Space Wants Us Dead

Works in Progress

I'm working on my next space opera novel, The Hard Way Home, and I recently learned there's another name for the kind of story I'm writing. Near Future science fiction. The Martian is considered Near Future science fiction and so was Project Hail Mary. The Expanse series might fit the bill, although I guess it depends upon how “near” we're talking about.

Think Sailboat, not Starship

When I started writing this series, I wanted to tell stories about humanity's early expansion into the universe. Humans living on the moon and on Mars, but for a matter of decades, not centuries. And with no Trekian luxuries like “antigrav,” force fields, or FTL (faster than light) engines. When stories are set in the distant future, it's easier to handwave the difficulties of space travel away, but that’s harder in the near future.

I’ve been thinking a lot about gravity. How we evolved within it, and the various ways it impacts our bodies and everyday life.

Outlaw Justice took place in a domed city on Mars called Epiphany, but The Hard Way Home takes place mostly in space, thus I'm spending more time in zero gee with my characters, thinking about how that kind of environment affects what happens in the story. It helps that I've spent a lot of my free time watching NASA videos! But other influences that are just as helpful. I've been reading first-hand accounts of sailors at sea, and about some of their customs and how they’ve developed, and I'm trying to grasp the psychological toll of being adrift in a small craft, dependent upon your crew, luck, and the strength of your preparations.

Space opera isn't “hard sci-fi,” but what matters to me is that it feels real. And one thing I'm fairly certain of at this point is that space wants us dead. Space makes the untamed oceans of our world seem like meek little kittens in comparison.

As much as I dream of traveling through the stars, there are so many reasons why we are unlikely to have humans living our their lives off-planet anytime soon. Societies are complicated and require a lot of resources that we take for granted. NASA grew and lost one tiny tomato recently. That's where we're at right now! We are explorers, yes, but it is so so early.

Writing Believable Stories in Space

So, I've got a fat list of practicalities to manage in this story. Sweat doesn't roll down your back without gravity. Can a body heal from major trauma in zero gee? How is radiation handled? Does space have the radiological equivalent of bad weather? How does it manifest? And what about combat? If a ship fires a weapon, how do the engines compensate for the ship's “equal and opposite” reaction? And – oh my gosh – what else am I forgetting? 😂

It’s a lot.

These aren't problems you need to worry about. Instead, you can relax in the knowledge that behind most every science fiction story there's an author in full-on research mode, doing her best to add some salt of verisimilitude to her story. And it’s all background, anyway. The Hard Way Home isn't about the difficulties of space travel so much as it's about adventure in the interstellar frontier. It's about pirates and colonists and friends trying to keep one another alive...

The technical stuff? Well, that's just work. It’s part of the worldbuilding, and how it influences the story is both interesting and fun.

Writing about space has a way of making me grateful for life on Earth. I'm really happy to have gravity. And a magnetosphere. Dirt!

Space is hard. I doubt we'll settle permanently there until long after I'm gone. But damn is it fun to dream. And that’s what a good story is, I think. A dream I can share with you.

Speaking of which... back to work.

Do you like space opera? You can get an early bird discount by pre-ordering your digital copy of The Hard Way Home from my bookstore.

Book Cover for the Hard Way Home. It shows a ship in a purple nebula #writing #wip #firstguardian