Friday, 6 July 2012

Of Alien Skies

There may be nothing that says 'alien world' as fast as a sky that's an unusual colour, or has a few extra moons or more than one sun. Sometimes these things may be plot relevant, but even when they're not they're a quick, efficient way of saying to the reader (or viewer, because it works on screen too) 'life here is not as it is on earth so don't make assumptions' with the added bonus of being all atmospheric and stuff. It's a neat trick (one that I like so much I have to slap myself occasionally to prevent over use), it's simple, it works and while it's perhaps a little peculiar that with all the multitudes of stars and planets to choose from earth colonists should so consistently choose ones that are notably unearthlike (or perhaps not, perhaps the exploratory drive demands that the place you end up be different from the place you started) it doesn't provoke the same kind of derision as describing a planet as an 'jungle world'.

Except that, while describing a planet as an ice planet or a jungle planet or whatever sounds like a case of failing geology forever, not doing so could be interpreted as a sign of failing to understand people, that is how real places get described. Really 'jungle world' might be taken to mean 'has a lot more jungle than earth does'. I suppose it depends whether you put the words into the mouth of a character or actually describe a whole planet as if it really only were a single type of environment (although as far as I'm concerned ice planets get let off the hook at least a little bit, I mean if the whole place is typically below the freezing point of whatever the locally common liquids are, it's pretty much going to be icy all over right? I mean I'm sure the locals would notice different types of ice at different latitudes or what have you, but that doesn't make 'ice planet' an inaccurate description does it? Maybe that's just me.)

The problem only gets worse if  characters are really only visiting one tiny bit of a planet (or a couple of tiny bits that may or may not be similar) then what do you do? Do you note that the rest of the world is different even though that might be completely irrelevant to the plot? Or maybe you're just careful to describe 'the city of whatever' or 'the something-or-other continent' (which lets be honest still suffers from the same problem, just to a lesser extent).

Seeing as I (in what is increasingly looking like a moment of insanity) picked to set my W.I.P. in a space-going, planet-hopping setting, these are questions I get to ask myself rather a lot, so I wish I had better answers, but the truth is that in the end I mostly ask myself 'Is this important and/or interesting, or can I fudge it and hope nobody notices?' I'm not sure whether that's a healthy attitude or not.