• B.A. Simmons

Is the Archipelago Series Hard or Soft?

When I pitch my books to customers, I often call it "an epic seafaring sci fi adventure". This is a literal description of the series as the Planet Archipelago is mostly oceans and seas dotted with islands; no continents at all. The overarching story of the series is epic in scale, telling the tale of not just my main character, Rob Engleman; not only the stories of his friends and family; but it determines the fate of all the humans and many of the other alien creatures of the planet. The adventures that take place in this story are also epic in that death (and more horrible fates) are real and distinct possibilities. Not to get all George R.R. Martin on everyone, but not all my characters will survive the story.

Then there is the sci fi part. As I've mentioned in a previous blog post, many look at my cover art and think fantasy rather than science fiction. This is due to the fact that I consider the series to be a form of soft sci fi. What's the difference?

Hard science fiction contains two aspects of sci fi that soft does not. In hard sci fi, the story concentrates on the science, including (but not limited to) detailed descriptions of how fictional technology works, detailed descriptions of scientific principles or theories, and descriptions of alien culture. Great examples of these include 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Martian. It's not that technology and science are everything, but they are essential components to the story.

Soft science fiction, aside from not dwelling on these aspects, tends to mix in unscientific concepts. Examples of this include Star Wars, where the omnipresent "Force" gives the Jedi and Sith power not accessible by most other characters. Despite the attempt in Episode I: The Phantom Menace of scientifically explaining the Force, it is essentially magic in a science fiction setting. Other examples common in soft sci fi are the ideas of sound being carried in outer-space (as depicted in many movies, not so much in books), or how laser-guns would have no recoil and really need to be allowed time to burn a target. They couldn't just "blast" it with a quick burst of light. That's more akin to what a plasma weapon might do.

Most authors who write soft sci fi often simply glaze over the details of technology, scientific principles and descriptions of aliens. Their audiences either don't care about the inaccuracies or don't mind the focus being shifted away from those aspects and placed solidly upon characters and plot.

Now, for transparency sake, let me make it known that I am not a scientist. I enjoy reading about science, especially as it might apply to my writing. I research scientific principles and technology to help ensure my writing adheres to them, even if I don't flesh out those concepts in my stories.

As the characters in my stories have all grown up without advanced technology, but then discover some of it throughout their adventures, I have the task of describing it from their perspective. A taser rod (essentially a cattle prod with a little more kick) is called a "lightning spear" by my characters. Flying machines are not called jets or hovercraft, as these terms would not have been taught them as they are to us who have this technology surrounding us.

However, as I discovered in writing The Voyage of the Entdecker, we sometimes use older terms to describe some of our modern technology. A tablet computer is so called as it resembles a tablet, which is one of the oldest inventions for containing writing. I had to describe a digital tablet as one might an alien artifact, giving information a reader can easily understand in progressive detail as my characters figure it out.

Here's a description of a piece of technology, familiar to us, but shown through the discovering eyes of my main character: "While Rob sketched out a nonfunctional tube that lay before him, he noticed a red light illuminated on the device. He was positive that light had not been on before. After a moment's hesitation, Rob picked it up. He had looked through the ends of it before, believing it to be a type of far-see, but had seen nothing. Now, as he raised it to his eye, he was met with a blurry but definite image of colors. Blue, yellow, orange and red were displayed in contrast and as he moved, so did the image. After some amount of experimentation, Rob concluded that it was a type of vision-enhancing device, though it didn't magnify the images." (From The Hellhound Consortium, Book Two of the Archipelago Series)

Can you figure out what the device is?

While science and technology are not at the forefront of my writing, I do my best to adhere to them. As sailing is a big part of what the characters do, and as I'm not a sailor, I study and conduct research on sailing ships and sailing technique. I use it to add not only authenticity to my writing, but hopefully (this is the educator in me) inspire my young readers to become interested in it as I was reading books like Carry on, Mr. Bowditch and Kon Tiki.

So, while my stories don't focus on science and technology as fundamental aspects of the story, they are still important. While character and plot drive my stories far more than descriptions of the science behind their lives, both human and alien characters depend on a certain level of technology (modern and ancient) to survive the adventures they become involved in.

One of the points that I do take the time to describe well and focus on in my plots for this series, is the loss of technology. We have become so accustomed to it and take it for granted so often that I sincerely believe that if we were to lose what we have, we'd suffer greatly. If forced by uncontrollable circumstances to live without the internet, GPS systems, even telephone and radio communication; many of us living today would literally die. That is how reliant we are on our advanced technology.

In the Archipelago Series, Rob and his companions are the descendants of a failed human colony. Cut off from the rest of Humanity, forced to survive on a hostile alien world, the advanced technology they came with breaks down, gets lost or is preserved as an artifact in a museum.

Technology is there, it's just a more subtle part of their lives; and therefore my stories.

Searched for, but cannot find the artist's name.

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