There is something to be said for pulling as far back from your project as you can and taking a good, hard look at the metanarratives and themes incorporated into the most stripped down version of the story.
The original version of the story that I’m deconstructing was written in 2012, and despite the fact it was only now just barely 3 years ago, the change in my writing style and baseline assumptions is marked. Some of the decisions I made subconsciously I have needed to re-examine, to tease apart and consider their guts. I’ve discarded some major elements already and my conceptualization of just who the main character actually is has radically shifted.
However, some stuff that I’ve examined I’ve decided to keep, and I think the why is just as interesting as how it’s going to be used in my novel. For example, here are a couple of the questions that my examination of Station has brought to light:
Q: What commentary does it have that chose a very Cold War version of an negative future, of a blasted and razed planet, rather than the modern negative futures which are predominantly dystopian?
A: My central idea is that this is a society frozen in time, literally and figuratively.
The type of apocalypse chosen for a work of science fiction is influenced by all sorts of things, and mine is by far an away affected by the 80s. lot of the written scifi I cut my teeth on was 70s and 80s stuff, plus scifi television operating on vanishingly small budgets. Other planets, even ones with life on them, look like dusty, soundstages full of foam rocks, or like quarries in Wales, or like the uncomplicated interiors of spaceships where the walls are all sheet metal or painted flats. My mental image of the future is theatrical, and where it’s not, I am predisposed to view far off planets as devoid of life, looking far more like the images sent back by Curiosity from Mars. So, from the outset, this other planet I’m creating began life as a barren, radioactive world.
So that’s where I started, mostly subconsciously, in building a world where the last remnants of the population have been forced underground to scrabble for vanishing resources.
I’m choosing to keep this construction, though, because it IS a Cold War fear.
In contrast: There’s a trend right now in apocalyptic science fiction that it’s going to be a massive natural disaster that kills us, or we will be deliberately murdered by our creations spun wildly out of our control by our own abuses (okay, that one’s not new). It’s indicative of how much more we’re connected and how much faster we can communicate globally, that fears that our failures will cause widespread destruction in the form of the inexorable power of the elements. It’s the sea levels rising, and cities sinking. It’s about earthquakes and pandemics and the inability to out-science crop blight or nuclear winter or just straight-up meteors falling from the heavens. The predominant theme to a lot of the more modern apocalyptic scenarios is ‘this is us, we screwed up, it’s our fault and now things are irreparable and wildly beyond our control and it might have actually snuck up on us while we weren’t paying close enough attention.’
For the sense of Cold War destruction, on the other hand, in this idea of an irradiated planet wracked by war, it’s tied up into fear of the other guy, of annihilation at the push of the button the moment that the factions become unbalanced and the whole game board tilts and everyone’s dumped off. It’s helpless fear that somewhere, someone might nudge something out of place and all you’ll be able to do is put on your sunglasses and sit on the porch to watch the fireworks as your planet flares into ashes one metropolis at a time. It’s the idea that action (stepping forward OR stepping back) is the doom of the human race, and that we’re two minutes to midnight.
While this concept of aggressive tension is, absolutely, relevant to today (the doomsday clock is at 5 minutes to midnight, updated 2014 if you believe wikipedia), the global narrative has changed. Stories attempting to avert apocalypse or even (on a smaller scale) citywide disaster, are not about stealing the codes for nuclear missiles so that Enemy Nation can bomb Some Capitol, but about averting terrorist plots of mass murder. And the plots are not about winning any sort of war, it’s about destroying people because ideological reasons, or about much more personal greed or power. Even nuclear threats and international power dynamics are couched in terms of terrorism rather than superpowers at odds.
Of course there are exceptions, there are always exceptions, and what I’m describing is very much Western-centric. The narrative has had to change, especially for the US, for various reasons. What I’m driving at, however, is that I want to use the idea that mutually assured destruction is deeply reactionary. It arguably freezes escalation and – at the same time – it also freezes deescalation.
So, in my choice to use this type of apocalypse, I become most interested in one primary question: what happens when deescalation (the usual better choice) also assures destruction?
And moving on…
Q: What sort of idea am I exploring by placing emphasis on toxic responsibility?
A: Even if someone is doing what they feel is right, is honorable, or is the responsible thing, they can become a worse version of themselves if the environment (or any other factor) is toxic.
Even though you’re the person who should have the resources, the skills, and the experience to accomplish something, you could still be exactly the wrong person for the job. Responsibility, depending on what it is, hits different people in many different ways, and not just responsibility. Toxic factors – relationships, environments, expectations – can also warp the efforts and emotions of someone who is trying the best they can.
The choice of what to do with those efforts and emotions, in a toxic environment, is very much indicative of what sort of person the character is. It’s an offshoot of a trope, actually, the one where pain or fear will reveal the true nature of a person. A toxic environment, however, isn’t quite pain – at least not physical. It’s also not quite fear – at least not in a direct sense.
Taking someone out of a toxic environment (or leaving them in because of circumstance) can have a profound effect, and not even the nature vs. nurture sort of way. I’m talking about how adults, with all of their unique scars, can respond to these environments when introduced to them late in life.
This is a fascinating subject to me and to be honest I don’t have a lot of answers yet. This is a newer question and I’m still exploring it. (That’s also why this elaboration is much shorter.)
Moving on once more, what I’m saying is that there a lot of things I added to the original version of the book that have further-reaching implications that I’d previously understood. I’m rather glad that I’m doing this now as opposed to after I’d finished this draft.