Today, we've got a guest piece from author Lucas Bale, who made his sci-fi debut this week with the just-released The Heretic. In my opinion, this is a book well worth getting (my review is here), but be warned: you'll want more and may have yourself hooked on a new series in very short order! Check out the description below, and then read on as Lucas discusses 'hard' vs 'soft' sci-fi and where The Heretic falls, as well as some of the inspirations that helped drive his work.
Centuries have passed since the First Cataclysm ended life on the blue planet. Humanity’s survivors are now dispersed among distant colonies, thousands of light years from the barren, frozen rock that was once their home.
A new Republic has formed – one in which freedom no longer exists. In return for the protection of the Consulate Magistratus, citizens must concede their rights. The Magistratus controls interstellar travel, access to technology – even procreation. Organised religion is forbidden. All crime is punished by banishment or a lifetime of penal servitude on the Kolyma prison fleet.
And humanity’s true history survives only in whispers of a secret archive.
Yet there are those who preach a new religion and who want to be free.
A REVOLUTION IS COMING…
The Heretic is the first book in the Beyond the Wall series, an epic story about the future of humanity and the discovery of the truth of its past.
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I have always been most inspired by what I now know to be ‘hard science-fiction’. I don’t shy away from stories which fall towards the ‘softer’ end of the science-fiction, but my natural inspiration seems to derive from stories which seem to me to be theoretically possible, and therefore more compelling to my mind. We write, at least at the beginning of our careers, what appeals to us most. This is probably the safest course as we learn our craft and we hone our ability to take our readers on the journey we want them to experience. Experimenting with new angles is best left for later stories, or shorter ones.
I can’t say why I am seduced by hard science-fiction, but even when it comes to fantasy, I prefer the worlds in which magic is explained in some way, or operates according to very concrete rules. I find the whole thing more believable. I find the surreal uncomfortable –I simply don’t enjoy it. Perhaps the simple fact I can relate it to something real makes it more chilling, more compelling. More believable. For me, Alien and Aliens, taken together, are at the pinnacle of thrilling, suspenseful science-fiction. They might be said not to be hard science-fiction in the classic sense. The kernel of hard science-fiction is the relationship between the accuracy, and amount, of the scientific detail in the story and the rest of the narrative. In 1993, Gary Westfahl suggested that one requirement for hard science-fiction is that a story “should try to be accurate, logical, credible and rigorous in its use of current scientific and technical knowledge about which technology, phenomena, scenarios and situations that are practically and/or theoretically possible.”
On the basis Einstein’s theory of special relativity tends to preclude faster-then-light travel, most hard science-fiction authors shy away from it. Others might use it as a device whilst maintaining rigorous scientific scruples in respect of the rest of the story. I wouldn’t want to be the butt of what Westfahl describes as ‘The Game’–the search for scientific inaccuracy in a science-fiction work –I am too concerned such rigor tends to inhibit storytelling, and we all take artistic liberties in storytelling. That said, Westfahl concedes, ‘hardness’ is in reality less a matter of the absolute accuracy of the science content than of the rigor and consistency with which the various ideas and possibilities are worked out. For my part, regardless of recent advances which might make Warp Travel possible, through the auspices of an Alcubierre Drive, I chose wormholes as the device to permit interstellar travel. This was as much about the theme underpinning the entire series as it was a construct to allow my story to move along. To say more would ruin the series, but every hard science-fiction story needs to take some liberties and, often, the way in which those liberties are taken can enhance the storytelling. The world I created to tell the Beyond the Wall story is as important to the story as the characters. It is not just a setting, it is a character in itself.
Yet, the themes explored as Beyond the Wall develops are more akin to soft science-fiction –they are political, psychological, anthropological and sociological. In fact, whilst I have attempted to maintain a hard science-fiction tenor in respect of the setting, the story explores far more human themes than technological. The dystopian theme might well be considered ‘hard’ science-fiction, but by definition it must be soft, dealing with social sciences as it would usually tend to. Such is the danger of to rigid a categorisation of fiction –good fiction is usually a blend of different areas. Science is critical to Beyond the Wall, but only in the way it impacts on the remains of humanity, struggling to find its way.
Apart from Aliens, one of the other significant inspirations for Beyond the Wall was Joss Whedon’s Firefly. In many ways Firefly is Space Opera, yet it also carries with it many of the characteristics of hard science-fiction –no faster-than-light travel, no alien life-forms, no technology which is unexplainable or specifically advanced beyond that which might be expected of the setting. It operates within norms which make it more believable as a consequence. I think that is why it appealed to me and why I began, when it’s run was prematurely terminated, to think about my own setting. Beyond the Wall is very different and will become even more different, but I named Shepherd as a nod to Joss Whedon’s superb show. Yet the themes in Firefly are more properly considered to be soft science-fiction, covering the political and psychological ground as they do. They are very human themes and I think we identify with them far more as a result. In the end, ‘hard’ or ‘soft’, what we really want is a story which is believable; which grips us on an emotional, psychological level and which we can identify with. I think good science-fiction has elements of all of that.
Lucas Bale writes the sort of intense, thrilling science-fiction and suspense stories which make you miss your train stop. The sort of stories which dig into what makes us human and scrape at the darkness which hides inside every one of us. When he looks up at the stars, he sees the infinite and myriad worlds which are waiting for us, and which need to be explored. He wasn’t always a writer, but who can say that? He was a barrister for fifteen years before he discovered crime doesn't pay and turned to something which actually pays even less. No one ever said he was smart, but at least he’s happy.
His debut novel, THE HERETIC, is the gateway to the BEYOND THE WALL series, an epic story about the future of humanity and the discovery of the truth of its past and is out from July 7th.
Author website: www.lucasbale.com
Lucas Bale on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/lucasbale