The post title is a direct quote of a friend’s 3-year old, who asked her mother the above question when told she was having chicken for dinner. (I like this kid) But it turns out to not just be funny but I think good advice for me when I’m writing science fiction.
See, one of the things that I’ve gotten criticism for in my science fiction is that it’s not alien enough — I write about people living in the future, on alien worlds and in new paradigms. And yet my characters speak English in much the same way I do, they drink coffee and wine, they eat pretty much the same vegetables, grains, and animals. It’s not that weird. It’s a “Future people wear hats” sort of problem, the kind of thing I can deal with, but only if I think carefully about it. It’s not that I can’t write “bats” where I usually put “chicken”: I have notes for interesting stuff — For example, I wrote a scene in an off-world sushi bar just for fun, with the chef talking about how to deal with the calcium carbonate crystals embedded in the flesh of a local fish-thing (which ordinarily dissolve when cooked, but must be specially treated to enjoy raw) I just don’t put them in my fiction.
To some extent, I don’t want “weird” to get in the way of the story. I had a mention in one draft of The Body and the Bomb of a pickpocket tree. It stole stuff out of Crandall’s pockets, which he had to take back and wipe the pollen off. Loved the idea, but I couldn’t make it fit and be germane to the plot. It’s almost entirely cut out now, but I keep coming back to it: is it worth reworking a later plot point to make that relevant? Does it add enough flavor to be worth the few dozen words devoted to it? Or does it just stand in the way of a pared-down story that needs to be shorter if it’s going to sell?
I also don’t want to succumb to some form of funny-forehead syndrome or just calling everyday things by weird names. But I think maybe I worry about that too much, I over-react. And as a result, I think my fiction ends up being too mundane.
So I need to start asking more often, “Why is it not bats?” Sometimes I’ll have a good answer. If I do, so be it, but if I don’t: Bats it is!