How to write science fiction for the 21st century


24 May 2018
RR-Haywood-15095.png RR Haywood
Bestselling author RR Haywood on writing science fiction that engages with current society and asks... what if?
How to write science fiction for the 21st century Images


Bestselling author RR Haywood on writing science fiction that engages with current society and asks... what if?

RR Haywood, creator of zombie horror series The Undead, returns with Extinct, the latest in his Extracted series. Extinct explores what would happen if governments weaponised a time machine.

In order to look at ways of connecting your science-fiction book with society, let me ask you some questions.

What is your biggest fear?

Maybe it’s the thought of someone you love suffering, or not being able to pay the bills, or failing in business or in life.

What else is on your mind right now? Are you worried about environmental changes or the impact global warming is having on our lives? What about war? Does that scare you? What if the oil stops flowing? What then?

That was a negative way to start, so in balance, what are the things that give you the most pleasure? What makes you feel all warm and gooey inside?

Spending time with family and loved ones? Maybe thinking about your children fills you with a sense of pride, while at the same time you also feel worried.

How is your love life and relationships? Is that guy at work still being super annoying and using all the coffee milk for cereals?

Maybe, we all wake up in the morning and blunder our way through each day hoping for the best while swinging between ever changing moods of glee, joy, apathy, anxiety and depression then back to absurd joy until we fall into bed to sleep and dream only to repeat and do it all again.

As in life, so in art, and painting any world, or creating any landscape that reflects human behaviours should be true to the person and the best science-fiction remains relatable to our hopes, fears and desires.

Sure, you can show an advanced civilisation but for every degree of change you show between “us” and “them” you run the risk of losing a degree of empathy and understanding which are the hooks that keep us reading.

I’ve read books describing whole new societies that have been richly and, in some regards, beautifully explained, but unless I can see something that connects to humanity then it can very quickly become a nicely written instruction manual.

Likewise, I’ll (hopefully) never be stranded on Mars or have access to a virtual world where incredible adventures take place, but Andy Weir’s The Martian, and Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One allowed me to hook into the character, and then showed me the world they were creating. Star Trek, Star Wars, The Matrix, Guardians of the Galaxy and so many others show complex and varied worlds, but we relate to the people, or beings, within them, regardless of what they look like.

If you get that right, then there is no limit to what you can put into your work of science-fiction.

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Pew pew laser guns fired by armadas of alien warships attacking an asteroid in a far-flung galaxy filled with steampunk airships and AI androids. Go nuts. Go crazy. Go big or go home, but let the characters carry the story.

One other thing to remember: I get in my car and drive it, but I don’t really know how it works. I have a basic understanding but that’s it. The same with most of the other technology in my life. What I am saying is you don’t always need to explain the tech behind the product. Does your character understand how it works? Is it essential to the story? If not, then as long as it is rooted in plausibility, don’t worry too much. I’ve written a time travel series, but I’ve never explained how the time machine works because none of the characters know. It just works so they use it.

However, if you do need to know, or you want to say how your tech works, then get it right. Hollywood keeps on churning out movies where spaceships whoosh past and the sound of explosions and collisions match those on an atmospheric planet, and that might bedazzle the mind of a child but to everyone else it’s just annoying and patronising.

As ever though, there are no set rules in writing and what may work for me or other writers may not be your path to take and the only way you’ll know is by trying.

Go write!

Take care

RR Haywood

Extinct, the third in the bestselling Extracted series by R. R. Haywood is published by 47North.



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