Friday, January 23, 2015

Snapshot: Bringing 'Big' Back to Science Fiction

My guest is alternative fiction author, Dale Cozort. He discusses how Sci-fi seems to have it's original premise of big ideas and adventure.

Snapshot is my ambitious attempt to open up a new universe for science fiction, full of intriguing ideas and open for adventure, for escape.

Science fiction started out as the fiction of big ideas, of adventures and of escape from the mundane world. In the early days, cardboard characters and iffy plots often accompanied those big ideas, but stories gained substantial audiences based on the power of the ideas, the adventure and the escape.

Science fiction changed over the years. We realized that the old dreams of inhabited Mars and Venus weren't viable. Nothing in the solar system offered much in the way of adventures or escape. Inhabitable planets meant going to the stars and interstellar travel may never become feasible. Much of the escape and adventure function of science fiction has moved to fantasy.

The cardboard characters and iffy plots of early science fiction are mostly gone and not lamented, but the balance swung so far in the other direction that much of science fiction now is essentially literary fiction with spaceship decals. Characters spend stories embracing their dysfunctions rather than dealing with big ideas or having adventures.

Science fiction with big ideas and adventure has become far too rare for my tastes. I wrote Snapshot not just as a novel but also as a universe to explore big ideas and have adventures, a new space to replace the old inhabitable Mars and Venus.

How did I do that? Snapshot is set in a universe where for at least eighty million years extraterrestrials with godlike powers have made exact replicas of Earth's continents--including plants, animals and humans. They put the replicas (nicknamed Snapshots) in snow globe shaped artificial universes, connected like strings of pearls by vents high over their oceans. Life on the Snapshots goes on, getting more and more different than life back on Dirtball Earth. And anyone in the Snapshot universe with a plane that reach the vents can fly to universes where dinosaurs still roam, where Nazis or Soviets rule Europe or where Indians still rule North America.

The setup lets me write big ideas and adventure. Snapshot  the novel is set on one of the Snapshots. Greg Dunne, a Middle East analyst, is kidnapped from the brand new US-2014 Snapshot and ends up in the middle of a feud between German ranchers and ranchers from a Korean war era US Snapshot over ranchland in an ancient, thinly-inhabited continent-sized Madagascar Snapshot. The setting is a mix of the Wild West, the US of the 1950s or early 1960s, the Cold War and pre-World War II Europe, but with electric cars, nuclear power plants, windmills and some totally unique elements.

Lurking in Snapshot is a question: If we met the United States of the late 1950s or early 1960s, how would we get along with them? US-1953 Snapshot is not exactly the US of the 1950s, but its close. It hasn't had a personal computer revolution or an Internet revolution or a cell phone revolution, and it's not sure it wants any of those things.

Here is a snippet between a German major and am African-American US diplomat that illustrates the issue: 

"Don't figure US-53 are the good guys because they have US in front of their name. You won't like each other."
"I'm sure you would enjoy watching two versions of the US feud. Tell me why we won't like them."
"You in particular because your skin color isn't loved there. Your Snapshot in general, because you're both used to being the alpha dog. Power matters. None of the rest does, not cultural similarities or the fact that US-53 people are sort of your brothers and cousins. You may be brothers, but both of you expect to be the older brother, the one the other tries to be like. That won't end well."
"Maybe not. Then again, we're where US-53 would have been if it hadn't been cut off. They may look at what we've accomplished and want to catch up."
The major laughed. "And that's exactly why you won't get along. You'll be lucky if you don't lob a-bombs through the vents at each other."


Alternate realities you can fly to. 
The Tourists have taken Snapshots of Earth for eighty million years, living replicas of continents. Life in Snapshots quickly diverges from the real world, creating a universe where humans and animals from Earth’s history fly between Snapshots through vents high above their oceans, exploring, fighting, and sometimes meeting themselves.
In 2014, the Tourists’ new North America Snapshot cuts a copy of the modern US off from the real world [and] catches Middle East Analyst Greg Dunne rushing toward Hawaii to join his wife, who just went into labor. The new Snapshot doesn’t include Hawaii, cutting Greg off from everyone he loves and thrusting him into the aftermath of a hidden, decades-old massacre.The prize: a wild, ancient Madagascar Snapshot that controls communications between dozens of Snapshots.

DALE COZORT lives in a college town near Chicago with his wife, daughter, three cats and a lot of books. He is a computer guy and teacher as well as a long-time science fiction fan and writer. He has a diverse range of interests, from computers and history to martial arts. He loves animals and did a stint as a foster home for orphan Samoyeds. He also loves alternate history and does a 5 times per year online newsletter of alternate history scenarios and stories. Snapshot is his fourth published novel.



Kat Sheridan said...

Ooo, sounds like a great concept, with lots of possibilities! Is this going to be a series?

Author R. Mac Wheeler said...

Dale, I'll spot your warp drive and raise ya mind just went blank. I hate when that happens. I need to get back to SF. It's been a few years.

Unknown said...

Pat: Definitely a series. I have two more novels at the rough draft stage and several others planned.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Dale, the premise of a snapshot alternate world is intriguing and I can see where lots of stories could be written in this universe you've created.

John Philipp said...

Dale, a good explanation of "science fiction." While I read a lot of tradition SF, I find myself writing more of what I'd call speculative fiction, which gives me a little more latitude, especially for short stories. I like posing questions such as "man discovers an immortality drug" — what is that society like?
I have your book, which is inching its way up my To Read pile. You are currently in sixth position. However, understanding the paradigm you have created I may just have you skip ahead. I look forward to reading this.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. I can easily see more stories in this universe than I can write in a couple lifetimes.

