Science fiction matters, but not as a forecast of future events. Where are the flying cars? Eternal youth? Meal-in-a-pill?
The under-rated literary category offers top-notch entertainment—and an overlooked benefit. The success of certain sci-fi stories holds a key to your own writing success.
Technical fiction—use that term if the rocket ships, ray guns, mages and alternate histories some associate with science fiction distract you—is an excellent barometer to measure society’s fears about technology-wrought change. Writers have employed the backbone themes of sci-fi for thousands of years. Tales involving hubris, the mad scientist, monsters, and playing God strike a chord with the reader, and have for millennia.
Set your Way Back Machine and travel with me some 3500 years in the past to consider one of mankind’s earliest technical thrillers. You’ll recognize this tale immediately. You may be surprised to find that it appears, not only where you remember it, but also in ancient Sumerian’s cuneiform inscriptions, in Sanskrit seals, in the Koran, in Aztec and other native peoples’ stories. Most likely, you know the story from Genesis, Chapter 11: the Tower of Babel.
Technical thriller? Indeed! The survivors of the Great Flood (another cross-cultural story) elect to build “a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven…” (as grand a goal for its time as H. G. Wells’s First Men on the Moon was for his). The ancients fired “brick for stone”. That’s your disruptive technology. Bricks, which replaced sun-dried mud, permitted vertical building and gave rise to the city-state. Bricks placed nomadic life on the path to obsolescence and created social upheaval.
The Tower of Babel account still resonates because it employs one of the oldest literary devices, metaphor, and one of the oldest themes in science fiction, playing God—hubris. “The Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this [building the tower] is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.’”
The rest is history, or metaphor, if you prefer. Individual city-states produced individual cultures, languages and fragmented society. That accounting is uninteresting. Add metaphor, create a mythology, and the story has legs.
Other early sci-fi writers used these tools successfully. Icarus’s ill-fated flight towards the sun or Belleraphon’s abortive flight to Mt. Olympus are metaphors that represent hubris.
Fast-forward to modern times and you’ll encounter the stubborn persistence of the theme. Read no further than Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and you’ll find technologists playing God with DNA. Monster stories are as old as darkness, but I believe that Crichton struck a vein when he married technology and mythology. That, and damned good writing.
Another long-lived premise is that of the unhinged individual in control of limitless power, the Mad Scientist. I explored this subject in my novel, Little Deadly Things, the story of a scientist whose mastery of nanotechnology makes her the world’s wealthiest woman—and the most dangerous. Want an ancient version of the same story? Try King Midas, who, like other individuals in possession of unlimited power, comes to a bad end.
I believe that the conscious use of our primal mythologies blended with modern technology produces great stories. If you want to call them science fiction, so be it.
Literature’s answer to playing God (a term coined in the 1931 film version of Frankenstein) is technology in service to mankind. Think of Isaac Asimov’s beneficent robots, harnessed by the Three Laws of Robotics. Consider the second Terminator movie, in which a new cyborg must protect John Connor from an even more powerful and advanced Terminator, the T-1000. Look to Marta Cruz in Little Deadly Things, a character who melds nanotechnology with ancient rainforest medicines for the good of an ailing world.
When writers grok the relationship between technical change and mythology, they add to their inventory of time-tested literary devices. Imbue good writing with technical knowledge and mythology and the results just might be a damned good thriller that stays popular, millennium after millennium.
I’ll tell you if it works for Little Deadly Things. Just look me up in a thousand years and we’ll compare notes.
About Little Deadly Things What happens when abusive parents raise brilliant children? You might get a saint. You might get a killer. Or you might get one of each.
Nanotechnology made Eva Rozen the world’s wealthiest woman. Rage made her the deadliest. Only one-time friend Marta Cruz can stand between Eva and the death of millions. But will a crippling illness stop Marta first?
Published by Alloy Press. Available on Amazon or at www.littledeadlythings.com
“... a work of descriptive art, with a sense of futuristic realism. I was riveted, page after wonderful page.” - Thomas M. Cirignano, 67 Cents: Creation of a Killer
“... A union of art and science in this thriller ... marvelous characters amidst an age of nanotechnological advancement. Harry Steinman rips today's discoveries from the laboratory and into an emotion-laden thriller with the promise - and peril - of this emerging science.” - L. R. Drennan-Harris, Ph.D. Analytical Chemist
“... Little Deadly Things introduces the brilliant but psychotic Eva Rozen, a Boston scientist tormented by both her past and her present. Her mystery and madness propel the reader, revealing surprises at every turn.” - Deborah Swiss, The Tin Ticket
Harry Steinman is giving away three copies of Little Deadly Things to some lucky readers. These are ARC copies. You must be at least 18 years old to enter. This giveaway is for US addresses only. Good luck!