The Lost Planet by Rachel Searles is a such fun middle grade sci-fi adventure! This story is action-packed, with great world-building and interesting characters, and I sped through the book in a matter of hours. I appreciated that the novel is age-appropriate, but the language isn’t dumbed down at all, and it’s a book that’s easily enjoyed by adults and older readers as well.
The science and action are also awesome. The author is married to a rocket scientist, so when the opportunity for a guest post came up, I immediately asked if she would share her science research for the book with us. I knew that this must have informed the story and YOU-ARE-THERE feeling in a major way, so I’m very excited to hear what she has to say.
Please join us in welcoming the author to the blog!
Science fiction spans a wide range when it comes to how much actual science is used in the fiction, from the technical “hard SF” novels of Arthur C. Clarke to the more character-focused “soft SF” represented by works like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. But no matter the subgenre, what sets science fiction apart from fantasy is that most of its imaginary elements are largely possible within the laws of physics. And that means one thing for the science fiction writer: research.
In writing The Lost Planet, I started out with the same basic understanding of space that most readers have—solar systems, galaxies, the universe at large. But basic knowledge isn’t enough to write a good science fiction story, and if you screw up the details, it will show. You want to strand your hero in the middle of an asteroid field? Great, except that you should know even the densest asteroid belt is so huge that the distances between each space rock can span thousands or even millions of miles. You’d have to aim very carefully to hit one of them. Better study up on your celestial objects and pick a better hazard zone.
Way back in my early drafting days, I knew I needed a better grasp of the setting I was working with, but I wasn’t about to start reading up on quantum physics and string theory. Instead I started with a copy of Astronomy for Dummies. While this book had a lot of information I already knew, it also taught me the facts about things like light years, quasars, and the infamous black holes. Did I use all these things in my book? No way. But I got a feel for the almost impossibly vast immensity of space, and the potential pitfalls that could await my characters. The thought of being stranded in a tiny spaceship, looking out and seeing only blackness and distant stars for light years all around, still gives me the chills in the worst way.
When it came to moving my characters through space, I turned to the pros. I needed to know not only what the current scientific theories on faster-than-light travel are, but also how this has been handled in other works of fiction. One of the resources I used for this was the Wikipedia entry on hyperspace, which lists the mode of space travel used for everything from Asimov to Stargate. Wormholes, jumpgates, warp drives—I read through all of these to see which concepts sounded most plausible to me, and what would work best for my kind of story, and patched different ideas together to create a system of bending space in measures of cambers that my characters would use in their race through the galaxy.
The Internet was useful for more than just its Wikipedia articles. Sites like iO9.com and the National Geographic space page were great places just to get inspired, or to browse for articles that might spark a tumble down the research rabbit hole. “You mean there are rogue stars just tearing through the universe, not held in place by any gravitational force? I must know more!” I stored these tidbits away like a squirrel hording nuts, saving them for possible future plot ideas. Other saved articles in my research file include stories about bioengineers attempting to grow meat for consumption in a lab, and a woman who was able to regrow her severed pinky tip with a pig-derived bio-powder. You never know!
For constructing strange new alien worlds, sometimes the best research was just browsing through pictures of some of the bizarre places and creatures that exist on our own planet, and then extrapolating them into something even bigger and more fantastic. I’ve drawn inspiration from photos of the Crooked Forest in Poland, a grove of strangely twisted pine trees, and Colombia’s Caño Cristales, a river that explodes into a range of psychedelic rainbow hues once a year due to the algae that grows on the river bottom. It’s fun to imagine how things that are unique and special on our world might be banal everyday sights on another planet.
At the end of it all, one of the biggest takeaways for me in my research and fact-checking was “Thank goodness for the invention of the Internet.” Sure, you’ve got to be careful that your sources are reliable, but how lucky are we to live in a time where all the world’s information is right at our fingertips? It’s way too easy to take for granted the instant accessibility that barely existed twenty years ago, and I tip my hat to Asimov and all the other science fiction writers who didn’t have this resource at their disposal—and to whom it probably would have sounded like something out of one of their own science fiction novels. Now, I wonder what futuristic-sounding development might come next…
Rachel Searles grew up on the frigid shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where she spent her childhood studying languages and plotting to travel around the world. She has lived abroad in Munich and Istanbul, working as a cook, a secretary, a teacher, and a reporter for the Turkish Daily News.
She now lives in Los Angeles with her rocket scientist husband and two cats, and spends her free time cooking her way through the Internet and plotting more travel.
Her debut novel The Lost Planet will be released on January 28, 2014.
Win a copy of The Lost Planet!
Thanks to our friends at Macmillan, we have an ARC of this fun space adventure to give away to our readers. All you have to do is leave fill out the Rafflecopter form and leave a thoughtful comment below telling us why you’re interested in the book! Earn extra entries by tweeting daily, sharing on Facebook, etc.
Open to U.S. and Canadian residents aged 18 and older, or 13 and older with parental permission; see entry form for complete details. Good luck!
Our thanks to Macmillan for supplying the giveaway copy, as well as to the author for stopping by the blog today.