Fitting My History Research
into My Science Fiction
I write science fiction and fantasy. I also write nonfiction books about Kansas history. These two tracks of my writing career are separate. Occasionally I use what I research for my nonfiction in my fiction.
Take my second published novel, “Lisa’s Way.” The story is about a young woman trying to rebuild an interstellar society after an event called “The Savage Rain” isolated her world. Originally the story was set on Earth. Lisa and her friends had adventures, but there was no method to them.
In the early 1990s I published a series of travel booklets. The booklets covered the things to see and do in various counties around where I live. They also had brief histories of the towns in those counties.
A couple of those counties were along the Santa Fé Trail. The Santa Fé Trail was a commerce route, not a route settlers used. It connected the frontier of the United States with northern Mexico. After the Mexican War it became an important link between the Pacific Coast and the U.S. until the transcontinental railroad was completed.
Researching the Santa Fé Trail led to an “Ah-ha!” moment. The method Lisa would use to travel and rebuild would be through trade. She would encourage trade and move goods herself. Trade would become her motivator. Trade would allow her to bring people together, and that would rebuild the connections lost after the Savage Rain.
Lane was up for re-election to his Senate seat in 1864. His popularity had waned during the Civil War. A Kansas general he’d advanced had become corrupt, and the man he’d supported as the state’s second Governor was coveting Lane’s seat. To win supporters Lane made plenty of promises. According to one account, that went so far as to promise several men a single Federal position. Lane appeared to be in trouble. He’d have to chose someone for that post, leaving all the others disappointed. Lane came up with a very clever way out of this dilemma.
(Sorry, no spoilers!)
I found the anecdote so much in the nature of Jim Lane that I often read that part of my book at my book talks. I also wanted to use that anecdote in a story. My idea was to have Captain Jason Ayers, commander of the Victory, be asked by a former superior to help him deal with corrupt business bosses in advance of a colonial election. Ayers does some research; the bosses are put in their place.
One of the keys to using research is to find a story within the material. Some incidents are a story. Most will only hint at one. There might be a beginning and a middle but no end. There might be a plot framework, but not enough detail for a full plot. It’s work and an opportunity.
It’s also important to consider ways to make the material fit into a new genre. Take that Lane story. How could I make it fit into a science fiction universe? I’d already established that in the Victory universe, planets in the Terran Federal Republic are either full members or colonies. Colonies are administered by the Republic, but have their own internal laws. Only when they become large enough to become full members do those laws change.
That was the way for me to use the Lane anecdote. The story would be set on a colony world where the bosses still influenced local politics. It would revolve around an election for colonial governor.
I believe that finding the right source material is helpful, too. Local history is an ideal source. It’s not likely to have been used before. Since we’re talking about using history as fictional inspiration, you don’t have to worry about whether or not the material is factually correct. It’s the idea that counts, not the number of references invoked.
I’ll be winding down my nonfiction writing over the next few years. I’m running out of subjects that I care enough about to spend the time and money it takes to produce a book. I do expect to continue to use what I’ve researched in my science fiction and fantasy. I still have plenty of story material on hand to keep me writing.
About Robert Collins
I’ve had three SF novels published: “Monitor,” “Lisa’s Way,” and “Expert Assistance.” I’ve also had a coming of age novel published called “True Friends.” I’ve had stories and articles appear in periodicals such as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine; Tales of the Talisman; Space Westerns; Sorcerous Signals; Wild West; and Model Railroader. I’ve had two biographies published, one of “Bleeding Kansas” leader Jim Lane, and the other of a Kansas Civil War general. I’ve had six Kansas railroad books published by South Platte Press.
Find Robert here:
About Lisa’s Way
Teenager Lisa Herbert lives in the small town of Mountain View on the planet Fairfield. The “Savage Rain” decades earlier shut down the hyperspace gate and isolated her world. A casual remark from her sister gets Lisa to ask a simple question: “If life was better before the ‘Savage Rain,’ why couldn’t it be better again?”
That question starts Lisa on a journey. She reactivates Fairfield’s H-gate and travels to three worlds. Each planet offers her a chance to improve life by hard work, by trade, or by making friends. She relies on her brains, her compassion, and a little sneakiness to solve the problems she faces.
Lisa’s Way presents a heroine more interested in reasoning than fighting, and more concerned with doing good than looking good.
- Guest Post by Karen A Wyle Why I love reading and writing (alchemyofscrawl.wordpress.com)
- The Future Repeats Itself: What Science Fiction Has to Say About Google’s Fancy Glasses (motherboard.vice.com)
- What’s the science fiction universe where you prefer the fanfic to the official stories? [Open Channel] (io9.com)
- The Science Fiction Effect (news.slashdot.org)