Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Flashforward: Historical Mystery Writing in the Future

The Moon! And the Sun! At the same time!
I'm so excited to welcome Terri Main to the blog today. She's a kindred spirit, writing cozy mysteries in space and self publishing. Let me tell you, Terri and I could talk (email, really) for hours--and we have. She's got a great post for us today about setting and how to transport your reader to a new world, while keeping it cozy.

Flashforward: Historical Mystery Writing in the Future

I love it when someone someone says, "I loved your stories, and I don't like science fiction."

There are probably several reasons I get that comment that have nothing to do with my books themselves. First, many people think all science fiction is space opera like Star Wars. Also, recently, science fiction has turned dark dominated by zombies, ecological calamities, alien invasions and tyrannical dystopias.
Book 2, Dark Side of the Moon Series

However, I don't think this assessment of my work is completely due to the state of science fiction today. I think it is also because my Dark Side of the Moon mysteriesare not really science fiction. They are historical cozy mysteries. It's just that the historical era is at the turn of the 22nd Century.

We are all familiar with sleuths from the past. Brother Cadfael's exploits in medieval England and Sherlock Holmes Victorian mysteries come to mind off hand. Writing such stories requires researching and immersing oneself, not only in the facts, but in theculture of those times.

But what happens when the historical period in which you set your story is not in the past, but in the future? That was the issue I faced when writing my stories. The novels are set in a small underground town on the moon in the early 2100s. That may sound like a long way in the future, but some teenagers alive today will likely see that time as will the majority of the children born in the next ten years. I am like my grandmother writing from the 1920's about life today.

This brings with it a host of different issues. On one hand ninety years is a long time. On the other, it's not the far distant future. It is not far enough into the future to imagine technologies based on modification of the laws of physics as we know them today. It is unlikely that matter transportation or faster than light travel will be developed in that time frame. Possible, but not likely.

The world of 2101 will likely be a lot like today and, at the same time, nothing like today. For me to make my reader feel at home in that world, I have to anchor them to the ordinary, slowly changing aspects of daily life, and then bring in the futuristic stuff.

Too many writers of future history create worlds without anything left over from the past except ruins. But is that really the case? I am writing this on a laptop computer in the cloud that didn't even exist 20  years ago. But I'm sitting next to my bed which is close to 100 years old as are my dresser and chest of drawers. I have books on my shelf next to me ranging in age from a couple of years old to 80 or more years old.

Even many of the "new" things I use have changed little, except maybe in design, over the centuries. Tables, chairs, bookcases, cabinets and houses have some cosmetics differences, but are fundamentally the same as they were in 1913.

So, to get our 21st century, non-science-fiction reader settled into the 22nd century, I have to have a setting that is somewhat familiar. The opening scene of Darkside of the Moon has my main character sitting in a spaceport in a plastic chair, sipping jasmine tea and looking at her ticket to the moon. The scene could be any modern airport, it's just that there is a high-tech balloon with a rocket shuttle attached instead of an airliner waiting on the tarmac.

By placing the futuristic right next to the ordinary unchanging nature of transportation terminals, I have connected my contemporary reader with this character found in the future. They now are reminded that no matter how much things change, they remain the same.

Coming Soon from Terri Main!
But many things do change. Contrary to popular belief, good science fiction, like good historical fiction or police procedurals is grounded in reality. Writing about the near future requires one to take current technology and extrapolate to where it might go in the next 100 years. Sometimes, this can lead to the appearance of being prophetic. A novel I wrote in 2007 had tablet computers, book printing machines in bookstores and ereaders. None of these technologies were beyond the dreaming stage at that time. However, the basic groundwork had already been laid for it to be developed. It wasn't prophetic. It was just a good guess based on what I was reading in science magazines.  

Having a balloon lift the shuttle to a high altitude for launch to save fuel has already been done with small payloads. So, extrapolating to assume better, lighter and stronger materials for the envelope is not a stretch.

To write effectively about the future, you need to keep current with the science and technology of the present.

Many of the concepts I used in creating my small town built underground on the moon with parks, gardens, daily light and dark cycles and weather came from a nonfiction book written by Gerald K. O'neill called High Frontier that proposed a huge space habitat be built using the current technologies. He worked out how to grow food including livestock, creating weather, gravity and other such matters. I just updated that a bit.

But research and anchoring your story to timeless experiences is only part of the process. You must also consider culture. How does environment affect individuals and groups? My main character is moving to the moon after her mother dies of complications from a stroke at the "young" age of 80. A drug, synthesized from a substance discovered on the moon, made most cardiovascular diseases a thing of the past. However, her mother, and possibly my main character, is genetically immune to its effects. She lives with the knowledge that she could die 40 years before most of her friends.

On the moon, she discovers that her students, she is a university professor, can never go to Earth. Having been born and raised in 1/6 Gravity their bones could never handle the extra weight. However, they love their uniqueness and wouldn't give up crater skimming for running through a forest.

We all know that setting is the extra character in every book. Whether it is Victorian London, Vegas in the 60s or a Benedictine Monastery in the 12th Century, it affects every story we write. Handled properly, though your reader can feel at home even if that setting is on the  moon 90 years from now. 


You can grab The Dark Side of the Moon, Terri's first Cozy Space Mystery for just 99 cents! Don't miss it!


  1. Welcome to the Cozy Mystery Blog, Terri! Fascinating post:)

  2. Thanks for the welcome and the opportunity to talk about this stuff. I've known Carolyn and Michael, my two main characters, for six years now and keep learning more about them, and their relationship keeps growing. (You won't believe what happens on their honeymoon cruise to Mars)

    It was a real pleasure sharing with you all this bit about how I attempt to make people feel at home in the future. Enjoying myself reading some of your other blog posts.

  3. BTW, I love the picture. That's one of my favorites NASA has put out. I'm just trying to figure out a story to go with it so I can use it as a cover illustration. I have one coming up called Total Eclipse of the Moon, but that's when the earth gets in front of the Sun from the moon's perspective. In fact, on the moon, it's a solar eclipse. Still, maybe they wouldn't complain too much if I took a bit of artistic liberty.

  4. Terri, thanks for this opportunity to spend more time with you on the moon. I have read both of the books in this series and consider them to be excellent storytelling and great speculative fiction. I am looking forward to the next one in the series.

    Also, if you loved Cadfael, you may also like the Murdoch Mysteries set in Toronto in the 1890's. They are available on Netflix.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.