Aloha again, everyone. While Charlie's off on vacation in the tropics, I thought I'd talk a little about my own near-tropical home of Hawaii, looking at it from a writer's point of view. I've lived in Hawaii since I was ten years old and, while I can safely say it's no utopia, overall, things are pretty decent here and as a general rule, people are helpful and friendly. We've been designated the happiest state in the USA for the fourth year running, for good reason.
But is Hawaii a good place to grow a science fiction career? The lack of working SFF novelists here seems to indicate otherwise. The two that I know of are myself and Kate Elliott, and we're on different islands.
Another negative indicator—as much as I hate to say it—is that there isn't a big fan base here, especially for the kind of extrapolative SF I like best. When was the last time you attended a science fiction convention in Hawaii, right? (For those interested, there is a big and growing anime convention called Kawaii-kon... but that isn't quite what I'm talking about.)
So Hawaii lacks SFF writers as well as active fans, and traveling anywhere else to meet them requires at minimum a five-hour plane flight, because we are a long way from anywhere. Professionally then, it's an isolated existence. Still, there are advantages to living here. Metaphorically speaking, Hawaii has a multitude of worlds.
Thanks to our unique geography, these islands contain many different habitats, convenient to see and to experience and, for an SFF writer, very useful in generating ideas for world building.
We're positioned just north of latitude twenty in the Pacific Ocean, far from any landmass, and we are "high islands," meaning we have significant mountains up to 14,000 feet [4200 meters]. These peaks catch the moisture-bearing trade winds, creating rainforest on one side of an island and a desert rain shadow on the other. Altitude produces additional variation, resulting in a wide range of microclimates over very short distances. It's fascinating to get out and explore.
Living here, I've been able to visit lush, windward shorelines where dense foliage reaches almost to the sea. On leeward coasts, everything is different. I've hiked for miles along a barren, lava-rock shoreline where tough trees grow only in pockets fed by underground springs. It's another adventure to hike through steamy forests, or dense groves of bamboo sheltered within the walls of narrow valleys, with a high waterfall the reward at the end. On other days, on different hikes, there have been cold, moss-laden, cloud forests empty of any sign of human presence beyond the trail, or savannah-like landscapes, with dry grass rustling beneath thorny trees, and the distant lowing of cattle. And at the high volcanic summits: barren cinder fields, storms, and winter snow.
I've rarely set stories in Hawaii, but over and over I've used parts of Hawaii to extrapolate the experience of being on another world, or in another part of this one, taking what I've experienced and changing it, using realistic details while making the story world more dangerous—because while it's nice for me to live in the happiest state in the USA, my characters must struggle and suffer. Excessive happiness is the death of compelling fiction.
So I get to take the relatively benign world-building models I've experienced in Hawaii and make them all much, much worse. To this end, strange, dangerous creatures begin to swim in the sparkling blue offshore waters. The forests become tainted with ancient alien plagues. Artificial life begins to grow in the paddies of innocent farmers. Dense fog on the mountain slopes becomes a deadly nanotech mist. And soldiers powered by exoskeletons move at night through a savannah landscape, watched over by an unseen drone.
There are settings I haven't used yet, but still might someday. We have two active volcanoes, one that has been continuously erupting for thirty years, and when the wind is in the wrong direction, we have the dense air pollution the volcano generates, known as "vog" (volcanic+smog). Here on Maui, it sometimes looks like the fumes of Mordor have rolled in to envelope us.
And beyond the landscapes, we have the people. According to the US Census Bureau via Wikipedia, we have a small population of only about 1.3 million residents, but they're a diverse mix: 38.6% Asian, 24.7% White/Hispanic, 23.6% from two or more races, and 10.0% native Hawaiians and other Pacific islanders. The culture here is strongly influenced by native Hawaiian as well as by Asian cultures, particularly that of Japan, yielding diverse points of view to adapt into fiction.
So Hawaii has a lot of advantages for an SFF writer, but of course we don't have everything. Travel does open your eyes—which is why I'm heading east in a few weeks to visit Washington, D.C. My newest novel, The Red: First Light, is the beginning of a trilogy. In the second book, The Red: Trials, the opening takes place in Washington. There's nothing in Hawaii that can stand-in for the American capital, and while I can get a sense of the setting from Google Street View, I want to see it for myself, be there, experience it. Feed the process that blends reality with imagination, to make the best story out of it that I can.