It’s a bit difficult to know where to start. Really I suppose I’m trying to explain what I wanted to achieve in a book without spoiling it for those who haven’t yet read it.
I drifted sideways from Fantasy to Sci-Fi with my book ‘Justice 4.1 (The Tsarina Sector). I regard SF and Fantasy as a continuum rather than two separate genres. Hard SF is very much at one edge of the continuum, Space Opera is much closer to Fantasy.
Tackling a new field, I wanted to try and achieve something I’d never really attempted with Fantasy, I wanted to show the ‘alien-ness’ that is possible within humanity. Matthew Hughes explained it best in his book, ‘The Other’.
I’ll quote him, rather than try and explain it myself;-
“At that moment, Imbry experienced an instance of the abrupt mental dislocation that often struck those who travelled widely among the Ten Thousand Worlds. He had heard it called the ‘Bump’ or the ‘dissonance’ and had encountered it himself more than once. It was the psychic shock suffered by a human being from one world who suddenly became aware that the person from some other world with whom he was innocently interacting possessed a radically, perhaps chillingly, different mindscape.
The two might be chance-met in a tavern. They would fall into innocent chat about inconsequential matters, each convinced by the other’s views on the weather or the quality of the beer that they were like-minded in all that matters. Until one of them offers an offhand comment about the tedium involved in having to sell his surplus offspring, or enthuses salaciously about next week’s public evisceration of a malefactor whose crime turns out to be something like scratching a buttock within ten paces of the portrait of a local saint.
An icy frisson passes through the stranger. He holds himself perfectly still though his eyes dart about, alarmed. Shadows seem to gather about him. All at once it seems perfectly possible, even likely, that the bland couple sitting at an adjacent table, or the idlers in the street outside might without warning show fangs and unsheathe claws, leap upon the hapless visitor, and turn an until-now pleasant excursion into an impromptu abattoir.”
How do you write ‘the Bump’? Is it possible to allow the reader to experience it or is it merely something you describe the characters experiencing?
I’ve got theories, (or less pompously) I’ve got a feeling that it can be done, but I think that to do it, the universe and the characters must seem normal. They must be people that the reader can empathise with and like. Once you’ve achieved this, you might be able to have your characters and readers go through ‘the Bump’ together. Perhaps.
But still, I wanted to bring into the story things that were of striking normality, experiences the readers could imagine and might want to share. Here’s one of them:-
“When Haldar and Bartan arrived back it was still dark, the streets were quiet, bicycle rickshaws taking the last of the revellers home. Padro was waiting to pilot them in his own flitter. As they flew north and east, Bartan peered down into the darkness spreading out below them. They passed over the lights of the city, then the suburbs, until finally below them was largely dark.
Finally Bartan, sniffing appreciatively, said. “I’m finally beginning to feel at home.”
”Why’s that?” Padro asked, curiously.
“The subtle chife of night soil carried on the breeze,” Bartan explained.
Padro waved a proprietorial arm, as if encompassing the entire plain. “I was born down there.”
Haldar leaned over the side of the flitter and asked, “What are those lights?”
Below them were hundreds of tiny pinpricks of light, concentrated in a rectangular area, perhaps a thousand yards long and a hundred yards wide.
Bartan glanced down. “I’d guess they’re little weeding droids. Are they Padro?”
“Yes, the lights are so you can find the damned things when you need to move them to the next plot.”
“They’re little things about the size of a fist,” Bartan explained to Haldar, “big enough to carry recognition software and pair of snips.”
Haldar was still watching the lights in the darkness. “Why the parallel sides to the area they’re working in?
Bartan asked Padro, “It looks like you use standard half meter soil pipes.”
“Indeed, then they feed into fifteen mil pipes running between plots and we use the usual commercial solar pumps to keep things moving.”
Bartan nodded. “There’s your answer Haldar, the pipes mark the sides of the plot. They serve a combination fertiliser and irrigation system. At least I’d assume irrigation, are there waste water reservoirs, so that you can dilute for irrigation purposes?”
There was pride in Padro’s voice. “Yes, fertiliser and irrigation, but the reservoirs are buried, we don’t waste land. The fifteen mil pipes take standard fittings so you just go in and set up the rain-guns when you want to irrigate a plot.”
Bartan said, “I’ve moved rain-guns in my time. I assume that those down there have their own solar panel to power their pumps.”
“They do.” Padro smiled as he reminisced. “I used to move and service rain-guns before I made enough money to start my first night club.”
“Jarado B14 Masticators in line to keep things chopped up fine and moving, stop the nozzles blocking?” Bartan asked.
“No, we use the big B145, but you only need one every twenty miles.”
Bartan nodded to Haldar. “Ever seen a Jarado Masticator working?”
Haldar sounded a little bemused. “Unless they’ve taken to fitting them to warships, it’s a branch of technology that’s passed me by.”
“They’re impressive. They break things down so completely that they’ll rupture cell membranes. They’ll even break up waste wood that gets into the system.”
“I suppose that’s impressive.”
”It is.” Bartan glanced at Padro. “On New Charity, we reckon they’ll break down a human body in a couple of minutes, and ten minutes later the murder victim is spread over a hundred acres of wheat.”
“Look,” Padro said, “Haldar has a nasty, suspicious mind and doesn’t need encouraging. How about we go down to ground level and take in the dawn?”
Bartan gave a broad smile, “now you’re spoiling me. It might even keep Haldar from mentally running through his missing persons file to see how many have been recycled as fertiliser.”
Padro brought the flitter down and landed it on a dirt road. He switched off the engines, and as they slowly stopped spinning, silence returned to the area. The three men sat quietly for some minutes, watching the first red glow appear on the underside of the clouds. The glow spread, reds, orange, even a hint of purple, and then there was the first rays of the sun. Day had broken.
Suddenly there came the sound of a score of little motors starting up. Bartan tapped Haldar on the shoulder and pointed. On the nearest rain-gun the solar panel was slowly rotating to face the east. Along both edges of the plot a score or more of other rain-guns mimicked the action. As they watched, the sound of the motors grew louder, and then as Star MM43-62 showed her full face, all the rain-guns blasted a ruby laden coruscating fan of water into the air. The rain-guns of Akin saluted the dawn.”