John Meaney: July 2011 Archives

Yes, it's made out of people, but I don't mean the food - I mean the society in which any SF novel takes place. (I could've quoted Margaret Thatcher instead, about there being no such thing as society, but only to negate her sentiment.) It's something like the Gestalt notion of perception, of seeing a foreground object only against its background, content in its context - characters in their culture.

Of course a novel's scientific extrapolation, whether wild or logically reasoned, may already drive the fictional culture in a particular direction. Even so, you want something twisty and interesting, rather than straightforward. For me, much of the background is a natural part of the tapestry - in other words, as flashes of scenes come to me, the people's interactions are driven by how they are related. Those relationship types might be peculiar to the context: officer/private, master/slave.

I'm not really a political writer, I don't think, but my most overtly political world-building belongs to my books set furthest in the future (a 35th-century colony world, isolated for 1200 years) and those set closest to the present day - somewhere between 10 and 30 years from now.

World-building - where do we begin? For me it's a top-down, bottom-up, sideways-in, you-name-it accretion of (primarily visual) insights. The very word insight suggests visualization. (We're mixing physics and metacognition here.)

I like weird, abstract ideas on the edge of our understanding. Previously I mentioned the arrow of time and the transactional interpretation of quantum physics. When dreaming up that particular book, these concepts suggested to me the existence of oracles (experiencing time-flow backwards in parts of their brain, interfacing with their own future perceptions), whom I chose to treat as tools of the aristocracy. That suggests lots of potential detailed scenes, but let's stay with the big picture for now.

My perception of the arrow-of-time problem is that most people aren't aware it exists. So many people switch on a light without wondering where the power comes from (Faraday's observations being at the heart of it), or use a phone/computer/whatever without understanding its nature, that they are living in a world of Clarke's-Law magic. I'm driven by a desire to shake people's shoulders and say: "Wake up! Smell the roses! Understand the evolutionary process that produced petals and pleasing scent! Imagine the nuclear heart of the Sun that drives life and all Earth's far-from-equilibrium thermodynamic complexity!"

During Charlie's globe-trotting, interruptions to his supply of liquid helium cause difficulties in maintaining the optimum operating temperature (4K) of the superconducting neurons in his prodigious precuneus. (This is not rude.) So here I am, Not Charlie, humbly filling in.

Faithful readers know there are two FAQs that one really shouldn't ask. There's "I've an idea, will you write the book for me and we'll split the money?", which generates a reflexive two-monosyllable reply in any writer's mind (modulated by varying degrees of politeness as subsequently uttered).

But "Where do you get your ideas from?" elicits a different reaction: a widening of the writer's eyes as they affect disdain, a shakiness in their laughter as they attempt to dismiss the words; for there are places where We Dare Not Look (lest Cthulhu suck out our brains).



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This page is an archive of recent entries written by John Meaney in July 2011.

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