Science Fiction Mysteries Characters

Introduction

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Science fiction and the mystery genre differ in the dates of their origins and in certain of their approaches to fiction. Nevertheless, they are similar in being plot-oriented forms of fiction. Authors in both genres assemble casts of characters and focus on patterns of conflict within the constraints of altered, unusual, and odd backgrounds and contexts. Science fiction writers generally select sets of scientific, technological, or sociological assumptions and then extend them in coordinated ways into unknown and hypothetical futures, presents, or pasts. Within the frameworks the writers create, mysteries abound, but within certain constraints.

Some science fiction writers base their assumptions on logical projections of known science, things that are possible given certain discoveries or conditions in the future, or that may have happened in some unrecorded or long-since-forgotten past, or that may exist even now, somewhere. They create probable or possible futures and alternative or imaginary histories. Other writers, through venturesome speculations, create what might be called future fantasies. These writers base their assumptions on logical projections of factors that cannot now be accepted by science but that are suspected to be possible or on yet-to-be-discovered scientific principles that may one day be accepted as at least probable, no matter how uncertain they appear now. These writers seek readers’ acceptance of the premises on which their stories are based. They construct, through careful detail, scientifically plausible explanations or rationales for their altered settings and their consequences or side effects. The altered settings, having their own histories and subsequent futures, may assume any number of forms, in any time and any place, or in dimensions defined by other parameters. They may involve powers and potentials far greater than those of the human race, typifying the ultimate background for human action, the cosmos.

Characters and Context in Science Fiction

Science fiction writers create characters who are shaped by their special environments, which may have their own physical constants or laws, and their characters are shaped by the social conventions of those environments. Science fiction characters may can be nonhuman, or altered human beings. In such cases, their creators may, as with human characters of the remote past or far future, greatly alter or expand the range of perception, traits, and motivations of such characters. Alien characters may have their own unique physical structures, chemical organizations, and sensory mechanisms. Although such characters are likely to differ from human beings physically, they—like humans—have basic goals, dreams, objectives, motives, adventures, and torments that readers can share.

Science fiction writers must depict characters whose actions and attitudes stem from their individual natures and must impart to them, or to what they are to become, some degree of sympathy. Writers generally avoid the kind of introspective character probing found in traditional fiction, since it would be intrusive in a literary form whose power, mystery, and wonder arise from the intersections of the characters and the problems to be solved and situations to be faced. Characters often follow some version of the scientific method that shapes their commitments to what they are doing or hope to do. Conflict can, however, arise from personal problems that must be solved, at least to some degree, so the main problems can be worked out. Still, the kind of conflict the characters experience involves aspects of the greatest of factors, outside of and beyond the self: the transformative power of science and technology or the mysteries of space and time, matter and energy, life and death. Suspense and tension arise from watching characters struggle against frontiers extending to infinity.