Hi, everyone! We have a special treat on the blog today. Rachel Searles, debut author of The Lost Planet is here with a guest post on invention and world-building. We are really excited to have Rachel on today. Don't forget that Rachel will also be a guest at the Pasadena Book Fest on April 26.
Take it away, Rachel!
On Invention and World-Building
When I talk to readers about the differences between fantasy and science fiction, I’m always quick to point out that while fantasy is based on mythology, magic, and all things make-believe, science fiction is based on elements that, while imaginary, are still largely possible within the laws of physics. This feeling of plausibility is one of the things that makes sci-fi so exciting to me, but as a writer it also means extra research to make sure that the details of my story adhere to the boundaries of reality. That said, it is fiction I’m writing, and at times I’ve stretched those boundaries to the furthest limits (and maybe a little beyond) for the sake of a good tale. I know I’ve done my job when the sci in my fi sounds believable enough that readers can’t tell the difference between what’s based in reality, and what I’ve completely made up.
Early in THE LOST PLANET, my main character Chase and his new friend, Parker, eat a meal produced by a food synthesizer in Parker’s autokitchen. Any Star Trek fan would recognize this machine as homage to the food replicators used on the Enterprise. The theory behind a food synthesizer is that the device grabs some subatomic particles, which exist in abundance throughout the universe, and rearranges them into molecules that are then arranged into the requested food. Sounds plausible, right? While I know that this kind of advanced technology is still far beyond our reach, during my research I was fascinated to learn that first-generation food synthesizers are already being tested, with the early prototypes expected to be put into use on the International Space Station as early as this year! Rather than arranging molecules, though, these devices run on the same principle as a 3D printer, using basic materials like proteins or sugars in a non-perishable powder form to build the food layer by layer. The best part is that these basic building powders can come from any number of unusual sources—after all, protein is protein, whether it comes from meat, legumes…or even insects. You can watch a video of the 3D food printer at work here, but in it you’ll see that “pizza” it makes isn’t exactly mouth-watering just yet. For that reason I decided to stick with the Star Trek-inspired version for my book.
Later in the book, in a diner on another planet, the boys enjoy a futuristic fast-food meal of soy-chitin-riboflavin patties, or “scrappies.” We currently consume soy by the ton, and riboflavin—aka vitamin B12—is an important and colorful part of our diet. But chitin, which you may recognize as the main component in the hard exoskeletons of insects, is used more commonly in the production of lipstick and other cosmetics, as well as surgical thread. It is edible, though, and in a chemically modified form has been used for things like edible films and as a thickener. And wouldn’t crisp insect shells work great as the crunchy filling in a delicious, savory scrappy?
One of the biggest advantages I have in writing an outer space setting is that my husband spent ten years designing, building, and launching rockets into orbit, so I can turn to him for help with the physics of space travel. In a scene where my heroes crash land on an uninhabited, mud-coated wasteland of a planet, he helped me to make sure the details of screaming into the atmosphere in a flimsy shuttle were as authentic as possible. But then I gave my characters their only chance to survive by having them climb up into the limbs of a vast jungle of pale, stalk-like plants. When the plants reject the climbers and send them pitching headfirst into the swamp, readers might think I based this on some sort of trigger mechanism like that of the Venus flytrap, where contact with sensory appendages on the plant cause a swift reaction. And this sure sounds plausible—but I didn’t actually research this at all while writing. I just needed to come up with a good way to try to drown my characters in a sea of mud. After all, sometimes it’s just about writing an exciting story.
Thanks, Rachel, for the fantastic guest post. Be sure to check out The Lost Planet!
Rachel Searles grew up on the frigid shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where she spent her childhood studying languages and plotting to travel around the world. She has lived abroad in Munich and Istanbul, working as a cook, a secretary, a teacher, and a reporter for the Turkish Daily News. She now lives in Los Angeles with her rocket scientist husband and two cats, and spends her free time cooking her way through the Internet and plotting more travel.
THE LOST PLANET, coming January 2014 from Feiwel and Friends, is her debut novel.