Three writers volunteered to ‘Beta-read’ my first draft of A New ZooCatron, a fantasy novella about cat-like creatures arriving on Earth from deep in the cosmos. One of the readers is truly a rocket scientist and she pointed out the inaccuracies of my feline protagonists’ experiences in space, especially outside their spaceship. Now, I read a lot of sci-fi and often exercise great suspension of disbelief while devouring one space or futuristic adventure after another. Nevertheless, even I, unschooled in space science and complex technology, have noticed when a narrative strains my capacity to buy into the situation.
So, I can understand why S.B., that rocket scientist Beta-reader, from her professional point of view had to critique my narrative’s space science errors. She also suggested a variety of ways to revise or rethink the story. She referred me to a section of her novel, Ideal Insurgent, which uses language describing space ship equipment and crew maneuvers based on her knowledge of the field. An amazon.com blurb describes the book: Two top analysts escaped their intellectual enslavement to the Empire, now intent on taking that same government down using any and every method at their disposal, not the least of which were their great analytical minds. The selection read so well, I had to buy the eBook version!
The selection from S.’s novel underscored how much my characters’ adventures in space needed a more factual basis to make them feel real and that task requires research. My narrative must ring truer. For example, in Chapter One of A New ZooCatron the space felines are scrambling to deal with their disabled ship hit by a comet. S. pointed out that comets would not have the effect I described. She wrote:” [Comets] are balls of ice/dirt and have, at worst, a ball of debris around them that can be a danger. However, it would be unlikely to do more than pepper the hull. HOWEVER, the earth happens to have a very strong magnetic field, which while protecting us below from much of the sun’s worst radiation and solar winds, can lead to a mess if you’re JUST OUTSIDE THAT FIELD when you get hit with a solar storm.”
S.’s cogent suggestions have changed the way I perceive not only the novella’s settings and characters, but also how the felines behave in relation to their equipment, their problems, and their aims. And now I must research the subject in order to ‘get it right.’ I’ve thrown myself into trying to understand solar storms, for example, although I probably will cling to fantastical elements anyway in the re-write.
I learn something new about writing every time I work on another project be it short or long fiction, an essay, or a review. When I embraced the idea of writing a novel several years ago, my experiences as a neophyte were confusing, daunting, and revealed my naivete. Back then, I assumed my fertile imagination would supply me with everything I needed to spin a good yarn. I know better now, but I’m still learning; and I am grateful to all those editors and volunteers who have helped me by redirecting my thoughts and giving me new insights.