by Craig Anderson
As a writer the first question people ask me (after the psychic trick of knowing if they have read any of my books) is where do I come up with my ideas. I wish there was a more magical answer to this question, that there was an ephemeral spirit that whispers stories into my ear on the full moon, but the reality is far more practical. Most of my story ideas come from some random mish mash of things I read or conversations I’ve had. They percolate in my brain, sometimes for hours, sometimes for months, and then out of the blue a germ of an idea takes hold and I can’t shake it until I’ve gotten it down on paper. I’ll give you a recent example.
I am fascinated by A.I. I read articles about it, watch youtube videos and keep abreast of what is happening in the field. I can’t help but feel this is going to be the single greatest game changer in our lifetimes. A.I. has the potential to completely reshape almost every aspect of our lives. It’s also fantastic for stories, both because of the massive potential but also because A.I. does not think like a human. This contrast between what we expect an A.I. to do and what it would actually do is an endless source of conflict, and therefore stories.
While reading a technology magazine I stumbled across an article on CRISPR gene editing. This is another field in it’s infancy with just as much potential to change us as a species. Unfortunately humans are just as likely to abuse this technology as we are to solve all our problems.
So you have two world changing technologies both coming into their own at similar times. What if you combined them? An A.I. that could edit genes. Sounds terrifying right? It still wasn’t enough for a story though. It needed something else, a hook to bring it all together. It sat there simmering in my brain, like a soup missing a key ingredient.
That ingredient came in a random conversation with a friend. Somehow we got talking about climate change and the impact on animal species, particularly pollinators such as bees. Unless we could find a way to save the bees the impact on food production would be catastrophic. It got me thinking, how would an A.I. solve this problem? What if the A.I. could build a better bee? 10 minutes after that conversation I had a story already forming. I wrote it pretty quickly, over the space of a few months. Just like that, The Colony was born.
For me, sci-fi is fun because it asks the question ‘what if’ and then attempts to answer it. There are no ‘wrong’ answers, but not all of my ideas are good ones. I have a harddrive full of half finished books that will never see the light of day. Either the idea isn’t interesting enough, or I don’t know enough about the topic to properly answer the question, or I write myself into a corner and can’t dig out. To me this is all part of the fun. They sit there patiently in the back of my mind, just waiting for that key piece of information to make them whole. Every time I read an article, or watch a video, or chat with a friend, that could be the trigger for my next story. If there’s one thing I can say for sure, it’s that being a writer is never dull!