Researching to Write the Impossible

wpid-ps.bepaalgx.170x170-75.jpgIn the celebratory 200th episode of the Adventures in SciFi Publishing podcast, Shaun played an old  intro sound bite from their Chris Roberson interview, “You should never start a creative endeavor that you’re not a little worried might be impossible” (AISFP 75 – Chris Roberson). He commented about how people would rip on that jazz intro music, but I loved hearing that quote from Chris. It was around that time that I began work on my novel, Kaimerus, and was in great need of encouragement to create the impossible.

Kaimerus is described as “Firefly crashes on Avatar and wakes up 28 Days Later.” While I can relate to the main character’s struggle to carry an enormous burden and overcome the weight of imminent failure, I’m not so educated in genetic manipulation, space travel, brain-machine interfaces, and telepathy. Writing a book that describes these sciences in a credible way has often felt impossible.

Writers have to read a lot. I believe it was Tracy Hickman (AISFP 72?) who used the analogy of each new story we read being like adding ingredients to our kitchen cupboard, and if a writer has not read very much, they will have a lack of supply in their mental cupboard to pull out and make their story interesting and unique (i.e. don’t read much in that genre and your story will read like a collection of cliches).

Tracy and Margaret Weis wrote one of the most influential books in my life, Dragons of Autumn Twilight: Chronicles, Volume One (Dragonlance Chronicles). I was always a reader, but that book, at the age of 12, set me on a course of eternal, fantasy-loving dorkery. There are more influences in my novel from this than I could even mention.

I’d like to share a few more of the most helpful books I’ve read (including a giveaway of Germline, stay tuned at end of post), that have helped me in my 3.5 year journey to make Kaimerus scientifically credible as well as an awesome story.

Germline (The Subterrene War Trilogy) by T.C. McCarthy. My main character has a military background, and the planet he gets stranded on is a military colony, but I have no military experience. I know people, thankfully, but where do I even begin asking them for help? Do I read a manual straight from a division of the military? Maybe, but I don’t want to get too bogged down in research. Germline is military science fiction that may be my favorite book across any genre. The story of a journalist on the front lines is addicting and as unpredictably chaotic as I imagine such an experience to be. You feel the terror, the pain, the people around you suffering, the desire to escape, but also the new view on life through the war experience that makes you question if you could survive outside of the chaos of war. Best of all, I gained that experience without having to spend years of my life in training and in the safety of wherever I was reading.

Germline is the first book in T.C.’s Subterrene War trilogy. The second book, Exogene, focuses on a human clone bred to be an assassin, and the third book, Chimera, centers on a human assassin of clones, but in all three books you have a cohesive experience of warriors who are unable to escape war, no matter how damaging it is to those they love. Just thinking about the depth of perspective I now have from reading this series makes me want to get right back into it.

As a big thank you to T.C., who has first hand experience in the CIA, but also used autobiographical styled war novels like Dispatches by Michael Herr, I’m doing a giveaway of the kindle version of Germline (now on sale for $3.99).

If you haven’t heard, I interviewed T.C. on the SF Signal Podcast, and he talks more in depth about building his Subterrene War series from a few unsellable novelettes into a Compton Crook Award winner.

I have other books I want to mention, T.C.. Quit stealing the show!

Nexus, by Ramez Naam (review), was probably the best pickup I could have found in terms of seeing nanotechnology based brain-machine interfaces in a thriller setting. His seamless weaving of technology into the story taught me in as exciting of an experience as if I had just been implanted into Jason Bourne’s head, handed a gun, and told, “Run for your life.”

Ramez and I chatted on AudioTim 41; but Cesar Torres’s podcast did an even better job unpacking the technology behind Nexus. Ramez has an ideal background in nano and emerging technologies, as is seen in his H.G. Wells Award winning nonfiction novel, More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement.

Myke Cole, in his “20 More Minutes with” interview on the Roundtable Podcast, says readers bring a certain expectation to how characters sound. In his Shadow Ops series, (Control Point and Fortress Frontier), he has had to “dial back the reality in some of the dialogues because it didn’t sound military enough,” citing real life examples where military people forget their code words or just plain skip protocol to get a quick message across.
Myke also said in that interview that he hasn’t met an author he respects who hasn’t said that at some point they don’t know what they’re doing. The point seems to be that if you really want it, you’ll work to make it happen.

I could link a dozen places Myke has been online, two are mentioned in my February Spec-Fic-Fetti post.

Two new ones, pertinent to this topic, are on:

Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s blog: “Guest Post: Bitterns and Leucrotas and Amphisbaenas, oh my! (With GIVEAWAY)”, which talks about the research Myke put into the monsters in his Shadow Ops series.

Fantasy Faction: “Catching Up with Myke Cole, Part Two.” The part that struck me about this is how many drafts Myke went through, and how as I endure my third rewrite of Kaimerus (draft five), it is encouraging to see that Myke succeeded through something similar.

Myke, if you’re reading this, that I haven’t read your books yet, or had the chance to get you on AudioTim, is pretty upsetting. I’m doing my best to read through my pile of books, but, you know how that goes.

You know, I started this post to talk about how I’m reading The Mongoliad: Book One (The Foreworld Saga) because of the swordfighting on horseback, and look at what happened. That series is on sale right now, and, stupid kindle, it’s even cheaper than when I bought it last week!

Now, to the giveaway.

Comment below or email me at tim(at)timothycward(dot)com to win a US Kindle version of Germline by T.C. McCarthy.

I’ll announce the winner in the comments on Friday. If they don’t respond in 48 hours, I’ll go down the random list until someone does. T.C.’s book is on sale on Nook as well, so if that’s your reader, I’ll provide that version.

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8 thoughts on “Researching to Write the Impossible”

  1. I’m a bit older than you and was nine years old when I read Door Into Summer by Heinlein. I guess it was a 9 year old’s wet dream come true, but that’s the story that hooked me into Science Fiction.
    I’ve since re-read it a 100 times and it really feels dated now, but then? It was a door that asked me to step through, and I’ve never looked back.

    1. I haven’t read Heinlein yet, but I know what you mean. I struggled going back and reading on in the Dragonlance universe because of the dated style.

      Thanks for stopping by, Tom.

  2. I haven’t gotten to deep into sci if, but I have been wanting too. These shorts reviews all make them sound pretty intriguing.

    1. Asked a coworker to pick a number, and yours came up, Erik! I’ll send you an email with your prize. Thanks everyone for participating.

  3. It is always interesting to see where people’s inspiration comes from.

    I often think it would be hard to break into the SF field without being someone who is knowledgeable about the science stuff, but the reality is that you do have to sometimes just go for the impossible, take some chances, and see what happens.

    Very happy that you continue to go for it.

    On an unrelated note, Hugh Howey is going to be here (Kansas City) next week and I’m going to the reading. Can’t wait!

    1. How did I not know you were as close as Kansas City? I would like to go to Hugh’s signing, but don’t know yet.

      I forgot to mention The Physics of the Impossible as one of the books I read cover to cover. Very helpful ideas in there. Thanks for stopping by, Carl.

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