Anonymous said...

Snapshot has all kinds of little twists to it. For example, the vents between Snapshot are guarded by "Babble Zones", which basically tell anything with a nervous system to go away. You CAN'T voluntarily go through a Babble Zone. If you go through one in a plan on autopilot, you'll end up with hallucinations that seem real. I have a lot of fun with the hallucinations, using them to reveal what is going on deep inside a character's head.

Anonymous said...

plan = plane. Here is an example:

Greg's body refused to move. Floor panels flew away, starting at the front of the cabin and racing toward him. Greg ducked, his hand clutching the seat. The panel under his feet went, revealing ocean far below.

Belker's voice was distant. "Whatever you see, it's not real!"

It seemed real. Greg's arm stretched like taffy, and he bungee-corded on it, feet skimming the ocean. The bouncing slowed, leaving him face to face with Faith. His wife was naked to the waist, her torso on a mermaid's body. She glared at him. "Why weren't you there?"

"Why don't you put a shirt on?"

"Then you couldn't see the blood." She pulled two cartoon lemurs out of her chest by the scruffs of their necks. Their long tongues licked her face.

Greg's arm snapped him back up like a released rubber band. As Faith faded to a dot among the waves, he yelled, "I love you!"

The words rolled out of his mouth in monstrous smoke-and-fire letters. Wind shredded them, then he was back in the plane, clinging to the seat

Anonymous said...

The hero, Greg Dunne, is in many ways the antithesis of Harry Potter. He is reasonably satisfied with his life--good job, happily married, with a daughter and two sons within hours of being born. He wants that life back, but the rules of the universe say he can't have it back. The new North American Snapshot didn't include Hawaii, which is where his wife and most of his very close extended family is.

So he goes from happily married to essentially alone, with his job in jeopardy and no way to get the most valuable things in his life back, at least not for the first several books.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I like the premise behind Snapshots and a little slice of every time on earth.

Anonymous said...

I love world-building and Snapshot lets me build an infinite number of worlds. The technological civilizations on the Snapshots know of over twenty Snapshots, each with its own ecology and in the case of the human-inhabited ones, its own history, politics and economics.

Those twenty-plus continent-sized universes are just the beginning, though. every Snapshot has at least two vents, so there is always another unexplored Snapshot on the other side of the Snapshot you're exploring, an endless frontier.

Anonymous said...

As somebody commented, you can have something approaching Space Opera at the core of the known Snapshots and "Indiana Jones" type exploration at the frontier. And you'll never know what is on the other side of the vent. The Tourists use Snapshots as continent-sized petri dishes. They might stretch an island to continent size or copy it a thousand times. They might have a Snapshot consisting of the Pacific ocean, just the ocean, not the continents around it.

Anonymous said...

John: I hope you enjoy it.

Alex: It is a cool concept. I've had a lot of fun writing it.

~Sia McKye~ said...

DALE, I have to admit, I do like space operas--I've always loved Star-trek for example. I absolutely loved Indiana Jones and I think stories with angle is fun to read. He had his funny moments but also dealt with big issues.

While read and enjoyed many geeky hard core Sci-fi I prefer my sci-fi with a good adventure. :-)

Anonymous said...

Sia: Snapshot isn't quite at the Indiana Jones pace in terms of action, but it does pretty well. For example:

Their plane jerked again and a hole appeared in the cabin, six inches above their heads. They're shooting at us! The ride abruptly got much rougher. Halia's head slammed into the window, but her grip on his hand didn't loosen.

Greg pulled her away from the window. She sagged across his chest, perfume and blood odors assaulting him.

Holes stitched across the cabin, above the seats but too close and slanting down, accompanied by a jackhammer sound. Windows grew fist-sized holes, with glass and lead spraying across the aisle.

Another FW-190 lookalike flew past, clearly visible in the window for a second and close enough that Greg looked straight into the pilot's cold blue eyes, eyes set in a perfect face framed by long blond hair. A woman. Greg half-expected to see a swastika on the wing, but spotted a German iron cross instead.

Greg teetered between fascination and fear. I'm in a World War II-style dogfight! The parade of holes passed close above his head, tipping him toward fear and leaving a howling crosswind in its wake. The ride got bouncier. The plane climbed, throwing them against the seat, then swerved and dived. The airport guard's body slid past them in the aisle, a fist-sized hole in his chest, eyes open but empty. He seemed to stare at Greg as he passed, his head pivoting. Oily smoke joined the other cabin odors.

Stephanie Faris said...

I think there's some major truth in that. I've never been much of a sci-fi fan (unless Twilight Zone counts!) but it does seem that maybe we have more interesting things going on around us (technology-wise) than what I see portrayed in sci-fi!

Anonymous said...

Dale, love the concept. When I was growing up and reading SF, big ideas were very much in play and I loved watching how writers like Frank Herbert, Samuel R. Delany, Ursula LeGuin and Tom Disch brought them to life. The snapshots idea seems like a good way to enable collisions between parallel universes and worldviews. Sounds like you'll have fun writing multiple stories based on this premise.

Carrie Butler said...

That certainly does bring the big back to science fiction! :)

cleemckenzie said...

Love the concept of Snapshot. And I really enjoyed the exchange between the two characters. Well done.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

I love the sounds of this concept. I am a HUGE sci-fi fan and, when done well, it's my favorite genre.