Space: The Frontier Where Anything Goes
I don’t think of myself as a science fiction fan. Those complicated names are just too weird and hard to pronounce, and I hate getting new world-building rules 300 pages in. You know the ones I mean. They’re the lines that go, “But Kinkavinska couldn’t jet off in her Personal Personnel Person Machine, because when it was colder than minus 300 Fooses on the Fooses Scale of Chilly, the gas froze up.” Yeah. Time to close the book.
But I’ve always liked the action/adventure kinds of television and movies that have space settings. I went to all the Star Wars films. My graduate school roommate was a Star Trek fan, and I always came home from the library early so we could make popcorn and watch the afternoon episode on the rerun channel. I freaked out in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I never missed an episode of My Favorite Martian. (Well, okay, that wasn’t really about space. It’s barely about Martians.)Contact, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Wall-E, I’ve enjoyed them all. Firefly, I mourn you still.
What I like about space action/adventure is that writers can present new worlds with new rules and present new ideas that aren’t constrained by what we already know about the universe. For our literary interplanetary travels, we can make up anything we want. Hate gravity? It’s gone. Want Alvin and The Chipmunks to rule as an emperor triumvirate? Done. Need to mix your cowboy Western shoot-em-up with your space clunker adventure? Talk to Joss Whedon.
In a space adventure, you can make your characters be and do anything you want. Has there never been a child-bearing male? Ha! You can write that. Or a female football star? You got it. Your characters can work together on any project, solve any problem that you can imagine. They can be eternally optimistic, enthusiastic, smart, kind, and cooperative. Or evil, nasty, dishonest, short-tempered, and mean. They can be so totally over the topthat you need a stepladder to see them.
I once read an analysis of 1950s science fiction (sorry that I can’t remember where!) in which the author theorized that in times of political tension, space aliens are depicted as violent brutes who shoot their way to earth and kill its inhabitants. In calmer periods, space aliens are depicted as benevolent, intelligent beings who interact with humans in interesting and mutually beneficial ways.That’s probably true—as true as that the aliens are the creations of people who want to tell a certain story a certain way.
When I wrote Zero Gravity Outcasts, I didn’t know I had a space adventure in me—until I wrote about an ancient, steam-powered spacecraft and its clever crew who meet the universe’s power brokers and—well, I’m not revealing any spoilers here. But let me just say this: Serenity meets Miracle on Ice meetsGreenfingers. It sounds weird, I know. But in space, you can do anything.
Kay Keppler is a writer and editor living in northern California. Zero Gravity Outcasts is her first novella with Carina Press.