Ask most romance readers their sub-genre preference and the answer probably won’t be science fiction. I hear the label ‘niche market’ bandied around quite a bit in regards to this category. For me, this is a problem in my pocketbook since a vast majority of my ideas tend to lean in that direction. I can’t seem to help myself. I come up with an idea that might look contemporary on the surface and before you can say Captain Kirk, I’ve dropped in a first contact scenario and a hunky alien commander from the future. It’s just the way my mind works. It’s the thrill of the unknown. The possibilities that await us in a situation where the rules are as foreign as a ship inbound from Andromeda that gets me. The juxtaposition of the analytical and the passionate fuels the imagination and helps to create worlds were tech and taboos can be our ultimate enemies or greatest allies.
Man versus machine is a common theme in science fiction and has been since the very origins of the genre. It is in part a commentary on the advancement of civilization at the cost of our humanity. This was a common theme during the Industrial Revolution where man’s right to earn a living in factories or farms was supplanted by automated devices that could do the job better, faster, longer and more efficiently than human workers—and need I say at greater profit. Fortunately for those living in the era, humans were still needed to operate the inventions, proving as a race we were not as yet obsolete.
However, the cogwheels and steam engines of yesterday have given rise to microprocessors and silicone chips of today. It takes less human intervention to run our industries and as a result man must battle machine for survival. If that isn’t fodder for science fiction, I don’t know what is.
Future science promises nanites injected directly into the body to perform specific missions, cars that drive themselves and contact lenses that double as phones. No matter the technology behind the gadgetry, it still operates under the principles of making lives easier while forcing humanity out. Now, I know what you’re thinking: she sure does take a dim view of progress. On the contrary, I love progress and upgrades. I think we live in a remarkable world and my writing reflects that love of science and discovery. It is also a basis for a lot of the conflict in my books.
Having spent the last twenty some odd years working in the medical field, I appreciate and see daily how far medical science has come. In response, I like to mix up biological and technological advances for some really interesting and insidious alien devices. In my Scicia Saga, in particular Intimate Weapons and Clandestine Alliance, the villains use nanites that can replicate like blood cells in the human body, but can also double as servo fluid in a ‘bot. It is the basis for both conflict and mystery when the hero of Intimate Weapons sees it in the heroine’s blood.
Mallic held his chin in his hand. He’d never seen anything like it come out of a blood sample before. Cyborg components in a soldier, yes. Electronic replacements for eyes, common place. Tympanic implants for those unfortunate enough to lose their hearing, standard procedure. However, seeing the tiniest of machines whirling and clicking along amid Jovita’s blood cells was a whole new level of technology he’d not been made aware
“Can you determine what they’re used for?”
“There have been studies where nanites similar to these have been used to clean or filter blood of persons suffering from hematological disorders.”
“And without her medical records we have no way of knowing if that is why she has them in her blood.”
Mena sniffed in umbrage. “I am a professional, First Advisor.”
“I meant no offense.”
She turned back to the screen and typed in a few codes. A second screen illuminated with a detailed list of illnesses with names so long and technical Mallic felt he needed a medical degree in order to read or understand. Next to each disease was the word negative.
“I’ve screened for every possible blood disorder in the known galaxy. I even double screened for those particular to Celedons. Nothing. In every instance the samples were clean.”
“If the nanites did as they were intended, then the sample would be clean, correct?”
Mena shook her head. “Not necessarily. The disease would become inactive, but you’d still have the hallmarks in the blood. Any technician running a sample would be able to detect the faulty cells or virus in order to find a prior diagnosis.” She hit another button and the slide came to life. The cells moved across the plate as if they were courtiers in the grand ballroom, performing an intricate dance.
Two of the nanites bumped heads. A third nanite appeared in the impact zone as if by some arcane magic.
-From Intimate Weapons, Liquid Silver Books
Science used as both savior and destroyer—it’s pretty interesting stuff for a geek like me. And boy do I love writing it. So much fun I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.
