At time of writing, my Book Summaries page indicates that I am working on two books at once.
But it’s much worse than that. Grab a coffee, pull up a chair and listen to the salutary tale of a beginner…
In late 2011, I had sold my consultancy and was looking forward to a retirement of creativity – writing and acting. I began to sketch-out my rough ideas for a science-fiction novel. It soon became obvious that I had enough material for three or four books and that my characters were spontaneously developing interactions and motives I had never dreamed of. A bout of illness and two house removals later (don’t ask) and I had 150 A4 pages of what I thought to be a good start.
Then it became complicated. Bear with me – it also might be entertaining and informative.
As my stories explore humanity in the far future, recovering from a star-spanning disaster, the scene needs to be set and the universe defined, in order that the events are coherent, the technology is consistent and the culture is credible. I know, imagine a SF writer wanting a fleshed-out, credible environment as a stage for his characters to perform on!
Like all world-builders, I had so much to say that the world-description was taking over from the story. How could I convey the long history and the richness of this exciting new culture without it becoming a textbook?
I remembered the admonition, “show, don’t tell”, and allowed my characters to make throwaway references to “the quarantined Homeworld”, “the First Exodus”, “the Automek Wars” and others to react to these references. In context, these remarks and responses were mostly sufficient to reference a key historical event.
I carefully avoided the old trap of, “Bob, you know that we fled from the Homeworld because of…”.
This future culture was so richly-defined, there was so much to cover – are there aliens? where is artificial intelligence? what was the disaster? what caused the disaster? what about religion? where does Earth figure? OK, I told myself, I can handle all that in natural, conversational asides.
Beyond that lay matters not so easily dismissed – longevity, FTL travel, energy harvesters, biogems… Suddenly, I found myself staring into the Chthonic, Undead face of that horror of the SF genre, that page-spanning, life-sapping exposition known as… the infodump!
Page after page of technical information and explanation lay spread before me, an obstacle I must overcome before I could advance. Clearly, I had a limited range of choices. I could proceed with a cardboard-thin future and lose all self-respect or I could clog up the works with backstory and infodump or…
Was there another way?
(… to be continued)