As a science fiction writer there are times when I find a lack of inspiration in my work. I’m not necessarily talking about what to write. But more a reason why to write it. Of all the genres I write, I find developing science fiction that I would enjoy reading takes much more work than writing traditional or urban fantasy. With fantasy there are so many established conventions that it’s easy to draw on them to quickly develop a world to write in. For readers I think it’s easier for them to latch onto fantasy instead of science fiction. Perhaps it’s because most people have learned about the medieval age of our own history and that gives them a basis to imagine a world of fantasy.
It’s not so easy with science fiction. There are fewer things a writer can draw on that an audience will immediately recognize. So why write it? Why spend time world building space faring races, far flung empires, and fantastic technologies? I struggled with this for a while. I wondered why I did it. Though fun, world building is a time consuming activity. An activity that isn’t always as rewarding as we’d like in the end.
Then I came to the Kennedy Space Center. An opportunity came up at work that allowed me to travel to Orlando to attend a conference. Relatives offered to give me a place to stay for a couple of days before the conference so that they could show me around. One of the places they wanted to take me was the Kennedy Space Center. I’ve never been to the Space Center, though when I was much younger my parents took me to the one in Houston. And from that experience I remembered seeing the moon lander up close.
Named after a president who challenged a young NASA to put a man on the moon within a decade. He was a president who I honestly believe pushed the space program forward even though he never lived to see the outcome. Without his directive, I truly believe the space program would not have accomplished what it had.
When I walked through the gates, I felt like a kid again. Seeing the globe with NASA’s logo on it, the full size replica rockets, and the replica booster unit for the shuttles took me back to my childhood when I and my family, as well as the rest of the country, watched launches from this very place. I remembered watching the Columbia vanish on television as it re-entered the atmosphere and seeing the Challenger explode on live television a minute and a half after liftoff. Tragic days in my memory where a country mourned the loss of brave men and women who were doing the impossible.
I was one of those who was deeply saddened when the shuttle program came to an end. When we as a country stopped looking up at the stars. I think we lost something that day. We stopped looking at a future of hope and unity. We forgot that normal people working together can accomplish great and marvelous things. More importantly we seem to have forgotten that when we looked to the stars, we stopped seeing our differences as a species. It didn’t matter if we were Americans or Russians or Chinese. We cooperated in constructing the International Space Station in a time when most of the world thought we were going to end it all in a rain of nuclear fire.
Walking through the exhibits reminded me of the cost we, as a species, paid for the successes that paved the way for the benefits we enjoy today. The sacrifices of brave men and women who were driven to going where no one else had gone before. To give the world a glimpse of the future and to dream of a time when we could explore beyond our own world. I marveled at the ingenuity and the brilliance that made the Apollo program possible. They put humans into space with technology that we would consider antiquated. But without their ingenuity, without their determination and focus on a singular goal, our civilization would look nothing like it does now.
I realized that this is what science fiction does. Stories like The War of the Worlds, A Princess of Mars, and Buck Rogers inspired and sparked imaginations. They helped shape the future of our technology and our world. Did you ever consider that the tablet devices we have now are awfully similar to the handheld PADD devices from Star Trek? Or how flip open cell phones looked like the original communicators from Star Trek?
Standing there in the Atlantis exhibit, staring up at the space shuttle Atlantis, I was reminded that it wasn’t science fiction that inspires me. Though I’ll be the first to admit I’m a diehard Star Wars and Star Trek fan. That I love a good science fiction story, movie, and TV show. That I hate thinking there isn’t enough good science fiction out there. But as I stood there seeing the scorch marks on the ceramic plates that protected the shuttle during reentry, the dirty white skin of the cargo bay doors, and the massive thrusters that pushed it through space. I realized that it was this that inspires me to write science fiction. Not the stories of other science fiction writers, but our accomplishments in that daunting task of reaching the stars. The sacrifices of those men and women and the innovations they pioneered. Their bravery in facing the unknown.
It had come full circle for me. Those first science fiction stories that inspired those men and the accomplishments of NASA and those first astronauts reminding me of why I write science fiction. I hope that I can inspire others someday.