Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Motives In Science Fiction by @CorrinaLawson

by Corrina Lawson

Science fiction and mysteries have always been intertwined. And, though some who love those genres would deny it, relationships and romance have always been a large part of them.
Let’s break them down.

Science fiction is a search to explain the unknown, to peer into the unknowable future and use it to project the present. It’s the genre of possibilities.

Combine science fiction with a mystery, and the questions become explicit.

And, because the solution to those mysteries are bound up in how humans (and other intelligences) relate to one another, relationships and even romances have always been part of them too.

I grew up reading science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, and a few romances, and, naturally, I tossed all three into the pot when I set down to write my first steampunk mystery, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.

There were several direct influences. My writing owes something to the science fiction mysteries of Isaac Asimov, particularly  Lije Bailey/R. Daneel Olivaw detective stories. Asimov, of course, was drawing on the tradition of the Holmes/Watson partnership. (Of course, I read the complete Sherlock Holmes as a young teen as well. Thank you, Arthur Conan Doyle.)

But what really cemented my love of science fiction mysteries was the discovery of the late Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories. In this alternate world, where Richard Lionheart reigned far longer, an alternate timeline that also features magic spun out through the centuries, leading to the roughly Victorian-era of Lord Darcy, detective to the Duke of Normandy, and his assistant, forensic sorcerer, Sean O'Lochlainn.

 And, yes, forensic sorcerer is as cool as it sounds, basically a scientific approach to magic. The Lord Darcy books are collected in one great big volume nw, so they should be easy to find still. Garrett died before he could write more than that collection, however. :sigh: However, his stories do feature romance in a subtle way, one between Lord Darcy and a foreign spy, another, more explicit, between Darcy and a noblewoman with a penchant for mysteries.

As I’m a believer that the stories we adore in our formative years shape our fiction, it was perhaps not surprising that when I created a steampunk world, I started with my own Sherlock Holmes analog, one Gregor Sherringford. (His last name being one of Conan’s Doyle’s rejected first names for Holmes.)

The first novel in the Steampunk Detectives, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract, introduced Joan Krieger, our narrator, and my own version of Watson. Joan is where I veered far outside the lines of my influences. She’s more than a simple assistant: she’s a seamstress, a dressmaker intent on remaking the world through fashion, who has a natural curiosity and drive to become more than what society says she should be. Working against her is her class, her gender, and her religion, Jewish. 

Gregor Sherringford is also a departure from Holmes, that consummate loner. He has a living mother, and noble family that he avoids. This is partially his natural reserved inclination and partially because Gregor never possessed a powerful mage gift, as his parents’ hoped.

But also it’s because Gregor’s mother is Indian and Gregor’s place in the rigid class society of the peers of the realm is uneasy.

That makes Gregor naturally empathic to those of society who are prevented from standing up for themselves because of prejudice. Gregor, being Gregor, would deny the empathy and insists that solving mysteries is the only way to feed his active mind.

As would the original Holmes.

But Doyle’s Holmes had nothing but sneers for the nobility who endanger innocent lives or take advantage of others. Original Holmes admires those who stand up for themselves, even if they need a little help doing so, like the young heiress in The Adventure of the Speckled Band or, more famously, “the late Irene Adler of dubious and questionable memory.” It’s clear in A Scandal in Bohemia where Holmes’ sympathy resides.

Doyle’s Holmes is a champion, if your cause is just, no matter the odds against you. That’s what I wanted Gregor Sherringford to be as well.

Like the original Holmes, Gregor does not like admitting he has emotions. Except, of course, where Joan Krieger is concerned.

In Curse of the Brimstone Contract, I blended science fiction and mystery in a search for those killing the clients of Joan’s dress shop via magical attack. There is a growing romance between Joan and Gregor as well. For Joan, Gregor is a person who sees her true self, who views her as worthy as any peer. For Gregor, Joan is someone immensely gifted, someone not intimidated by his reserve, someone who innately trusts him to do what’s right, even under dire circumstances.

But it’s not an easy relationship, given their differences in class and religion. To explore those, I knew the sequel had to bring in Gregor’s family, via the family estate at Lotus Hall.

And, so, science fiction, mystery, and romance entwine once again in A Hanging at Lotus Hall. The science fiction comes from the meld of steam technology with magic, producing such things as a flying carriage and automated doors. The mystery comes from a locked-room murder committed by a mage within Lotus Hall. 

The romance comes from Joan’s collision with the noble family of the Dukes of Bennington. Like many families, including her own, they are hiding secrets, sometimes, deadly ones, leading Joan not only unsure whether she belongs, but who she can trust with her life.

The external mystery had to reflect the internal problems between Joan and Gregor. Oddly, that led me to including not one but two other romantic subplots in the book, though not as fully developed as Joan and Gregor’s romance.

Add thwarted love to a desire for power, and it’s a heady combination for my ultimate villain.

Because even in science fiction, the motives are going to remain…human. 


Follow Corrina Lawson: 

Curse of the Brimstone Contract available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0755C8WZF/

Hanging at Lotus Hall releases February 5, 2019. 

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