Last night we saw Captain America, which was jam packed with SCIENCE. Very unspecific science, admittedly (what was actually in Dr Erskine’s serum? Other than a substantial quantity of schnapps), but science nonetheless.
OK, maybe I’m overselling this. It’s not science exactly, more a vague approximation of it. Perpetrated by Dominic Cooper, of all people. Seriously, of all the actors you could cast as a brilliant American inventor, you go for the dude from Mamma Mia who can’t do accents.
Still, it was fun, and actually relevant to my eighth book in a roundabout way. I’m interested in people’s perceptions of beauty and how taken in a particular direction, the obsession with appearance might evolve into something a little bit sinister. The notion of injecting a mystery liquid into a wimpy guy to make him buff would probably be seen as cheating in my story, where total human perfection is to be achieved by an insidious kind of evolution (beautiful people mate with other beautiful people, ugly people do not procreate and are gradually phased out). But that’s at least partly because in prose you have to give your audience a bit more than ‘the vials of serumwere injected into the main muscle groups’; which in a movie gives you about 5 minutes of material. 3 of which are Chris Evans screaming in a box.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my superhero films, and this one is good fun (although bear in mind it plays out like a prequel to The Avengers). I swore allegiance to Marvel (specifically Jean Grey, with whom I am still a bit in love) after my dad gave me a pile of his old X-Men comics from the late 70s/early 80s when I was about 11. Original incarnation of the Dark Phoenix Saga, oh yes. Although the week of the concluding issue to that story arc he bought Howard the Duck, for reasons that have never been fully explained.
Anyhoo, what I like about X-Men, and Marvel in general, is the layers. These are stripped away a bit in the films, but in the comics the characters have all kinds of angst and issues and stuff going on. That was of course the whole point – I read in one of Stan Lee’s books (probably Origins of Marvel, stolen off my dad) the idea was to come up with heroes that were different from the traditional, quite two-dimensional good guys that DC were putting out then.
This is indicative of the fact I’ve always been more interested in characterisation, relationships and history in fiction than in describing stuff like environment or tech in detail. As a speed reader I whizz through books and retain only select information – for instance if they make me laugh or if I really identified with something or if something happened that was particularly affecting. Descriptive passages rarely fall into that category.
Say – for the sake of argument – I had to describe a scary robot-monster from outer space. I’d probably allude to the height of the thing, and maybe jot down a few details like how many tentacles are super glued onto the outside, what colour metal it was made out of, the cut of his jib; then I’d be inclined to leave the rest up to the reader’s imagination whilst I got on with writing about the monster’s motivation.
It doesn’t bother me in the slightest if the science is presented with broad paint roller strokes a la Marvel, or if the author can’t present the blueprints of an important architectural or technical feature in the text on demand – but I know it bothers some folk who want you to have considered these things, and that adds pressure. Mainly because the only people it’s likely to upset in this context are my target audience. All the SF fans I know are irritatingly clever and verbose individuals, and I neither wish to disappoint nor make myself look an eejit before them by writing something ridiculous.
Hence yesterday’s brainstorming exercise, because as usual the only answer to this is to write what I want to write, hope it works, and if not rely on the editing process and advice of those more knowledgeable to help me sort it out. Same old story, really. Only this time, it’s set in the future.