22 January 2019

The Best of What We Might be Rather Than the Worst of What We Are by Russ Colson


After the publication of my science fiction adventure, The Arasmith Certainty Principle, I blogged an answer to the question "Why do I write?" To answer the more specific question "What kind of stories do I want to write," I have to start by thinking about what good science fiction does.

Good science fiction exposes human foibles!

Some science fiction writers have the ability to explore the problems and challenges in our present society, defusing our inherent tendency to take ideological sides by placing the story in a galaxy far, far away, or perhaps in another time or situation. For example, right now I’m reading the book The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal, a science fiction book that explores issues of racism, sexism, and religious prejudices within the context of a global catastrophe taking place in a revisioned past. I am finding the insights into our present social challenges to be sensitive to the complexity of real-life.

Good science fiction offers hope that we can escape our foibles!

What I like best about The Calculating Stars is not simply the portrayal of human foibles—the worst of what we are—but rather its promise that we can overcome those foibles and become the best that we can be. Through the actions of the protagonist and others, the world of The Calculating Stars changes to become more open to the contributions of all people, regardless of sex, race, or religion. They come closer to becoming the best that they can be. That’s what I want to give away with my own writing—my hopes for the best of what we might be. I like for my stories to show, in the end, an optimistic belief that people can choose to do good even when they are afraid of what they might lose.

Although, not everyone escapes their foibles…

I ran the idea about my optimistic intentions in writing past my brother recently who immediately responded: “But the Senator (the bad guy in The Arasmith Certainty Principle) doesn’t show the best of what people might be!”

“But, he’s wanting to do good,” I protested.

“That’s what makes him so scary,” my brother said.

Yeah, I can’t quite portray a pathway toward the best of what we can be with without some excursion into the worst of what we are. Even in The Calculating Stars, not everyone ‘gets it’ by the end of the story.

But, good science fiction shows the way

Seeing our foibles portrayed in fiction, such as in my own writing or in The Calculating Stars, is an essential step toward finding a way to act better. The antagonists who don’t ‘get it’ are a necessary element to help us see the flaws in ourselves and to motivate us to try to be better. We don't live in a Polyanna world, and such a world might not make for a very compelling story anyway, but we don’t need to live in a Polyanna world to believe in the Polyanna possibility that we can do better, be better. The key takeaway from the Senator in TACP is not his terrible capacity for evil, but rather his core wish to do good, and the choices he makes that either help or hinder that goal. Likewise, when my protagonist, Jen, struggles to overcome her own fears and prejudices and find friendship and love, the key takeaway is not the frightening uncertainty in our relationships, but rather the belief that in finding courage to pursue those relationships, as Jen does, we find in ourselves the best of what we might be.

I hope that there is a least a little bit of the courage to pursue the best of what we might be in The Arasmith Certainty Principle. Feel free to check it out and see what you think!

About Arasmith Certainty Principle (Purchase your copy here). 

Jen Hewitt, a quiet geology graduate student, doesn't actually believe in time travel. Were it possible, rocks from the age of dinosaurs should already be cluttered with artifacts from future time-tourists. Nevertheless, she proves with fellow geologist Jonathan Renner that a human skeleton encased in Pleistocene rock came from their own time. Their work, coupled with fundamental research by physicist Susan Arasmith, reveals an unexpected character to the universe that carries them from the safe world of science into a struggle with powers and possibilities they hadn't imagined. The three friends, along with Kar-Tur, a frightening mystic from the ancient past, learn that discovery is sometimes as much about faith as knowledge, and that friendship and love are often found where least expected.

About Russ Colson

Russ Colson is a scientist, teacher, author, and gardener living in northwest Minnesota, far enough from city lights to see the Milky Way and the Aurora Borealis. During the dark northern winters, he teaches planetary science, meteorology, and geology at Minnesota State University Moorhead. In summers, he writes, gardens, and collaborates with undergraduate students on research projects in experimental planetary geochemistry. In 2010, he was selected by the Carnegie Foundation and CASE as US Professor of the Year. Before coming to Minnesota, he worked at the Johnson Space Center in Texas and at Washington University in St. Louis where, among other things, he studied how a lunar colony might mine oxygen from the local rock. In addition to science fiction books and books on Earth Science and gardening, he has published a variety of technical papers, science fiction short stories, and essays on earth science education.

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