I just finished a class in World Building at a local college. It was taught by a wonderful teacher who is so full of knowledge and experience — Phil Athans. This is his blog, look him up. In this class we learned how to create a ‘bible’ that is so essential for anyone writing Science Fiction or Fantasy. We looked at books and movies that were consistent about their world’s rules – something we don’t really notice until there’s a book or movie that blatantly disregards all rules and just did it ‘Because’. I bet you can think of a few right now.
So I spent the last few weeks going over the world of the Ark Chronicles, in particular my first installment Generation Zero. It’s been great fun drawing pictures, maps and rethinking the rules of my world. Of course I did this three years ago when I started writing this story and over time, some of the rules changed, as did the story with each revision. I have bits of paper and files on several computers with all my musings and thoughts. But this time, I got myself ONE notebook and compiled it all into one place, and added my terrible, unartistic drawings and stick figure illustrations.
Then it came to the science in my science fiction. Phil said different writers use different proportions of science and fiction – for example, your story might be 90% fiction ad 10% science, or vice versa. I’m not sure where I fall but I’m aiming for somewhere in the middle.
Generation Zero is what I call ‘near future sci fi’. It’s set in 2081 and the problem with that is almost as soon as I write something or make something up, the real world of science tells me, “It’s been done,” or “We’re almost there.” (Admittedly I also ignore the “That can’t be done” and the husband’s comment “You’re changing the rules of physics!” Yeah well, that’s the ‘fiction’ part. I can hear him cringe.)
When I read about or watch on TV about the new stuff that’s coming out, I grunt and moan and then try to go one step further in my story so that my ‘science’ isn’t outdated before the book is done. Science progresses so quickly, it’s dizzying!
And no less so in today’s issue – food.
When you put a thousand people on a starship for thirty years, they’re going to need to be fed, especially if they’re also expected to reproduce in space. I’d done quite a bit of research on this topic and thought I’d had it down. But of course I don’t. And I discovered this while having breakfast this morning, over a cup of tea, a waffle (yes, broke my diet – couldn’t resist my husband’s offering. It’s Saturday) and a Time Magazine.
In the March 25, 2013 issue of Time magazine (I couldn’t find an online version of the article yet) there’s a short piece entitled “Grow a Burger“. It’s about In Vitro Meat. There’s even a Consortium for this research. It began at a workshop held at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences June 15, 2007 and research is continuing to this day to try and create meat in a lab, so that we don’t have to kill animals to eat. The Time Magazine article quotes Winston Churchill in 1931, saying “Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or the wing.”
Maybe it took more than fifty years, but isn’t this fascinating? Scientists are taking meat cells, a.k.a myoblasts, cells that would normally grow into muscle, and are prompting them to grow into actual meat with real flavor. The Huffington Post had an article about it too in 2012, calling it Frankenfood. Please understand that I’m not thinking about the realities of this yet. We’re still a way away from this being on our tables, and I’m sure we’ll have to consider the ethics, the safety and all those issues. I’m thinking purely as an SFF writer at this time.
The way I look at it is, if we have to send people out into space for long journeys, as in Generation Zero, we won’t have to load the ship with livestock for food, or make everyone vegetarian. Having read a few sci fi books in a similar vein to mine, these have been the typical solutions. I too had livestock on the Ark II (the starship I created), but they died — couldn’t survive the space radiation. I resorted to cloning them one at a time.
But now look what we can do! We only need tissue samples from animals in order to grow them into steaks, chops or wings.
Thank you, world of science for giving us SFF writers such great fodder (no pun intended) to work with. I wonder what you’ll come up with next?