Monday, 12 September 2011

Writing a SF Novel: Part 2

To celebrate the upcoming release of my SF novel, Sparks in Cosmic Dust (September 26, 2011, Carina Press), I’ll be posting a five-part look at the book’s development, from initial concept to book launch. I'll also be giving away one SF title from my back catalogue with each segment, ending with a special Sparks giveaway. The winners will be all announced on release day on my own blog:

Here’s where you can find the other installments:

Part 1: Concept (Aug 31)—Contact: Infinite Futures Blog
Part 3: Worldbuilding (Sep 23)—Shawn Kupfer’s Blog
Part 4: The Writing Process (Sep 26)—Cathy Pegau’s Blog
Part 5: Publication (Sep 28)—Carina Press Blog


Survivor: The Deep Space Heroine

Heroines in space opera science fiction have generally conformed to one of two types: decorative damsel or Amazonian warrior, the former in constant need of rescue, the latter all but indestructible yet waiting (though she might not realise it) to be conquered by the hero. Both are iconic male fantasies that cross most fiction genres, and neither really interest me. The plausible science fiction heroine, to me, exists somewhere in between.

I also think the trajectory of feminism into futuristic space opera is overstated, on the whole. In the vastness of deep space, without society’s laws to support or even encourage equality, I find it unlikely that any more than a few women would achieve a position of sustainable power over men. Sure, advanced weaponry would help level the playing field, and she might get to perform all the same jobs as her male colleagues—think Kaylee in Firefly—but unless she’s in some sort of existing hierarchy that demanded obedience (eg military), I think a woman would have to be exceptional to convince her male counterparts to serve under her. That’s why lady pirates have been rare throughout history. Outside the law, it’s survival of the fittest.

But that’s not to say women in deep space wouldn’t be strong characters. On the contrary, they’d have to be formidable survivors. Especially in spaceships or colonies without atmospheres, death would be a constant factor. Anyone living under such conditions would be cautious and pragmatic to a fault. A hardness of character, an instinct for the preciousness of human company, would govern the deep space dweller. And cunning, rather than obvious ambition, might best serve those who don’t immediately command obedience.

Varinia Wilcox—glamour girl with a haunted past

The celebrated strip poker queen of Kappa Max, an asteroid colony beyond the official outposts, might sound like a throwback to the worst sort of damsels in distress from old SF. But Varinia is probably the most cunning survivor on Kappa. She’s managed to remain undefeated—read celibate—throughout her contract, over a year, and it’s made her extremely rich. No one knows about her “coining” (astral projection) ability, but it enables her to cheat whenever she likes. It also ruined her previous career as a model in the inner colonies, through an incident that exiled her to deep space and forced her change her identity. Her new reputation as the unattainable goddess of the outer colonies draws punters from far and wide.

But she can never leave until she’s lost (had sex with a client) five times, as per her contract. So she’s trapped: either keep winning and getting rich OR let five complete strangers have their way with her. Time is running out. She can’t feasibly keep winning forever. She needs a way out.
Teaming with handsome-but-wounded roughneck Solomon Bodine, she hatches a plan to escape Kappa Max for good. But where can she go, and how can she get there? What she needs is to lie low for a while, to have a fresh start.

A chance meeting with cynical ex-doctor Grace Peters offers hope—a prospecting gig on a faraway alien moon, Zopyrus. But to pull it off, Varinia will have to adapt to an entirely new way of living. Hard manual graft, meagre rations, long hours swinging a pick axe: how can a model turned bordello glam girl possibly cope with that for ten months?

One of my favourite parts of writing Sparks in Cosmic Dust was the chance to reveal the characters’ pasts gradually, using their strengths and weaknesses in a given situation as windows to who they were before Zopyrus, and how they might be changing. They all have secrets, some more crucial than others, and the fate of the expedition is never certain.

Varinia’s desire to return to her happy, contented former life is symbolized by her decision to purchase a damaged mare to take along on the expedition. The animal has been ill-used as a beast of burden, but like her, it has survived against all odds. But can it ever be truly happy again, so far outside its milieu? Here’s another concept sketch I did:
Varinia Wilcox might be the most interesting of my SF heroines because she isn’t a natural leader. She doesn’t know engineering or how to pilot a ship or how to kill anyone. Everyone takes her for granted because of her looks. And no one would ever have imagined her digging for precious elements in a dark mine alongside a roughneck, a fugitive, a wily old doctor and a border criminal.

But she has the most important quality in an alien environment: the ability to adapt. And those who adapt...survive.

With this second installment, I’m giving away an ebook copy of my SF novelette Godiva in the Firing Line (Damnation Books, 2009). To enter, simply send an email to with SPARKS GIVEAWAY TWO in the subject line. Don’t forget to give your name.

Good Luck!

Sparks in Cosmic Dust is available to pre-order now at Carina Press and on Amazon Kindle.



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