Families in Science Fiction

At Powered by Robots, James Pyles asks “Where Are the Families in Science Fiction?”

I’m curious. Of the science fiction and fantasy you read, have you seen any family life shows in a positive way, especially in more recent publications?

I haven’t seen much in recent science fiction, because I haven’t been reading much science fiction recently. My reading priorities lately trend to the Classics and other nonfiction.

However, when we started out writing what became “In the Shadow of Ares”, this was one of the elements that we noticed was missing from a lot of SF at the time. We wanted to write a young adult novel that avoided the cliches of that genre and SF itself. So, we created a main character who was human, who made mistakes, and who wasn’t some sort of infallibly smart and precociously wise Secret Chosen One destined for greatness, and we set her in a family with parents who made some pretty risky sacrifices to make a go of it. We explicitly avoided making her an orphan, or situating her on her own in some manner like many of Heinlein’s juveniles’ protagonists (stowaways, runaways, castaways, and kidnappees). Too, families fit with the overall nature of the fictional universe, in which Mars is just starting to be settled – one character observes (perhaps only in draft) that if you’re not having babies, it’s a base and not a settlement…you’re not really committed to stay and build a new world.

In “ItSoA”, Amber’s positive relationship with her parents (especially her father) is a key element, while in the sequel, “Ghosts of Tharsis”, her close relationship with her mother is explored. In both books, the issue of children and families on Mars is an important theme, and this theme reappears in “Redlands” and (indirectly) in “He Has Walled Me In”. In “Pipeline” (unpublished), Thoreson’s children are entrusted with his business empire on Earth when he emigrates to Mars with his grandchildren to run the project. Also in “Ghosts of Tharsis”, every protagonist is shown in the context of family: Amber, Marek’s children, Ethan and his parents, Ezekiel and his brothers, even some tag characters. The only story we’ve published so far without a positive family element in it is “Anatomy of a Disaster”, which is appropriate given the story is a farce inspired by the Piper Alpha disaster. Even our non-Ares Project story, “Silent Stalker”, involved the positive portrayal of two families.

The funny thing about it, though, is that while we chose consciously at the beginning to include positive portrayals of family, it’s played out naturally in the creation of characters and situations. For example the “Baby Taboo”, once conceived (no pun intended), took on a life of its own in the fictional universe and suggested different but always opposed reactions from different characters – everyone hates the taboo, and you never see anyone but the villains truly supporting it. At the beginning of “Ghosts of Tharsis”, when the MDA relents and allows a small number of children 13 and older to emigrate, that not only brings Amber some kids her own age to associate with but necessitates exploring the family backgrounds of those new arrivals to explain how and why they ended up on Mars.

Apart from that initial decision, though, it’s not something that we’ve shoehorned in, and is not presented in a treacly or sentimental way. It just followed naturally as we drew on our own experiences and those of families around us.

Perhaps that’s the real problem: those authors who cannot or will not write positively about something as commonplace and essential as families are themselves broken children from broken homes. Like the majority of modern culture creators, their creative priority is the non-stop masturbatory airing of their childhood resentments – they hate their fathers so much that they write them out of the future.

Reminder: New Ares Project-Related Mars Stories on Kindle

At $0.99 apiece, they’re steals. Why would you not buy them both?

He Has Walled Me InHe Has Walled Me In

Recently recovered from a crippling illness, Leon Toa sets out on his first solo trip to Port Lowell. For any other Martian settler it would be a routine drive, but for Leon it’s a chance to rebuild his battered self-confidence and demonstrate his regained independence – both to his fellow settlers and to himself. When unseen forces interrupt his trip deep in an unpopulated and unexplored network of canyons, he must uncover the truth about his past before what’s left of his future runs out. An homage to H.P. Lovecraft’s “Within the Walls of Eryx”.

