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?
Well, 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). The deity is also fictional, so apart from the evo-creo parts, people’s present beliefs are basically left alone.
Secondly, 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.
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.