Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Why I Write Science Fiction

I’ve long loved the science fiction classics, like Dune, Foundation, Rendezvous with Rama and Fahrenheit 451. But I didn’t start out writing science fiction. I began with fantasies, westerns, mysteries, thrillers and literary fiction, none of which I published. I’ve also written legal books, newsletters and articles for many years. Those pay the bills but don’t provide the sort of comfort a good piece of fiction does.

My first sci-fi novel, The Devereaux Dilemma, didn’t start as science fiction, but as a philosophical work. I was curious about what would happen if someone proved there was no God. I thought that a fascinating question to explore. However, most people I discussed it with hated the idea, so I was forced to re-think the concept and eventually I transformed it into a futuristic story about the nature of religion and its place in our society.

I thought at first that The Devereaux Dilemma would be a single book exploring the question of faith, but I realized as I was writing it that I had a much deeper story to tell, something that required at least a trilogy. And I wanted to write it as science fiction because the very best science fiction serves as a commentary on the present and provides us with a warning of where we’re headed, showing us possible futures if we don’t change direction.

I also wanted to write realistic science fiction. Hyper drive and aliens and space battles don’t really interest me. I’d much rather explore where humanity is going, what we will be in fifty or a hundred years. We may be less than a century from the point where we can create humans of any sort we like. Already many of us have non-human parts in us or genetically enhanced parts. When do we stop becoming human and become something else, something new? When will our growing understanding of how the brain works allow for unscrupulous people in positions of power to manipulate our minds?

With my background in legal writing, it would be natural for me to warn of what we might become in an essay or article that is grounded in facts and predictions, based on our collective history.

But one thing I’ve learned through all my years of writing is that it’s characters who make the story what it is. Detailed descriptions of technology are meaningless without the connection to what is human in all of us. Reading statistics about the holocaust, for example, one can easily fall into a jaded mindset. The numbers are too vast, the deprivations too horrifying to fully grasp. Yet when you put that into the context of a few well-defined lives, you understand it much more completely.

Think about how deaths in faraway places hit us compared to the loss of a loved one. It’s never the same. Yes, it’s terrible that all those people were killed by terrorists in Syria or Iraq or New York City, but if you don’t live there, if you don’t have friends or family there, it doesn’t have the same impact as the tragic death of someone close to you.

That’s where fiction generates its power. That’s why a science fiction novel with great characters can have a much greater impact than gloom-and-doom predictions from some physicist or social scientist. We grow attached to those characters and root for them, agonize with their defeats and cheer their victories.

So my work, though occasionally dark, also offers hope. The future is not completely dystopic in my writing. It is firmly grounded in a world much like the one we live in today, with good and bad elements. I want to show readers my vision because I want them to think about where we’re headed and if we should be moving in that direction. Forewarned is forearmed.

book 1 in the Susquehanna Virus series

book 1 in the Susquehanna Virus series

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