Playing with Conventions

Every genre comes with its own conventions, ideas writers over the years have riffed on and embellished to suit their purposes. As a longtime lover of space operas, I was perfectly happy to join the tradition of fast starships, laser guns, and holographic videos. I wasn’t concerned with the science behind such things, for they are merely props to be used in advancing the story, and well-known ones at that. I embraced many of the conventions beloved to sci-fi readers—chases through space, robotic technology, interstellar civilizations.ArtificialAbsolutes-800

And I threw others out the window. For instance, even though Artificial Absolutes takes place in space, there are no aliens aside from a few animalistic creatures that serve as pets. Perhaps where I deviated most from tradition was in the creation of my protagonist, a recent college grad named Jane Colt.

Jane isn’t a superhero. She’s not even an everyday hero. Her biggest worry is how long she can last at her boring-as-dirt desk job when what she really wants is to compose and conduct her own music. She lives on a faraway planet in the distant future, but her world isn’t a post-apocalyptic dystopia or a world on the brink of battle. It’s safe, perhaps too safe.

And then someone kidnaps Adam, her best friend turned sort-of boyfriend. Before she can come to grips with the bizarre change in events, that same someone shoots her father and frames her brother. The next thing she knows, she’s running across the stars in search of the truth, hoping to save the people she loves. She didn’t willfully seek adventure—it found her. Because she’s not the type to sit still when people she cares about are in danger, she finds herself caught up in a situation she’s ill-equipped to deal with.

Jane probably has more in common with you and me than with Princess Leia or River Tam. There are so many things she’s not—not a straight shooter, not a skilled kick boxer, not a genius hacker. Her one skill is that she can kind of fly a starship. She isn’t a chosen one with latent abilities that can change the world. She just wants to bring Adam home and clear her brother’s name.

Her brother, Devin, falls more in line with the sci-fi archetype; he can fly a ship and shoot a laser gun. But his adventures are in the past, and at the start of the novel, he, too, is behind an office desk. And Jane refuses to be the coddled little sister. As protective as he is of her, she’s at least as protective of him. Over the course of the novel, she finds ways to use what skills she has to navigate the dangerous corners of the galaxy she’s thrown into.

Artificial Absolutes was, for me, an exploration of what would happen if I took a not-so-extraordinary young woman, someone who could have stepped out of a chick lit novel, and shot her into the colorful tradition of sci-fi adventures through space. For that reason, I intentionally grounded my sci-fi universe in the familiar, keeping the dialogue and most of the cultural aspects contemporary. How would she react? What would her headstrong, somewhat foolish personality lead her to do? What could she do to stop the mysterious villain trying to destroy her life?

The answers to those questions shaped much of the plot. Although Jane is not alone, the chaotic circumstances surrounding her challenge her to face the very nature of who she is. What she finds surprises even her.

-Mary Fan


Categories: Genre Writing.

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