Friday, September 11, 2009

Difficulties on Mars

I am writing a story promised to a theme anthology: teens on Mars. The restrictions are few, just that the story be SF, not fantasy, and that Earth has already established colonies on Mars. The time is from 100 to 1000 years from now. And I'm having difficulties.

Here is how I see it, and it would be great if someone out there can tell me where I'm going wrong: There are two alternatives. Either the story is basically character relationships, in which case it could probably just as well happen on a future Earth society. Or it concerns some specific aspect of the Martian environment, in which case I can't see how teenagers who grew up there are going to find it unusual or even interact with it significantly. Terraforming such as Kim Stanley Robinson did so magnificently in his Mars trilogy seems to me to take more space than I have in a short story. Teenagers do not make significant scientific discoveries, policy decisions, or explorations -- at least not in realistic stories. The adults in charge are not going to let sixteen-year-olds wander freely in such a hostile-to-humans environment.

I have finally come up with an idea for this story, but I'm uncertain about it. Earth is easier for me. Even space is easier. The Red Planet is hard.


Kevin Blake said...

My first thought is that I agree that teenagers today don't make scientific discoveries. But 500 or 1000 years from now?
You never know.

My second is that if it's 500 or 1000 years from now why not assume the terraforming is already done?

Just some thoughts...

Andrew said...

I can't see how teenagers who grew up there are going to find it unusual...

Probably not. But why should they? Let them be blasé while the reader marvels.

...or even interact with it significantly

Let them get up to the usual. But instead of delinquent boys throwing snowballs at cars...what would that be on Mars? Instead of shopping at the mall, what do teen girls do on less commercialized planet to satisfy that need for socialization? And most importantly, is the ubiquitous Martian soil an unflattering hue for acne-prone skin? :)

It would be more difficult to force a 'hard' scifi story here than a soft one; I generally prefer the latter anyway, but you would know your audience better than I.

Mike Flynn said...

The adults in charge are not going to let sixteen-year-olds wander freely in such a hostile-to-humans environment.

Just so. And they will take that degree of control and self-restraint for granted, making a contrast with the more idle life of teeners today.

If, as the ancient sage once said, "Mars needs women!" then it may well be that teeners are expected to grow up faster, take adult responsibilities sooner than they do on Safe Earth. Look backward, O Pioneer! "There were no teenagers before suburbia." Men could wed at 14; women could wed at 12 - "husband-high," they called it. Renaissance teens were working dogs, someone once wrote, while suburbia teens are idle lapdogs, with all the craziness of the breed. The meme of the hormone-crazed teenager is coeval with suburbia.

If Mars is an early pioneer society, perhaps they would adopt the mores of pioneers. Maybe big families to grow the population, meaning earlier marriages, meaning no "teenagers" like today.

The Martian kids in The Wreck of The River of Stars were like that, much to the disquiet of the Earthlings and Habitaters aboard. (Habitaters do not want burgeoning populations, and are much more into birth control and culling the surplus.) The one Lunatic was a middle case: Luna was not terraformed, and so much like a habitat; but without a habitat's space limitations.

Andrew said...

Mike, I'm hearing shades of Laura Ingalls. Little House on the Amazonis Planitia? :)

Actually, I'd have a hard time believing that a society with the tech to establish extraterrestrial colonies would have to resort to a de facto policy of impregnating adolescents. At the very least, I can't imagine that getting positive press back on Terra...of course, that could be a story in itself!

Mark said...

Mike, that's one reason I Loved The Wreck of The River of Stars: background info through characterization to flesh out a society unlike our own!

Idea: Teens arguing for the decanting of their own clones. Who will raise whom? Is it too much of a strain on personnel resources? Is there enough habitat space & resources? Just what would this evolving pioneer society think about how, as well as when, reproduction is acceptable?

Ok, maybe I'll start my own story along these lines (and actually finish it????).

Steven Francis Murphy said...

Why wouldn't the adults let the teens wander around freely? It seems in American Frontier culture, the teens were requires to help with some of the work of sustaining the family and community.

