Monday, March 10, 2014

Sci-Fi with a Philosophical Angle, A Guest Post by Mary Fan, author of Synthetic Illusions

When I came up with the idea for the first book in the Jane Colt series, Artificial Absolutes, my plan was to make it a fun, intentionally campy space opera—something that mocked its own genre. However, as I started writing, I found that my natural leanings as a writer are more serious. I had this idea for a sentient artificial intelligence, and once I started developing the character, I had to ask: how human could an AI be? And what makes us human?

Always the dutiful student, I hit the philosophy books. What is consciousness? What is willpower? Is it all an illusion? I read so many essays, my brain nearly melted. I won’t pretend to know the answers, but I read enough arguments to give the POV characters what they needed for the story.

And then there’s the religious element. In the Jane Colt series, the titular character’s love interest is a seminary student named Adam who, as Jane fondly says, “thinks too much.” Jane, meanwhile, is an atheist—like me. So writing her side of the argument was easy enough. But for his, I had to hit the books again. Especially since Synthetic Illusions shows his perspective much more than Artificial Absolutes did.

The challenge with Adam was that I had to find a way for him to be devoutly religious while accepting that Jane will always think he’s devoted to a fantasy. My readings took me all the way back to St. Augustine, and I mentally went back in time to my chapel choir days, when I was the atheist in the chancel, getting paid to sing on Sundays and zoning out through sermons. Turns out, I was listening after all. I was eventually able to develop a perspective for Adam that worked, one that get him to believe wholly in an Absolute Being despite all the madness he goes through.

The novels in “Jane Colt” series are action-adventure books at heart, but I wanted to make them about more than just starships and laser guns. These characters—they aren’t action figures, and the things they think about, I have to think about too. In many cases, they think about things that wouldn’t cross my mind, and hence all the background reading.

So I’ve taken to saying, “Never write a character who’s smarter than you.” It’s a lot of work!

Get your copy of Mary's latest book, Synthetic Illusions, from Amazon US (ebook or paper), Amazon UK (ebook or paper), or Barnes & Noble. And be sure to enter the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win some great prizes.

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