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 In “Pipeline” (unpublished), Thoreson’s children are entrusted with his business empire on Earth when he emigrates to Mars with his grandchildren to run the project.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.

A Simple Thought on “Hunger Games”

The problem with writing a novel from first-person perspective is that it’s safe to guess that the point-of-view character is not going to die. And when it’s written in present tense, you can be certain of it — there’s no plausible literary device by which they can recount events after the fact, and it’s stretching belief to have them leave behind a journal which abruptly terminates in an agonized “AAARRGGGGHHH!”

This undercuts suspense by lowering the stakes in any trouble they happen to get into. The challenge then becomes, like a Bond movie, to provide enough action to be entertaining despite the knowledge that the character can never truly be in mortal danger. Which, of course, Hunger Games does.


The Mysterious Mr. Rana

There’s more to Rajiv Rana than we let on in In the Shadow of Ares.
What could he be hiding? And how did he really break his nose?

There’s more to Rajiv Rana than we let on in In the Shadow of Ares:

He paused, then added simply, “You’re quiet today.”

“Am I?” she asked coolly as she pulled on her immersion goggles and rings.  You’re part of it.  Margolis said so herself.  I know you’re hiding something.  That’s why none of the Green’s survey data from the past two years is available.

“Yes, you are,” he replied, noting the tone in her voice with a slight narrowing of his eyes.  “But, if you don’t want to talk to me, well, that’s okay.  We can talk again when you’re in a better mood.”

She yanked off her goggles and turned to face him.  “What makes you think I’m in a bad mood?”

He shrugged.  “Your…moodiness?”

“What?  Oh.  Well, maybe I am mad.  Shouldn’t I be?  I know you’re hiding something…” She stopped short when she saw his face suddenly become an expressionless mask.

There was an uncomfortable pause.  “Hiding?” he asked cautiously.  “What is it you think I am hiding?”


His dark eyes bored into her own.  “Go on.”

Me and my big mouth. “The, uh, the cavern…”  If possible, his face became even more expressionless when she mentioned the cavern.

“The cavern?  What is it you think I am hiding about a cavern?”

Think fast. “I, uh, I know you’re hiding something down there.  There’s…  something down there, isn’t there?  That’s why Grantham won’t let anyone go in?”

“Oh, that again.”  Rana pursed his lips and rolled his eyes.  The tension between them seemed to evaporate suddenly.  A little too suddenly, perhaps.

What could he be hiding? And how did he really break his nose?