 

Dispatches from Mars – Anatomy of a Disaster: The Mars Environmental Works Catastrophe and the Death of Margaret Steadman

In this Dispatch, freelance journalist Calvin Lake explores the unlikely truth behind the worst industrial accident in Martian history: the destruction of Mars Environmental Works. Going beyond the bare facts and curiously self-interested evasions of the official Mars Development Authority inquest report, Lake’s account uses exclusive eyewitness and survivor interviews to paint a fuller picture of the catastrophe of April 1, 2050. A pun-ridden spoof of several science fiction tropes.

The next short story will be another of Calvin Lake’s Dispatches, this one concerning entrepreneur Jedediah Thoreson and his North Cap Water Pipeline project mentioned in Anatomy of a Disaster. Unlike that story, Pipeline will be a serious treatment of its topic. The Dispatches will be a series of essays on various aspects of life on Mars in the Ares Project fictional universe, written by fictional freelance journalist Calvin Lake (who will also play an important role in the upcoming Ghosts of Tharsis).

Life Imitates Art: The Visor Display

It seems the capabilities of Leon’s helmet display aren’t all that far off:

Tyco’s Scott Safety is bringing a big upgrade to the field of firefighting with their newly released product, the Scott Sight. This hands-free device is the first in the industry that incorporates an in-mask thermal intelligence system, according to an April 18th press release from the fire protection and security company.

The Scott Sight works in a similar way to Google Glass. A screen within the mask itself displays readings and various interfaces via a thermal camera at nine frames per second for up to four hours.

Survival and Sacrifice in Mars Exploration

This sounds interesting, if a bit pricey, like a cross between Big Dead PlaceEndurance, and The Martian (and who knows, probably a bit of Alive! thrown in as well).

Survival and Sacrifice in Mars Exploration: What We Know from Polar Expeditions  [Erik Seedhouse]

With current technology, a voyage to Mars and back will take three years. That’s a lot of time for things to go wrong. But sooner or later a commercial enterprise will commit itself to sending humans to Mars.

 

How will the astronauts survive? Some things to consider are:

• Who decides what medical resources are used for whom?

• What is the relative weight of mission success and the health of the crew?

• Do we allow crewmembers to sacrifice their lives for the good of the mission?

• And what if a crewmember does perish? Do we store the body for return to Earth or give the member a burial in space?

Questions like these, and hundreds of others, have been explored by science fiction, but scant attention has been paid by those designing missions. Fortunately, the experience gained in polar exploration more than 100 years ago provides crews and mission planners with a framework to deal with contingencies and it is this that forms the core of this book.

Why the parallels between polar and space exploration? Because polar exploration offers a better analogy for a Mars mission today than those invoked by the space community. Although astronauts are routinely compared to Lewis and Clark, Mars-bound astronauts will be closer in their roles to polar explorers. And, as much as space has been described as a New Frontier, Mars bears greater similarity to the polar regions, which is why so much can be learned from those who ventured there.

Note that even though we’ve written young-adult SF, we haven’t shied away from these sorts of questions, and indeed In the Shadow of Ares opens with the death of the entire third expedition to Mars, which mystery forms the core of the novel. Likewise, a dramatic mass-casuality accident forms the background of our new short story, He Has Walled Me Inand the story itself has origins in my having read Laurence Gonzales’ Deep Survival.

 

New Short Story: “He Has Walled Me In”

He Has Walled Me In - Cover ImageTired of waiting for the sequel? Wondering when or if we’ll ever be done with it? (We will, still working on it.) Well, here’s a little something to tide you over: “He Has Walled Me In”

Leon Toa sets out on what for any other Martian settler would be a routine drive to Port Lowell. When unseen forces interrupt his trip, he must uncover the truth about his past before what’s left of his future runs out.

To give a bit more detail, our protagonist’s trip is as much a business necessity as it is a personal one, meant to rebuild his self-confidence after he survives a disabling illness.  A static discharge damages his rover en route, and he is lured into a life-threatening mystery he must think his way out of.

The story takes place in the Ares Project universe at the time of In the Shadow of Ares, and was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s “Within the Walls of Eryx” (no spoilers – the two are quite different). At 15,000 words it’s a fairly long short story, so you get your money’s worth at $1.50.