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Researching the Impossible


Cerece Rennie Murphy 

To me, the best science fiction is always grounded in what
we know or what we think we know.
closer the science fiction world resembles the world outside my door, the bigger
the trip my imagination goes on because it challenges me to see all the things
I experience and take for granted everyday a little differently.

In my daily life, I don’t look for Yoda
though he literally was my first love, but now that I’ve seen Looper, I’m on
alert with every weird-looking kid I see. 
That’s the beauty of contemporary science fiction.

For the Order of the Seers trilogy, I tried to create that
same sense of “Wait…am I seeing what I think I’m seeing or is it somehow
different now.”  The series rests on a
fairly basic premise – there are a group of people who can see the future and
they are enslaved for that ability.  The
challenge for me in developing this story was to give a credible answer to the
question of how and why.  This is where
my research on genetics and paranormal behaviour kicked in, helping to give me
some “real world” anchors on which to build the overall mission, purpose and
dilemma of the story. 

I also wanted to
have a somewhat realistic limit to their powers for two reasons.  First, I wanted readers to put themselves in
the position of the Seers and for that I needed to use more familiar
abilities.  For example, humans do not
have the physical prerequisites for unassisted flight, but we have all
experienced some level of precognition (déjà vu, dreams that come true,
etc).  Second, the fact that Seers are
fully human is critical to the story line and my ultimate goal/mission which
was to inspire each reader to question the limits of his or her own potential. 

So what are the takeaways from this post for research and
science fiction? Well, a lot depends on the needs and goals of the story you
are telling, but here are some questions/principles that I have found helpful
in guiding me to write the best science fiction thriller that I can.

What is your goal with the setting?  Are you trying to “WOW” readers with a newly
imagined world or make them suspicious of the everyday?  If it is the former, I would recommend not
limiting yourself by any research at first. 
Let your imagination run away with you for awhile.  Outline the sci-fi premises and then identify
what anchors you might need to help your reader understand the world you are
creating.  James Cameron never really explained
how the floating mountains of Pandora work, but we did understand that bones
reinforced with carbon fiber made the Na’Vi hard to kill. If your goal is the latter,
then I think you start out by identifying the concepts/conventional wisdom or
paradigms you which to challenge.  Make
sure you spell them out, so that you know exactly where you need to fill in the
logic between what is known and what you are proposing.

Don’t forget the details.  If your story is set in the real world, try
to get the language and place right. 
Google and other search engines make this easier. The last thing you
want to do is have a chase scene on a highway in the middle of Washington, DC when
there IS NO highway in the middle of Washington, DC.  You don’t have to make it factual, but
plausibility is a good thing when you are nestling a sci-fi world right in the
middle of a real one.  Try to control the
concepts and information that are up for grabs in the reader’s mind that way
they will be more likely to end up where you want to lead them.

Make sure your scientific conclusions are
flexible enough for your story. 
In developing
the genetic marker premise for Order of the Seers, I ran into a wall when doing
my initial research on DNA.  I later
found a solution that can have a number of useful applications that I am expanding
on in the sequel.  (Sorry to be vague
here, I’m just trying not to give anything away for current or future Order of
the Seers readers. )
My overall point is, keep
digging.  If you’re not a geneticist, the
research can be difficult to comprehend. 
Don’t be afraid to approach a professor at your local university.  Your ineptitude in understanding their field
of expertise will often endear them to you. For those of us who are easily
confused, this is a tried and true method for garnering sympathy, helpful explanations
and mini-lectures for which most people have to pay.  The key here is to do enough research so that
it’s clear you are trying VERY hard to understand, you just need an expert to
connect the dots using very small words (and possibly a picture).

And last, but not least, have fun.  If you are a sci-fi geek, like me, how cool
is it that you get to write in a genre you love?  Don’t forget to take off your writer hat and
put on your reader hat.  You are a sci-fi
aficionado too. Do you believe your story? 
Is it cool to you?  Ultimately,
some people won’t agree with your assessment of the story, but understanding
that you can’t please everyone is part of being an adult.  Just keep in mind the reader that you do want
to reach and write for them and yourself.
That’s what I have learned so
far in researching the impossible.  I
hope it was helpful to you.  Live Long
and Prosper! 

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Order of the Seers

What would you do if you held infinite power
in the palm of your hand?

Brother and sister, Liam
and Lilith, are hunted by The Guild, a ruthless
world organization that seeks to capture and exploit Lilith’s unique ability as
a Seer to envision the future.

They discover that other Seers are routinely enslaved by the Guild, but from within the organization, Marcus
Akida escapes, and is 
drawn to  Liam and Lilith.

As the Guild’s efforts to find them
intensifies, the Seers ban together with outlaws from the commune to fight back
against the organization that threatens their lives – setting off a chain of
events that will unleash the full power of the Seers and change everything we
know about the true potential that lies dormant in each of us.

the Power Within 
Author Cerece Rennie Murphy 

Rennie Murphy lives and writes just outside of her hometown, Washington, DC and
is currently working on the sequel to her first novel, Order of the Seers. 
learn more about the author and her upcoming projects, visit her website at