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Tuesday, 23 October 2012

What makes a good sci-fi novel?

Rocky Leonard

Please don’t ask me to name my “favorite” science fiction writer. From Isaac Asimov to Rogers Zelazny, I could probably name a favorite work by each—maybe, if you put a gun to my head.

Also, please don’t demand that I choose between the authors of I, Robot and The Nine Princes of Amber, because I can’t. They are only the first two legends of science fiction that popped into my head as I tried to alphabetize a list of my sci-fi heroes. I didn’t even take the time to compare and consider the works of Piers Anthony, Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Card, Arthur C. Clarke, Michael Crichton, Phillip K. Dick, Larry Niven, or Jerry Pournelle, to name a few giants of the genre.

Modern cinema translates science fiction novels from print to film better than just about any other literary work. Even a well written short story by Phillip K. Dick can inspire a terrific feature-length movie like The Adjustment Bureau. And comic book characters such as the Hulk and Iron Man have become compelling, believable characters in a live action science fiction adventure films which rely heavily on computerized graphics to create somewhat realistic imagery for the big screen.

Don’t believe me? Check out the list of the top grossing films of all time. Four of the top eleven should be considered science fiction movies.  Science fiction films are big business these days.

And what writer does not aspire to see their work translated to the big screen? Science fiction films are so visually captivating that they don’t always require a great storyline to hold the audience.

Avatar was little more than an amalgamation of the plots of Dances with Wolves, Coming to America, The Prince and the Pauper, Starship Troopers, and maybe just a dash of Peter Pan, packaged with an environmentally friendly message and set in a brave new world. It was also the highest grossing film of all time, because James Cameron created an amazing world in which to tell the same old story. Boy meets girl and they fall in love…so who cares if he’s white, and she’s blue? 

Let’s face facts…when Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and an unnamed crew member all beamed down to an alien planet, there was no real mystery involved when it came to guessing which one of them was about to be killed by an evil extraterrestrial creature of some sort. But that doesn’t necessarily stop us from watching to see whether he or she would be devoured or disintegrated.

What elevates a science fiction novel to greatness?

A fabulous science fiction novel like Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s epic tale The Mote in God’s Eye stretches the limits of one’s imagination to explore foreign worlds populated by alien civilizations. But reaching for the stars isn’t essential to produce a great science fiction novel—Michael Crichton simply took the cutting edge of technology one dark step further in his classic novel Jurassic Park.

Scientists had learned how to extract prehistoric DNA from mosquitoes embedded in amber. Crichton merely fantasized about what might naturally occur as a result of man’s hubris and misuse of advanced technology. Crichton took that scientific achievement and gave us dinosaurs roaming around a remote island that had been converted into a biological amusement park. The crucial element of his story was that he used existing cutting-edge technology to provide a reasonable explanation for how the dinosaurs came to exist on the island.

Therein lies the key to a great story—as long as the author provides a plausible scenario allowing the reader to suspend his or her disbelief, the story works. It is no longer just a good science fiction novel, but a great novel in a science fiction setting.

My latest novel, Secondhand Sight, emulates Crichton’s style of writing science fiction. Like the protagonist in Prey, Crichton’s science fiction thriller about nanotechnology, the hero of Secondhand Sight, Dan Harper, is a computer programmer by trade. Dan involuntarily takes a spiritual journey into the surreal world of paranormal phenomena as he learns to trust his intuition. He is an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Dan finds his normal world turned upside down at a time of great personal duress by supernatural phenomena he struggles to explain.

And most importantly, he learns to cope, and ultimately rises to the challenge.  

Scientists have been doing research on heart attack patients and other survivors of a near death experience, looking for common denominators in their experience. Doctors have conducted experiments to test whether the visions reported by many dying people are real or hallucinations. Patients have described what they claim to have unique, new experiences while their intellect, or “mind”, apparently separated from their physical brains. These temporarily dead patients remained capable of creating new memories while their physical bodies remained in either a dying or dead state.

Ghosts are merely an extension of that idea. However, instead of a near-death state, the person in question now maintains an after-death state. As one of my favorite literary heroes, Michael Crichton, grew famous for doing, my research for Secondhand Sight involved observing the cutting-edge of scientific research--in this case of near death studies, and asking, “What if?”

Secondhand Sight 

Dan Harper is just an ordinary guy, having an ordinary day…until he ruins his tie during lunch. When he visits a thrift store near his office for an inexpensive replacement, merely touching a secondhand tie triggers a flood of gruesome images only he can see. Are they hallucinations, or suppressed memories?

Dan desperately wants these visions to be nothing more than a product of his imagination, but soon enough, he discovers real crime scenes and murder victims. Dan can no longer ignore the unseen powers forcing him to confront the demons of his past. Dark forces prod him to seek the identity of the faceless murderer haunting his dreams.

Dan’s worst fear is the suspicion he’ll eventually confront the face of this brutal killer in last place he wants to look – the mirror.

Buy Secondhand Sight in any format: http://www.eachvoicepub.com/secondhandsight.php
Buy Coastal Empire in any format: http://www.eachvoicepub.com/reviewsCoastalEmpire.php

Author Rocky Leonard

John "Rocky" Leonard was born in Savannah, Georgia and has spent most of his adult life in the northern suburbs of Atlanta. He holds a BBA in Management Information Systems from the University of Georgia and worked as a computer programmer for more than twenty years before becoming a writer.

John's writing has also been influenced by shorter stints working as a bartender, real estate investor and landlord. He has been married to wife Lisa for twenty-three years and is the proud father of two and grandfather of three, as well as pack leader for several wonderful dogs and a hostile Maine Coon cat.

John writes detective novels under the pen name Rocky Leonard.

The local color in his writing is equally authentic whether the setting is a Georgia beach, downtown Atlanta, or the Appalachian foothills in north Georgia.

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