Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: The shoulder of Orion

In this week’s Futures story, we get to meet Norbert, a Synthetic who is facing a fairly serious problem. The shoulder of Orion marks the debut of Eric Garside in Futures, and sees him wrestle with life and death issues. Eric is a software developer by day, and you can keep up to date with his activities on his Twitter feed. Here, Eric reveals how his latest tale came about. As usual, it pays to read the story first.

Writing The shoulder of Orion

From an early age, I was drawn to sci-fi stories. Originally introduced to the genre by way of Asimov, I would catch myself often daydreaming of electric sheep instead of statistics homework; of grey goo while in gym class. My mind was dominated with thoughts of robots, starships and rayguns, and as a software developer by trade today, I can’t help but credit a burning desire to bring these thoughts to reality as the impetus for teaching myself to code.

These days, I spend a lot of time thinking about neural networks, evolutionary algorithms, organic 3D printers and what it would take to create synthetic life. I believe that within my lifetime we will develop the technology to reliably communicate with other sentient non-human animals (elephants, gorillas, whales), and that thought alone keeps me up at night with anticipation. Spending a lot of time thinking about these topics has forced some deep introspection about what it means to be alive, and what exactly makes us human.

The stations my train of thought travels between are vast, varied and inclusive of the obscure, obtuse and irrelevant. And as the experts advise, one should always “write what they know” …

Before this story, I hadn’t written prose in a while, and so I used my tabula rasa as an opportunity to feel out a new writing style. Luckily, I had a couple browncoat friends from college who were excited to offer insight into how they liked their sci-fi. From our conversations, I gleaned four simple rules to keep in mind while writing:

1. The human element is the most interesting; let me know and care about a character.

2. The setting is important, but don’t talk about it extensively.

3. Hard sci-fi can get really boring.

4. Robots are cool.

So it is with these rules in mind, that I’ve tried to present the ideas that captivate me in a way that was compelling for readers. I’ll leave you with what is the most inspirational quote I’ve ever heard, which (unsurprisingly) came from sci-fi:

We are the Universe made manifest, trying to figure itself out. — Delenn, Babylon 5


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