All right, I’ve given you an example of tech run amok, how about a taste of the taboo? This is where things get rather sticky. Personally, I like to approach world-building as an anthropologist studies a heretofore unknown civilization, without preconceived notions, judgments, or prejudices. No matter the shifting “norms” – please note that is in quotes for a reason and not a commentary on what I find normal – of our society, there will always be those things that some segments of the population deem as taboo.
In Sacred Sacrifices I use several configurations to get under the skin of the oppressive theocrats that are the religious and governmental head of the Sangrah Provinces. Now to me, religion and sex can be natural enemies or intimate companions. It really all depends on the dictates and mores of the prescribed doctrine. As I built the world in the Mystics and Warriors series, I decided to show both sides of that coin—the clash of two very divergent dogmas. The heroine in Sacred Sacrifices, Jerella, comes from an order of sexual mystics which have been outlawed by the sexually repressed theocrats. But what the theocrats do not realize is that with love and sex comes power. Lots of it. Jerella, along with her lovers, Keis and Veric, must draw on that power to attempt the overthrow of the theocrats and save the country from genocide.
Jerella centered her mind and pulled on the threads that connected her to Veric and Keis. “Can you see through my eyes, Keis?”
“We are going to concentrate on taking the base out from under the tower and toppling the entire structure. Let’s start at the left corner closest to our position and work our way around in a clockwise fashion. Are we agreed?” A bit heavy-handed of her, taking the lead on such an important mission, but the men didn’t seem to mind. They fell into line better than any Sophite sentry ever could, and she felt the assent from both men.
“On my mark.” She counted down, feeling that distinct jar and tug as their minds merged into the perfect prism of their combined powers. This was so much more than the sensations experienced when they all three conversed mind to mind. No, this was like touching an exposed power grid and letting the energy surge through the body and out of the fingertips.
In the distance the creak and groan of twisting metal filled the night. Guards began to shout orders as the first leg of the base started to glow as if it were stuck into a forge. The leg returned to its liquid state. The tower listed to one side under its weight; then the leg gave way.
Their energy transferred to the leg on the northwest corner. Jerella kept her gaze focused on the beam. It
quickly turned molten. Guards scrambled to lock a crane into place to keep the tower erect. They failed.
As the metal oozed and dripped onto the ground, the support buckled, and the tower came down with a deafening crash that shook the land.
– From Sacred Sacrifices, LooseID.
The Mystics and Warriors series is a melding of both tech and taboo. The dichotomy of a world where scientific advances are cranked out at the behest of a government who religiously oppresses her people and forbids space travel though they have the capability to do so really intrigued me. It’s as much about the relationships and overthrowing the preconceived notions of several races and cultural divisions as it is the building of a better computerized mousetrap.
Let’s face it taboos can come in many shapes and sizes—not to mention subjects. They can be anything from sexual practices to religious rites, from personal relationships to cultural protocols. The field is vast and the list endless. It’s so much fun to dig into the muck and mire of a world and find the building blocks to put it all together, place it in a box, and shake it up. The end product can be very surprising, even for the author. Nothing in science fiction, whether it has romance or not, should be straight forward or taken for granted. It should be gritty, powerful, gripping and real.
It is thrilling to sit down and read about places and people that leap off the page. Worlds built so intricately that as a reader you know the author must have been there before. I can’t actually remember the first science fiction I read—I’ve been reading them so long. Over the years I’ve been to worlds created by McCaffry, Sheffield, Sterling and Robinson.
I know I fell in love with the genre back in 1969 when I watched my first episode of the original Star Trek when it hit syndication. It’s been a love affair with science fiction ever since. The draw for me is the ability to speak on subjects that might be very uncomfortable for some people and place it in a distant world so removed from us. We can discuss, analyze and decide about topics that seem unrelated to us, if seen through the lens of “other.” This is what makes science fiction a wonderful vehicle for social commentary. It is also what makes the melding of tech and taboo a brilliant marriage for telling a story.
If you are over 18 and comment on this post and you will be entered to win a copy of one of the books in the series mentioned here. Good luck and happy reading.
About the Author
Kathleen Scott writes from her home in rural NJ, where often she looks up at the night sky and wonders if there will ever be a “first contact” and what form it will take.