Perhaps the approach to take is one of innovation. The teens are engaged in a community sustaining task and find a better way to do the work. The more conservative adults are not so keen to try it as there is significant risk.

S. F. Murphy

Nick A said...

Teenage traits:
- mortality is a distant concept
- indulge in 'high energy' activities
- distance themselves from their parents

Mars has the real estate to act out on those traits in a way that Earth never has, at least in modern times.

David D. Levine said...

"I can't see how teenagers who grew up there are going to find it unusual..."

So who says all your characters grew up there? Having a character who is a recent immigrant is a fine way to point out the things the natives find unremarkable.

gary gibson said...

Maybe the teenagers themselves might not be directly involved in important issues of a future Mars, but their parents might well. And then there's different ethnic groups and political gatherings amongst the colonists - future Quakers versus future Whatever. And even though KSR had a huge amount of focus on the technical aspects of terraforming, much of the three books were actually about a violent rebellion against Earth control, and indeed one of his characters was a teenage boy growing up in a cave on the side of the rebels. I'd say the politics specific to colonising an at least potentially habitable and terraformable world that close to Earth would be a terrific wellspring for ideas, and close childhood friends might rapidly find themselves on different sides of a political argument - some of those suicide bombers you see on the news are pretty young.

And here's another one - what would happen to Mars colonies if someone suddenly invented a cheap form of mass interstellar FTL transportation. turning Mars into an instant backwater?

Jack said...

It's fun to watch you struggle, but that's only because I know the story will be wonderful. Try this: Three Martians walk into a bar... but one of them is underage. Plus, there are no bars on Mars.

What's your favorite Mars movie? There have been some recent ones (lousy), but I've always been partial to "Robinson Crusoe On Mars." Completely ridiculous, but good anyway.

Mark said...

Nick A: good points to ponder.
Favorite Mars flick (recent): Watchmen - I know, there's only one scene there & it's really just a backdrop, but most of the movies I've seen with Mars as a setting stink. Well, there was that adaptation of The Martian Chronicles....

Mark said...

A Martian, a Venusian, and a Lunarian walk into a bar. The Terran bartender says "Get the f!ck outta here!"

Daniel said...

I think it's interesting that you said making it about character relationships would mean "it could probably just as well happen on a future Earth society." I don't believe so.

Even if you terraformed Mars, it would still be different from Earth. The day and night sky would still be different, the gravity would be different, the lengths of days, seasons, and years would be different. Terraforming Mars would only make it habitable, not make it a clone to Earth.

Leaving it unterraformed, I imagine a story of teenagers growing up with the same personality traits, but in a different environment. Instead of finally being old enough to take the car for a drive, they could finally be old enough to leave the habitable structures (in suits or something). Dating would be different (but similar).

Great, now you've gotten ME thinking about it... :)

I think you could do well with just character relationships (taking for granted elements unique to a colony on Mars), but that's just my inexperienced opinion.

Nancy Kress said...

Thank you, all, for your help. Some of these suggestions I'd already incorporated into the story (which was half-written when I blogged), and some I will think about. Thanks!

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Hard to say, Nancy. How long have Terrans been on Mars? Are there Martians?

In both Heinlein's RED PLANET and Joe Haldeman's MARSBOUND, teenagers make =accidental= discoveries.

In any case, it will be a long, long time before we know all there is to know about the Red Planet.

Assuming, sigh, we ever get there.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Nancy, hafta mention I just read DEADLY SINS in the new ASIMOV'S. I'm sure you've grown weary of your readers gushing over your fiction, so I won't tell you how much I liked it. (Kidding--what writer, musician, artist, actor, dancer, doesn't love praise? It's what we live for.)

But a juxtaposition of words delighted my eye: "What do you smell now, Rudy? Brimstone? Sanctity?"

Brimstone and Sanctity...that's a terrific title for =something=.

If you don't mind, Ah's gonna hijack that phrase for a lyric one of these days.

Coming up with a rhyme for "sanctity" might be tough, though...

Mark said...

Sanka tea (ok that's pushing it)....

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