Today, I have a special guest on the blog. Mr. Christian Schoon himself has prepared an inside look into the research for his debut science fiction novel, Zenn Scarlett. But first, a little about the book.
When you’re studying to be exoveterinarian specializing in exotic, alien life forms, school… is a different kind of animal.
Zenn Scarlett is a resourceful, determined 17-year-old girl working hard to make it through her novice year of exovet training. That means she’s learning to care for alien creatures that are mostly large, generally dangerous and profoundly fascinating. Zenn’s all-important end-of-term tests at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars are coming up, and, she’s feeling confident of acing the exams. But when a series of inexplicable animal escapes and other disturbing events hit the school, Zenn finds herself being blamed for the problems. As if this isn’t enough to deal with, her absent father has abruptly stopped communicating with her; Liam Tucker, a local towner boy, is acting unusually, annoyingly friendly; and, strangest of all: Zenn is worried she’s started sharing the thoughts of the creatures around her. Which is impossible, of course. Nonetheless, she can’t deny what she’s feeling.
Now, with the help of Liam and Hamish, an eight-foot sentient insectoid also training at the clinic, Zenn must learn what’s happened to her father, solve the mystery of who, if anyone, is sabotaging the cloister, and determine if she’s actually sensing the consciousness of her alien patients… or just losing her mind. All without failing her novice year….
The Research Process for Zenn Scarlett or: “Hello, I’m an Author, Can I Please Speak with the Exovet-Info Librarian?”
When your book’s heroine is a teen in her novice year of exovet studies, specializing in humongous alien animals, in a science-centered cloister, on Mars… there aren’t a lot of reference books or websites to turn to for background info. So, it’s a good thing I never believed the platitude “Write what you know.” In fact, I think taking that moldy old chestnut in anything like its literal sense has probably confused and hindered a lot of writers over the years. But, on the other hand, I have nothing whatsoever against taking stuff that I sorta know something about and wrapping it in a sparkly layer of what-ifs and whoa-that’d-be-cool and there’s-no-precedent-for-this-so-I-can-just-make-it-up-yay. And that’s how I approached my so-called “research” for much of Zenn Scarlett.
So, the stuff I sorta know something about is exotic animals and veterinary medicine as applied to them.
Let’s pause here for a quick info-dump: I lived in LA for a number of years, worked as an in-house writer at Disney, then freelanced, then wrote scripts for genre TV shows like Power Rangers, Warner Bros. animated Batman, Gravedale High and a few others. Moved to Iowa (I grew up in the Midwest; I missed it….). Bought a farm. Volunteered with a group that rescues abused/neglected horses, have had up to 18 equines in my various pastures/barns. Then got hooked up with a group that rescues exotic animals. So I got to know critters like black bears, cougars, coyotes, emus, llamas, big pythons and constrictors, alligators. Have also been a life-long science fiction geek. When I decided to try my hand at writing a novel, I had this vision (sort of…) of a youngish girl perched high up on the snout of a huge animal of some kind, and she wasn’t afraid, she was barely nervous. She had a job to do. Heal that beast. And that became the opening of the book (then, after I split the book into two books, that scene opened the first chapter after the prologue. Why add a prologue? That’s another post entirely.)
During the exotic animal portion of the above, I ended hanging around not only the very cool animals, but also the equally cool veterinarians who had acquired the specialized skills to diagnose and treat bears or mountain lions or pythons. Now, my book isn’t a technical, “hard-SF” or medical-procedure-intense kinda book. It’s more a matter of current science/tech extrapolated in some imaginative ways, but always making sure the vet science I use, even if it’s on an alien creature, is reasonably consistent with “known factors” of earthly biology or pathology. Then, I’m also careful to keep my veterinary inventions consistent with the level of technology I’ve come up with for my future world.
I also had to conduct some net-excursions or reference-book-hunts to search out data about the Martian environment. Like, just how deep is the Valle Marinaris canyon system, what’s the average temp at the equator, how extensive is the permafrost layer.
In Zenn Scarlett, I proposed a mini-terraforming approach where, instead of going to the colossal expense of making the entire surface of Mars livable, my colonists devised a technology that enabled them to put a “roof” over some of Mars’ great canyon systems and live and raise crops on the canyon floor. This was achieved by employing barymetric ionizing generators on the canyon walls and projecting a thin, translucent layer of coherently energized molecules that would trap oxygen and moisture beneath it, allow sunlight to pass through, but keep out the frigid, near-vacuum of the thin Martian atmosphere above. I did zero research on this canyon-topping tech, but simply decided that human capabilities had progressed far enough to make this possible, then dressed it up in language that, to me at least, makes it sound real. Again, I was careful to match the science involved to the general established rules governing my world.
So, in the end, much of the “research” for Zenn, especially concerning exovets and their patients, came not from sleuthing out specific facts, but from drawing on my past experience with earthbound animals and vets (and science fictional tropes) and using this experience as a foundation for my imaginary, but Zenn’s-world-consistent, creations.
Thank you, Christian, for sharing your story.
Born in the American Midwest, Christian started his writing career in earnest as an in-house writer at the Walt Disney Company in Burbank, California. He then became a freelance writer working for various film, home video and animation studios in Los Angeles. After moving from LA to a farmstead in Iowa several years ago, he continues to freelance and also now helps re-hab wildlife and foster abused/neglected horses. He acquired his amateur-vet knowledge, and much of his inspiration for the Zenn Scarlett series of novels, as he learned about – and received an education from – these remarkable animals and the awesome veterinarians who care so deeply for them.
Zenn Scarlett is out May 7th, 2013.
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