In 2005, whilst perusing the shelves at the Hennepin County Public Library, I stumbled across CHANGING VISION by Julie Czerneda (say it: chur-nay-dah), an author I'd never heard of, and was intrigued by the aliens on the cover by artist Luis Royo. It didn’t matter that the book was the second in a series, the cover entranced me and so I read. The book was spectacular, I read others, and fell entirely in love with another series of hers called SPECIES IMPERATIVE for its fascinating aliens and superior characterization. A teacher deeply at heart, Julie Czerneda shares ideas and methodology wherever she goes. On her website, http://www.czerneda.com/classroom/classroom.html she shares ideas for writers. I want to share what kind of impact her ideas have had on my own writing. They are used with the author’s permission.
“Consequence: The answer this particular story provides to your ‘what if’ speculation.”
I am at the very beginning of a story I have waited a long time to write and I can’t get get it right...
I realized yesterday that the reason I can’t get the beginning right is that I’m not sure what the consequences of the “what if” is.
The scenario: In a universe without intelligent aliens – at least as far as we can tell – Humanity has created its own aliens through genetically engineering itself for multiple and extreme environments.
We have done this to such an extent that a segment of Humanity cried “foul!” and broke off, forming its own Empire far from this creation of alien life forms. The Empire forbids this extreme engineering and has come to “grade” Humans based on the amount of engineering they were created with. If you are 65% “unaltered base Human genome as compared to the 20th Century Human Genome Project parameters”, then you are Human. If you are only 64% unmodified, you are NOT Human and are exiled or terminated.
The story takes place in this Confluence & Empire universe, on a border world settled by the most cold-hardy souls from Old Earth.
An ambassador and his wife had their son gengineered to be a Human translating construct. He wanted nothing to do with it and became a musician instead, plying his trade on the superhabitable world Yuán, orbiting Alpha Centauri B. Dad’s career is going down the tubes, and so he “kidnaps” his son to try to force this cold world to choose entry in the Confluence.
Success in this would do nothing to hurt his lapsed reputation, and the presence of a unique life-extending substance found there would perhaps seal for him a place of honor in the Confluence. It might also heal their estrangement and allow the man to return to his wife, who separated from him when he would not release his son to his own career.
His son is murdered.
I seem to have reached the climax without ever starting the story. But I don’t want this to be a “simple” palace intrigue story with a sad ending. I want to know what this man will do, sitting on a windswept, frozen plateau, waiting to be picked up with the body of his son. What will his ex-wife do? What will his friends do? What will he do when his pathetic career ends abruptly with this tragedy?
Should he just kill himself? He has a knife and he understands what he could do. He is sitting outside on deathwatch over the body. He could simply take off his hotsuit and let the cold take him – a slow death of increasing numbness followed by a permanent sleep.
But there is a third person. An elderly Inuit-Norwegian woman; silent on her ice block stool, she just watched him. Who is she? Why is she here?
Our “hero” has no idea. They do not speak the same language – she uses the patois of English, Norwegian, and Russian with a smattering of French, Urgul, Quechua, Spanish, and Chinese words thrown in for good measure. That’s why he brought his son. He can say simple phrases.
So there’s the set up. Julie Czerneda asks me to determine the CONSEQUENCE of this “what if” I’ve set up. I know that the consequence is complex. That’s why I resisted writing this story until I thought I was skilled enough to handle it. It’s also not going to be a “standard” science fiction story. It leans in the direction of literary stories. To that end, I’m currently rereading Ursula K. LeGuin’s THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS. It’s science fiction, for sure. It’s characters, while “alien” are a Human variant that has returned to what we might call a primitive state of sexuality – in order to mate, they must be “in heat” like a dog or a cat or a horse. Of course, she stirs the pot more thoroughly by adding that these Humans can change gender when they go into heat (kemmer, she calls it). She spends the book exploring the CONSEQUENCES of such a world and did such a good job, she won both the Hugo and the Nebula – and a place on the “assigned reading” list of countless colleges.
So – consequences of the “what if”...
I am still pondering – but the truth is that writing this essay has given me some ideas and it has clarified what I am about! So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a story to work on!