Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: The terminator

The latest issue of Nature includes a research paper that discusses a group of seven exoplanets orbiting a low-mass star called TRAPPIST-1. These worlds are similar in size to Earth and are in positions that could, potentially, allow water in some form to exist on them. And in a first for Futures, this week’s story takes its inspiration from this very discovery. Written by Swiss author Laurence Suhner, The terminator takes a look at these brave new worlds. Laurence is the author of QuanTika, a trilogy that stages the encounter between humans and an ancient stellar civilization, which has left mysterious remnants on a frozen telluric exoplanet. Here, she offers an insight into her creative process — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing The terminator: from science to imagination

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to tell stories, in the form of illustrations, short stories or novels. However, not just any stories. Stories about space. Stories about time. Stories about space-time. Stories that would lead my characters to the ends of the known Universe and make them live cosmological adventures.

I don’t know where this inclination for science, this fascination for the Universe and its mysteries, whether cosmic or subatomic, comes from. But the fact is that these stories have never ceased to stir my imagination.

Humankind has always been in awe of natural phenomena, before attempting to explain them, whether through faith or reason. Knowledge consists of a succession of leaps towards a fleeting unknown, perpetually filled with new sources of astonishment. An endless process, a race towards what we believe to be truth and knowledge. Yet, newer, often more astonishing mysteries, are eager to unseat our initial explanations. The conclusion of the story always slips away from us, withdraws, plays with our intelligence and our perceptions.

This perpetual quest is what constantly inspires me in my science-fiction writing. My characters are always researchers. But, above all, they are real human beings with dreams and emotions — like the woman depicted in The terminator.

Where does this desire to portray scientists come from? Perhaps from the many journeys made by my father when I was a child. Every time he came home, he would tell me anecdotes set in the scientific laboratories he visited. He also brought me back strange and exotic objects that stimulated my imagination. Or perhaps it was my grandfather’s ‘fault’. He worked at the SIP, the Physics Instruments Society, in Geneva, and was the first to tell me about particles and quantum physics. I just don’t know.

Still, as a result, I hesitated for a long time between studying fine arts or physics at university. I finally opted for an intermediate solution: archaeology.

Now, for ten years, I have been reconciling my early passion for art, literature and science — more precisely physics, astroparticle physics and astrophysics — through my short stories and my hard science-fiction series QuanTika, which is based on current research in these fields.

Working with scientists is essential for me. I need to constantly question myself about our origins, our existence as human beings lost in a vast universe of matter and energy, as living beings born out of stellar chemistry.

That’s why I immediately agreed to write a short story about the TRAPPIST-1 system. Integrating advanced research into my texts allows me to talk about science while keeping the sense of wonder and awe intact. This is one of the main advantages of science fiction.

This genre allows me to create vertiginous universes where we ponder and dream about the very nature of the world.

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