Here There Be Dragons
Recently I participated in a little light hearted back and forth banter with a friend of mine over the merits of world building in science fiction versus contemporary. She finds writing in contemporary, aka “real” worlds, much easier than creating something for a science fiction scenario. I’m just the opposite. I find trying to put a story in a “real” world format extremely limiting. Trust me, readers get irate over insignificant little errors about where a store is located or whether or not a certain roadway ever existed in said township. Give me the freedom of an imaginary world any day of the week.
Maybe the reason this is easier for me is I simply have to select a part of the known world that is similar in nature to my imaginary world and voilà, instant geography. Why re-invent science when so much of it is evident around us on a daily basis? If plants and animals can survive in the Arctic, why not on Mars? I don’t have to know why certain conditions exist or explain how a desert can be deadly hot in the day and freezing at night. I don’t have to explain why some cave systems are 55 degrees and others are 80. It exists. It happens. Live with it.
Lots of folks (including some scientists) are dead certain we can never colonize Mars. But have you looked at where people live on our own planet? Some of the most inhospitable places around. Humans are highly adaptable and where there’s a will, we find a way. Bolivians in La Paz breathe such a rarified atmosphere most normal humans find themselves dizzy after only a couple of minutes. Trust me. Been there at the airport. Light-headedness is not fun. Take the scientists at McMurdo Base in Antarctica. Oh wait, that’s not real people living and working in a harsh environment. No, those real people live in the northernmost points of Alaska, Russia, Canada, etc. The cold and harsh climate doesn’t slow them down from raising families and living life to the fullest.
The point is people adapt to any environment if they have a strong enough motivation and reason. We harness incredible energy and find ways to adapt it and use it that could almost be considered “magic.” We have learned to grow food in new and creative ways. We design shelters and habitats to protect in a wide range of harsh climates. A quick search on the Internet shows most of the technology needed to colonize Mars already exists. We just don’t have an incentive to do so yet.
Meanwhile, I’ll continue to draw on earthly environments and experiences to create my imaginary planets. After all, that’s what good writers do: we take our own experiences and the experiences of others and repackage them into worlds that are at once familiar and strange. If we do it right, we often surprise our readers with how comfortable they are in a different place.