So tonight I want to talk about a book and a TV show, both of which reflect concepts that I wish I found more often within the world of sci-fi. This topic comes up as I’ve spent most of this evening outlining a variety of aspects of the novel I plan to write during NaNoWriMo this year. I’ll be incorporating both concepts, and I find myself wondering if other people think this stuff is as interesting as I do.
First off… the book, really a trilogy, Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler consists of the novels Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago. I was introduced to Butler’s writing in an African American lit course in college and fell in love. I devoured her collected works over the course of about six months, and in the end, Lilith’s Brood became my favorite. I don’t want to do a full review of the series (I will eventually, I promise) so that I can get to the themes I want to talk about it, but you should trust me that these books are awesome.
The theme from Lilith’s Brood that I found fascinating was the idea of a gene trade, and a race of beings that thrives as genetic traders. In Dawn the Oankali discover Earth suffering through the end of a devastating world war that has unleashing atomic destruction across the world. They heal the planet and begin the process of merging their genetic make-up with the best parts of human DNA. No Darwinism for these guys, they engineer their own evolution. While the Oankali are not depicted as 100% virtuous, from the human perspective, they cannot be said to be evil either. They’re complex, and their interaction with humanity in the novels is intriguing, to say the least. Overall we see this interaction being beneficial, and spurred by the best of intentions.
One of the enemies I’ve created for the characters of my novel to deal with are a species of genetic parasites. Beings who use genetic manipulation to colonize a world, strip it of it’s technology and resources and left it behind like so much trash. They are sentient beings, but I want to explore the idea of human morality not being valid on a galactic scale… these beings are simply existing the way their species has for as long as they can remember. How would a civilization counter this aggressive type of manifest destiny?
The second element/plot device/concept that FASCINATES me is the Dyson Sphere, which I was introduced to through the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Relics.” It’s kind of an esoteric topic, so by way of description, Wikipedia describes a Dyson Sphere as:
A Dyson sphere is a hypothetical megastructure originally described by Freeman Dyson. Such a “sphere” would be a system of orbiting solar power satellites meant to completely encompass a star and capture most or all of its energy output. Dyson speculated that such structures would be the logical consequence of the long-term survival and escalating energy needs of a technological civilization, and proposed that searching for evidence of the existence of such structures might lead to the detection of advanced intelligent extraterrestrial life.
In the Star Trek episode, the sphere existed as a solid sphere constructed around a star at roughly the distance of Earth’s orbit, on average. Such a sphere would be able to harness the complete solar power output of the star and provide a huge amount of liveable space on the interior surface, assuming one could sort out the inherent gravity issues. Unfortunately, the materials needed for its construction would likely be more that those contained within the entire solar system. A network of satellites, or a system of concentric rings would both be more scientifically plausible.
Happily, science fiction as a genre doesn’t require overly much real-world plausibility, simply enough for continued suspension of disbelief. The second half of my novel is barely a gleam in the back of my brain at this point, but I’m considering incorporating the Dyson sphere as the homeland of my genetic parasites. My thinking is that something like a solid Dyson sphere that had been in existence for millennia would make it nearly impossible for anyone to take the fight to the enemy’s doorstep, as the light from that doorstep would have been extinguished. Lights off means nobody’s home, right?
I probably need to do ALOT more research on the hard science behind all of this, but for this November, I’m just gonna go with what sounds good to me. What do you guys think? What other concepts within sci-fi really get you going?