When I wrote The Merman’s Mark, I had no idea that in a few years the internet would erupt with a legitimate (?) “flat earth” controversy.
As readers will know, the world of my books consist of two flat disks within a geode, like the faces of a bulging cylinder encased in a crystal, water-covered sphere. In other words, the world of Merman & Fires is both round and flat…a nod to both sides of the story, like most of my writing.
I’m not too torn up over this artistic choice. Other science fiction authors have done crazier things with their worlds. If I’d considered the issue particularly serious, I probably wouldn’t have turned Kepler’s groundbreaking thesis on planetary motion into a South African submarine sandwich (look for the gatsby in Rebel Fires).
Still, it does bring up memories of the wince-inducing fact that I stretch over both sides of the spectrum with religion (assuming mostly Western Christianity here) and science. If it helps me understand people better, I’m not really sure. I tend mostly to notice the fact that I’m often construed as either radically sinful or radically stupid just from the intro.
It’s a thought I often wondered about during the early days when branding my books as science fiction. There is a lot of “science” in them… fractals, mechanical birds and other machine transport, nods to scientists in character names, evolution, extensively-researched animals, the planetary sandwich…
But, there are a lot of nods to religion as well. Norbert and Gill are war veterans of a coastline battle (reminiscent of Noah & Gilgamesh’s flood stories), Yusuf’s widow deals in menswear (Joseph’s coat), and a whole bunch of other “Easter eggs” to look for if you’re biblically-inclined. The one that could possibly make most of the science-y people somewhat uncomfortable, though, is the inclusion of views similar to creationism, which gets pitted against evolution throughout the story. I kind of wondered about that for a while… a book branded as science fiction opening with a creationism-like argument… gasp.
Oh well, people are just going to have to deal.
But why go there in the first place? I mean, a lot of biblically-inspired pieces are nothing short of cringe worthy (though most are also overly-serious, while my writing…is not), and I’m not interested in making any real point to any one group. So, if evolution & creationism frustrate on both sides of the spectrum, why even go there? Why bring in so much science and myth? I have three reasons for this, which you’re going to have to listen to if you keep reading this post.
Firstly, it’s what I know. Despite popular belief, my degree didn’t just drop from the sky amid an imagined chorus of angels, along with a complimentary halo. I had to write academically-acceptable pieces on biblical stories that included in-depth analysis of the culture and time period. I’ve also heard these stories told and retold since before I can remember, so they’re a natural thing to want to play with. Mostly they only very loosely inspire ‘flavors’ for the story in the same way a hotel fountain or a nice hot chocolate inspired elements (see The Making of Merman for better examples), and most of the names have been changed. The deity is also fictional, so apart from the evo-creo parts, people’s present beliefs are basically left alone.
Secondly, it works. There are two races in my books: humans and mers (or sea people). The mers assert they bred the humans from apes to be their servants. The humans believe they were made by their deity from the ground they’ve claimed as their territory. Both views are politically-motivated; there is incentive for each group to believe what it does; and both could be be true, depending on how much & what kind of an influence the reader thinks their deity has…if the deity exists at all. In other words, it tells a good story. Myth also makes for a lot of fun details. Ancient ideas of a hard sky with “floodgates” that open for rain becomes an opportunity for a middle-class, merish workforce that constructs clouds. And I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to sculpt a cloud?
Thirdly, and possibly most philosophically, ancient ideas are included because science does distort reality. The more we learn from science, the more we effectively tame ourselves. As life becomes easier, we become farther and farther removed from the realities that face most of life on the planet. Ancient people faced these realities, and so, I believe, there is something to be said for the way they interpreted the world in light of them. I’d venture a guess and say that most people reading this blog, who have learned enough to understand the intellectual conflict to which I’m referring, are otherwise mostly clueless to natural existence, myself included. We haven’t buried the dead or killed for food, haven’t lived without the comfort and security of a home in a community, haven’t felt pain that could not be cared for to some degree, or as Hobbes describes, we have experienced a life that would otherwise be “nasty, brutal and short.”
And most of “life” does not share in the experiences that dominate our scientifically-padded existence. Whales don’t go to supermarkets; gorillas don’t buy condoms; societies revert and collapse. Obsession with technological progress can perhaps itself morph into another form of creationism, taking on a belief that the human existence we know and are working toward is “it.” But there is a lot more to know, or from an author’s point of view, a lot more to feel, especially if one is to write a world.
A lot of things inspired the flat-round shape of the world in The Merman’s Mark & Rebel Fires: rough diamonds, geodes, a visit to the Cango Caves (pictured), ancient geographical understanding (as mentioned), and childhood imaginings…famous photographs of indoor clouds. A personal photograph of Hout Bay (the one gracing my social media profiles) inspired the shape of the “disk” part of Aeroth, the human territory. Lion’s Head became Lion Mountain, though it looks more seriously like a lion in the story than what we in reality have to imagine.
In other words, the books are full of the real and the imaginary, the real-turned-imaginary, and the imaginary-turned-real, inclusive of a combination which, I imagine, is the only real way to write science fiction.