When Sci-Fi Isn’t Sci-Fi

I recently had a conversation online with someone about my new novel, Daylight, and it ended up getting a little bit contentious.  I had posted an excerpt for a few people to read (mainly as a bit of a teaser), and he started telling me, “You’re not supposed to do X, Y, and Z in a science fiction novel,” and then he asked me how much Greg Egan I had read.  When I answered that I’d never even heard the name before, his reply was, “Maybe you should correct that oversight before writing science-fiction.”

Yeah, it was kind of a snarky comment.  But I didn’t get offended.  Instead, it made me realize that he and I were speaking two different languages.  I looked it up, and apparently this Greg Egan guy is a reclusive Australian author and mathematician who writes hard science-fiction “with mathematical and quantum ontology themes, including the nature of consciousness. Other themes include genetics, simulated reality, posthumanism, mind uploading, sexuality, and artificial intelligence.”  At that point, I discovered the disconnect and told him that I’m not writing science-fiction.  Not really.

Yes, the setting of the narrative is a failed NASA mission to Saturn, and I do utilize scientific concepts like antimatter propulsion, time dilation, and multiverse theory.  But that’s not really what the book is about.  My goal is not to delve into and explore the kind of ideas that guys like Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, or Greg Egan write about.  In this case, the sci-fi setting is incidental.  It’s a just a tool I’m using to tell the real story.  And at it’s heart, Daylight is a love story.  It’s about a man struggling with his own demons, dealing with a broken marriage and the tragic death of a child.  The vast and empty void of space is an extended metaphor for feeling lost, alone, and isolated.  And in the darkness of the eclipse, as the crew is cut off from Mission Control and trapped in oblivion, each of the characters is forced to face their deepest fears and the darkness within their own hearts.  It’s about the nature of evil.  It’s about questioning the existence of God.  It’s about a selfish, faithless man who has lost all hope learning what it really means to love someone.

To tell you the truth, I owe a debt to several sources:  Firstly, I was inspired by the novel High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (or more accurately, the film version starring John Cusack), which tells a touching story about heartbreak, failed relationships, and a flawed man learning to become a better version of himself.  I also drew influence from C.S. Lewis, specifically his Space Trilogy and its science-fictionalized depiction of angels as immortal, extradimensional energy beings, as well as The Great Divorce and its metaphorical image of Hell.  Now, I’m not exactly a “science person,” so I had to do a great deal of research on space flight, particle physics, quantum mechanics, etc., much of which was performed online.  I did, however, obtain a lot of solid information from a book called Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship by John Polkinghorne, along with another book called The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios.  But most importantly, I was inspired by the music of a band called Brave Saint Saturn, primarily their sophomore album The Light of Things Hoped For, which features a similar concept regarding a failed mission to explore Saturn.  In the loose narrative of their album, the crew is cut off from radio contact with Earth as well as the light of the Sun, and both the astronauts and their families begin to fear they are lost forever.  The final, climactic song on the album is entitled “Daylight,” from which I drew the title of my novel.  I will be forever grateful to Reese Roper, Keith Hoerig, Dennis Culp, and Andrew Verdecchio for their passionate music and poetry, for inspiring me personally, and of course, for inspiring my book.

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