while the world is certainly cold and dreary, the planet serves as metaphor to support her exploration of human sexuality, rather than representing a “real” world.
CJ Mills (a former Minnesotan) also created Winter World – though it seemed her intent there was to form a chilly backdrop for steamy romance and hot-blooded intrigue. More recently, Catherine Asaro used the world of Skyfall for the same purpose – done well, but really not much more than backdrop.
I have two theories. The first is that a winter world is BOR-ing! Everyone has snow. Everyone’s been in a blizzard. Ice is something you put in drinks. Northern animals are mostly dull (though moose are kinda cool, reindeer gave rise to Rudolph and polar bears rock). Santa’s about the only exciting thing to come out of the Poles, and that’s only one night a year. Polar societies are also “primitive” (I’m reading GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL by Jared Diamond, so I’m saying that tongue-in-cheek) and there’s nothing war-mongering about Inuit in kayaks spearing narwhals. Besides, everyone knows what goes on under the blankets on cold winter nights…certainly nothing worth writing SERIOUS science fiction about.
Deserts on the other hand, have always fascinated us with their mystery. Say desert and you think of Bedoins, Lawrence of Arabia, Queen Nefertiti and King Tut and the Pyramids of Egypt!
Say arctic and you think of snowshoe hares, blubber chewing, mushing and eating sticks of butter for breakfast. Hardly the stuff of major fiction and certainly not interesting enough to get a film option.
The other theory though intrigues me and what started as a small bug has grown into the beginning of a collection of notes and a name: Sirmiq. It’s an Inuit word for “glacier”. Sirmiq will be the name of a world I have in mind to build. It will be an exceedingly difficult job.
That’s why I don’t think anyone has really tried before. It’s too hard. For one thing, it’s impossible to have life evolve in such a cold place, right? You need black smokers or boiling lava or something else to provide the energy to drive evolution. Life can’t EVOLVE in a place like that! You need heat to drive the passion that makes story!
Lemme see, I’ll grant that you need insolation or radiation or geothermals and liquid water as well as basic elements and minerals to drive the formation of amino acids…but what if it happened even more slowly that it happened here? What if, at lower temperatures all that stuff still happened, just at a slower pace? What would happen to higher life forms that evolved from the slower-paced unicellular life? Is slower necessarily bad – AIDS is not a “fast” disease and doesn’t manifest itself in outward symptoms until it’s nearly too late to do anything about it. What if every life form was like that?
See, I think to do this – for me to create SIRMIQ – I’ll need to do a James Michener. In CENTENNIAL, he started the novel with the formation of Earth and the
I’ve only just begun research, but it’s promising. I’ve written a couple of experimental stories on Sirmiq, but neither one has sold, though one, “The Stars Like Nails” has evolved from one kind of story into something totally different and I have yet to write that "new" story. I have a clear image though: a man sitting on an ice block; across from him an old Inuit woman in a tent; between them, a body on a long block of ice; to one side, the wing of a shuttlecraft shelters them all from heavily falling snow. I think I know where it’s going…
What do you think is the reason we don’t have a cold world on par with DUNE – too boring or too difficult?
Me? I’m opting that no one’s had the guts to really try it!