Big Idea

The Big Idea: Sarah A. Hoyt

2010 is here, so let’s drive right in to this year’s series of Big Ideas. And to begin the new year, we have science fiction and fantasy author Sarah A. Hoyt and her new novel Darkship Thieves — for which one of the initiating reasons for the book was the author being annoyed. Annoyed at what? Or annoyed at whom? Hoyt will explain all — and remind us all that inspiration can some at you from any angle.


Most of my big ideas – and a lot of the small ones – start with my being annoyed.  In this case, the source of annoyance was the whole flap about clones and how the cloning technology was going to destroy the world.

Let’s forget for the moment that most journalists, displaying the biological knowledge of the common household teapot, seemed to believe that clones would be born with the memories of the original or would be a sort of dark-universe twin of the original.  That was bad enough but could be ignored.  What couldn’t be ignored was the continuous din of people who should know better for the regulation of this technology.  Let’s make it illegal, they said, because otherwise people will be cloning themselves and having their brains transplanted to the body of the clone; they’ll be using these kids for spare parts; they’ll be–

It went on and on.  Two things bothered me about this: first, the belief that humans would use the new technology only for “evil” purposes and second, the idea that legislation was a sort of magic wand that undid the technological discovery and made it unusable.  The first might be true or not.  Granted that the worst possible purpose is in the range of human uses of any given technology.   However, we don’t always follow through on our evil designs.  We haven’t managed to nuke ourselves out of existence yet, for instance.  As for law stopping it…  It depends whose law and where and how good enforcement is or can be.   I think the war on drugs has shown that nothing can be banned completely, permanently or effectively.

What banning technology can do – look at the war on drugs again – is make it go underground and thereby insure it gets used only for the worst – or at least the most harmful to society at large – purposes.  Drug addiction might be no picnic even if it were openly talked about, but it’s made worse by the fact that the activity is illegal, must be hidden and has taken roots in a whole criminal underground.

In my view, at least, banning cloning – and the inevitable human enhancement – technology would ensure it would be used for all those purposes that people were afraid of.

So I started with two worlds – the one in which cloning and human biological enhancement was banned, and the one where it wasn’t.

Only I’m cursed with a twisty and convoluted mind where no idea can be simple.  Besides the “good world” and “bad world” design was too Manichean to satisfy my inner critic.  Things are never that black and white.

I went back to the drawing board and let other themes fall in – themes that interest me, like the idea of the resilient child that turns out all right despite everything.  And the one that doesn’t.   Like human instinctive – if hidden – dislike of those who are perceived as different.  Tinged with fear when those who are perceived as different are also smarter. Like the idea that there is no technology that would be harmful in the hands of an individual that can’t be made more so – on an epic scale – in the hands of an entrenched bureaucracy.

So when Darkship Thieves starts, in the 24th century, biological enhancements are illegal on Earth.  They didn’t start out illegal, but heavily regulated in most of the world.  In the rest of the world, on the other hand, they’d been used by tin pot dictators and corrupt bureaucracies.  It had started on a massive scale, creating children as fodders for armies, as strength for ethnic majorities, and as smart people who could fix all of the world’s problems.

What this led to was tyranny by super-engineered humans – Mules – who didn’t consider themselves human, partly through having hobbles (including the inability to reproduce) built into their genes, partly through having been raised as things, not people.  It eventually led to a revolt against the Mules and an overthrowing, which resulted in a world wide government of sorts and tight controls on human improvement and artificial human genetic change.

The Mules and some of their more grossly bio-engineered collaborators escape to space.  The still-human servants of the Mules colonize an asteroid.  The Mules themselves go on, into the wider space, because even among their collaborators they are considered odd and inspire fear.

Those still human servants form Eden, a society in which bio-engineering is extensively used and in the open.  They are connected to an Earth that doesn’t even believe they exist through one of the remaining pieces of technology introduced by the Mules – powertrees.  The powertrees grow in the vacuum of space and yield power pods, which can be harvested and are used to power the technology of Earth and Eden.  Edenites collect these pods by flying ‘darkships’ and making use of bio engineered pilots and navigators.

Athena Hera Sinistra, daughter of a Good Man – sort of a regional governor – of Earth tumbles into the midst of Eden society when she’s rescued from the powertrees by a darkship pilot.

The end result could be described, in Shakespeare’s words, as “all are punished.”  Or perhaps “all are redeemed.”  It depends on how you look at it and squint.

Not that there is anything murky about Athena, or Kit, the darkship pilot who rescues her.  They are quite decisive and active in facing what’s wrong with both of their flawed societies and in trying to improve it (in Athena’s case a little… er… forcefully.  The woman has anger issues.)  But in the end their struggle to reach what they consider humanity – humanity as a moral, not just a biological ideal – passes through personal discovery and revelation of deep, dark ills in both their worlds.

They fight against those evils – I cannot seem to write characters who merely whimper about things.  I’ve tried – and emerge victorious for a given definition of the word.  They find themselves as humans – or as human as they’re likely to be.  They find their own places in the universe and an humanity that transcends biological status or appearance.

Of course, they’re only two people, so they cannot change their worlds completely.  That will take time and independently-arising movements.

So we’ll leave my characters, at the end, sure of themselves and willing to continue struggling.  Revolution and wholesale mayhem will have to wait for future books.


Darkship Thieves: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Powell’s

Read an excerpt of Darkship Thieves. Visit Sarah Hoyt’s LiveJournal. Follow her on Twitter.


Producers, Science Fiction, Oscars

In today’s AMC column, I look at science fiction film’s surprisingly strong showing in the Producers Guild of America Best Picture nominations (three out of ten nominations), and tell you what it might mean — and what it might not — for each of those nominated science fiction film’s Oscar chances. Yes, I exhibit both scifi geek and film geek tendencies in this week’s column. Because that’s what they pay me for. As always, if you have something to say about it all, drop in a comment over at the AMC site.

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