Monday, June 22, 2020

On 'Trying Too Hard to Sound Sci-Fi'

Can we talk?

Over the years, I've been pretty happy with my reviews but I have had a few zingers and there's one I'd like to address in this blog. It is known we're not supposed to respond to reviewers directly, but as a writer, I feel a need to present my explanation for why I did what I did.

Trust me, I agonize over these stories long enough that nothing I say is random or thrown in for effect.

So here are my thoughts.

A reviewer said (I'm paraphrasing because I'm not calling anyone out directly, just this particular line of thought): "I had a problem with all the sci-fi words. If something takes an hour, why doesn't the author say "hour" instead of inventing a new word? All these strange words really took me right out of the story."

I think the problem here might be reading about space or other planets without really letting your imagination leave good ol' Earth.

Here's my take. Time...and years, hours, minutes, we know them are based on the rotation of our Earth, or the rotation of our Earth around our sun. They don't even call a day a day right next door on Mars, they call it a Sol. So when we're talking about a SciFi Romance of the future, with a setting involving multiple planets, other solar systems, etc. our "hour" (meaning a 1/24th measurement of our Earth turning on its axis) is not going to make any sense and it will have no correlation on the multiple planets we may choose to inhabit.

I recognized that when I wrote Inherit the Stars and other books in the Inherited Stars series. In order to have commerce, conduct business, communicate, etc. between planets, they'd need a standardized system of time, and that new system wouldn't be measured in hours, minutes and seconds as we know them, because those measurements only make sense on Earth. Indeed, the first planet colonized in my series had a very different calendar based on the rotation cycle of that new world. Earth was a fading and all but forgotten legend in the era Inherit the Stars takes place, so naturally it wouldn't utilize a system of time based on a forgotten world they'd left millennia in their past.

So taking this into consideration, I created the standard interplanetary time format and the reference words to refer to these standardized units of time. So....'calendars' is used instead of 'years.' 'Tempas' instead of 'minutes.' 'Sectas' instead of 'seconds.'

Ironically, 'day' I left 'day' because 'day' doesn't always refer to a distinct measure of time on Earth, and "Some zarth my prince will come' just loses something in translation.

One of the imaginative things SciFi Romance does is lets the reader experience other places that are distinctly not Earth. So in my mind it was important that I didn't create a story that sounded like the characters were still grounded right here on this planet. Some may not agree with that line of thought. I get that. But for me, taking the story elements off our little blue marble is a big part of writing space adventure.

Have a great week.


  1. I'm doing a Farscape rewatch right now, and of course they use the Peacekeepers' terms for lengths of time. It doesn't take an awful amount of stretch to work out the equivalents (although I suppose it's helped by a modern day Earth man having been thrown into this alternate universe and asking for clarification). I love making up local equivalents and it doesn't throw me reading them, but I get that it's not everyone's bag. You can't please all the people all of the time...

    1. So true, Pippa. And yes, having a Earth-based character to "interpret" does help. (This was possible in Draxis to explain terms, cultural and even pronunciation but not in my core series which takes place 1500 years--calendars--in the future). But if a scene or the context is well-crafted, even alien words should be understandable by readers. And speaking as a reader, I love to lose myself in an alien culture that feels and sounds alien, but yeah, I can see that's not everyone's cup of tea. Different strokes, I suppose.

  2. Yeah, I get it. People will complain. But, you know, it's SCIENCE FICTION! You can "stay home" and read Contemporary Romance or something if it bothers you that much.

    1. Totally agree, Donna. The reason I love reading SFR is because it takes me somewhere else where our whole frame of reference may be challenged. To me, that's half the fascination of a exploring the world-building in SFR.


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