I write science fiction cum fantasy cum space opera novels. All of my work includes travel to other worlds, other races of beings, fearsome predatory creatures and amazing technology. I find this genre affords me huge freedoms that writing stories set on earth in the now, don’t. When forming a new planet, a new race of people or a technological gizmo I can let my mind wander where it wants to go without being too bound to today’s rules of physics, biology or engineering. This means I don’t have to do very much research, which is a huge blessing. I don’t have to study engineering or today’s known limits of electrical power and I don’t have to know anything about history. My characters can be whatever I want them to be, do whatever I want them to do and the fact that such things aren’t possible today, doesn’t matter.
Some writers of this genre take this freedom to what is for me, a ridiculous extent. I’ve read books and seen movies containing beings made of gelatinous goop, tentacled ‘things’ and even the famous Star Trek flying fried eggs. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not averse to a tentacle or two here and there but I find the idea of gelatinous gloop with intelligence and reasoning and the power to make the choice to be good or evil, a little too far fetched. My sentient beings are all basically humanoid in appearance and for me this is important for one reason only – it gives the reader a familiar concept to identify with, which they recognise and feel comfortable with. I’m don’t dismiss the concept that out there somewhere is a world with super intelligent blue gloop, it’s just that I think readers need something they recognise to make that initial connection with and which will lead them willingly into the rest of the story.
I do have a ‘bad guy’ character who doesn’t have a physical body at all, but that is still better than flying fried eggs or tentacles with IQ’s higher than mine. With today’s acceptance and interest in all things paranormal, having a baddie who is just a spirit form is not only acceptable these days, but probably desirable. Maybe it’s just me but the concept of intelligent blue gloop or gelatinous tentacles with personalities, is a stretch too far. I’ve ordered my mother to shoot me if I ever put a flying fried egg into one of my books, and she’s agreed to do so..!
My sentient characters are all therefore, humanoid. I start with the basic humanoid structure and then enhance it in whatever way I want. A tweak to a brain function here, a slight adjustment to musculature there and I have a person everyone can recognise and identify with right away, but who is also different enough to us that we can accept him as ‘alien’. This is the only area where I do some research. I have this little quirk, idiosyncrasy if you like, that anything I claim for my character must have some basis in what is known and accepted science today. Even a fairly tenuous link will do, so long as there is a foundation of plausibility upon which I can build and enhance.
For instance, my main characters are Lileans. They are from the planet Lilea and they have a very close working relationship with spirits, with whom they interact and communicate with ease. I have given them this ability as an inherited, genetic trait and I’ll explain my ‘science’ behind it. Within the human brain is an area called the Thalamus. This gland has many functions but I concentrated my focus on two of them. The Thalamus takes in all the raw data brought in by your other five senses and sorts it out so that you can make sense of the world around you; so you can understand your world. The Thalamus is also the gland responsible for altered states of consciousness.
What I did with the Lilean Thalamus, was to make it much bigger than it’s Earth counterpart, more complicated in structure so that the Lileans can enjoy a much greater degree of altered states of consciousness with far more ease than us Earthlings do. I also invented a disease for this gland – Thalamic Breakdown. Sufferers have difficulty making sense of the world around them due to the diseased Thalamus not interpreting the data brought in by the other 5 senses correctly. Sufferers also lose the ability to connect with their spirit friends. I then also invented a drug treatment for this disease – Manopterfilamide THZ7.
Because I’ve based my characters’ abilities in today’s known science, they seem all the more plausible to the reader. I do this with everything concerning the biology of my characters and I feel it gives them a ‘believability’ that flying fried eggs and blue gloop can never have.