On Sci-Fi Conflict

Sci-Fi Conflict

by Dr. George H. Elder


          When trying to think of a Sci-Fi story that doesn’t have any conflict in the plot, I cannot find an exemplar. Even in E.T., which is “feel good” work, we have a government cabal that seeks to capture E.T. One of the most compelling things about most Sci-Fi stories is overcoming hostile or evil forces by engaging in pitched battles, and these conflicts are usually woven throughout the plotlines. Usually, there is a fleet of Reaper ships or a Death Star to overcome, and I contemplated for a long time on what would be the basic conflict in Genesis.

          I opted for a plotline that involves preserving existence via finding a means to generate enough energy to start another universal cycle, with the agency of this being a long-lost and dormant Seeker. Locating and activating this being provides a very convenient quest-story layout, and it also gave me the opportunity to implant a number of conflicts along the way. There are ample grounds for personal and interpersonal conflicts within and between characters in Genesis.

          For example, we learn in Chapter One how traumatized Kara was by her mother’s death, for which she feels responsible. In a modern sense, she would be diagnosed with PTSD, and the condition is exacerbated by her isolated outcast lifestyle. Anita is contemptuous of Ezra, because his fear and anxiety led to the death of their crew leader. She willfully generates hostile thoughts to punish the diminutive telepath, and he is forced to retreat from her presence. Ral, the capsule’s AI, is rule-bound, and he is incensed at Anita for altering the capsule’s control circuitry in an attempt to continue a mission that he finds foolish.

          These are relatively small concerns, however, when compared with what happens when Kara is added to group. None of the crew wants her aboard and regulations expressly forbid it, yet there is no choice given the situation. Thus a person from a stone-age culture is added to an already tempestuous mix. Bringing her up to speed involves a joint effort that ultimately helps draw the fractured crew back together, and in time, Kara becomes the valued member of a tribe of sorts, something that has long eluded her. She finds a home and people who care for her, although there is some hard going along the way.

          The primary conflict that underlies the entire story is a battle between those who want to reignite another universal cycle and those who simply want the reality we know to end. Both sides have compelling reasons for their positions, so it is not easy to divide the camps into good and bad. Many Sci-Fi texts depend on readily recognizable heroic and evil forces, but life is seldom that simple. Those against the imposition of another cycle argue that existence is based on an evolutionary process that is ruthless and amoral. The end-product is sentient life forms that, through their search for understanding, help to both form and preserve a metaphysical essence that interacts with matter and energy in ways that help maintain reality.

          The proponents of continued existence think that ephemeral ideas such as love and happiness are worth pursuing, albeit that they are often bought at a terribly painful cost in terms of suffering, change, and turmoil. Those who want none of this feel they are being compelled to participate in something they wish to eschew, and this is the background conflict of Genesis. Much of the philosophical debate is buried, though, and isn’t fully revealed until the middle and end of the text. Instead, we deal with the external manifestations of the underlying conflict, although these are expressed in scales that would be awesome to display.

          The main opposition to a new cycle (as in the Alcara) has constructed a Mass Transfer Device (MTD), and it has the capacity to transport vast amounts of material to any desired location within the universe via the agency of a gigantic gravity well. For example, it can be directed toward a given star or planetary system and draw in its mass, which is then transferred to another point in the universe. The device is used to alter local mass concentrations, and thus speeds the overall rate of the ongoing universal expansion. In addition, the material transferred can be used to destabilize the orbits of planets with species that interfere with the “natural” machinations of the universe, which slaughters trillions of people. The MTD’s output can also be directed toward defense, which makes any attack extremely problematic.

          Thus we have a cone-shaped machine composed of thousands of mobile elements that has the width of a standard solar system at its widest point and is deeper than it is wide. The device resides in subspace, and is only partly understood by the forces that plan to attack it. The issue of scale kept cropping up when contemplating the layout of the MTD’s modules. The gravity and EM generators that comprise its structure are titanic, with each being the size of our moon. Although the ships that are attacking the machine are also huge, the sheer size of the ensuing battle is difficult to describe in words.

          I opted to employ vast fleets of thousands of ships, with each being directed toward various elements of the MTD. The coupe de grace is to be delivered via an advance flagship equipped with a mass dissolution device that breaks matter down into it basic constituents. The battle does not go according to plan, however, and here we find forces that some might associate with “good” being completely crushed. A last-second rescue is found, and what ensues is closely modeled on the Battle of Jutland. Just when victory seems to be at hand, we learn the entire operation was for naut.

          The real battle evolved into one between species, who are finally put in their place by the Seekers. In turn, the Seekers give the members of the mission the only real options they’ve ever truly had. Each must deal with his or her own demons as they decide what to do. Once this inner conflict is resolved, there is still another looming in the form of activating the wounded Seeker, a god-like being of incomprehensible power, but savage and cruel maliciousness. Needless to say, finding him is a reminder of the old adage, “be careful of what you wish for.”


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