Posted by author on 2/19/2015 9:10:16 PM
This article continues my blog series about the technology, world, plot, characters, and other aspects of Beyond Cloud Nine. This time around, I'll be covering the thematic aspects of the plot.
Most readers have told me that the conspiracy in BC9 is plausible and thought-provoking, and the the "alien invasion with a twist" strikes them as something positively different. I aimed to leave these impressions, so I'm thrilled to have other people vindicate my efforts. On the other hand, a small handful of naysayers have questioned or even rolled the eyes at certain aspects.
The question that encompasses the overall theme of the novel is, "Would you rather be miserable knowing the truth or happy living a lie?" In chapter 3, Brooke has a conversation with her father while they're flying high above the Rocky Mountains. In that talk, we see that how she chooses to deal with being picked on as a kid prepares her for the larger moral conundrum she faces as an adult. When Brooke stumbles upon the conspiracy in the novel, she has a hard choice to make. Should she reveal the truth--something people deserve to know--even if that truth does more harm than good? Or should she keep quiet and help bury the truth, an act of deception which would bring about a much better life for everyone? It's a classic case of "do the ends justify the means?"
Each individual reader may find themselves on one side of the fence or the other, and that's perfectly natural. But in my view, there isn't a straightforward or right answer, much in the same way there aren't easy answers to real issues in life like abortion, homelessness, and so on. The reason there's debate and different people on opposite sides is because there are pros and cons to each side, and based on each person's goals and beliefs, he or she weighs the positives and negatives differently. Real life is like a seesaw; it's impossible for both ends to be at their maximum point at the same time, so you have to choose the lesser of two evils.
It's my goal to introduce this type of dilemma in every book I write. Why? Simply put, real life is about agendas. Different people have different agendas, and whether something is right/good or wrong/evil is a matter of perspective. Is killing a thousand people wrong? Most of us would be inclined to think yes without any more information, but what if those one thousand sacrifices end up saving a million lives in the long run? Is that good or bad? Does it depend on the specific circumstances? Can we reduce what's right and wrong to a simple math equation?
Conversely, stories that are a straightforward matter of good versus evil aren't as compelling because they're not as thought-provoking or as representative of reality. Most of us can support a protagonist who performs acts of compassion without anything in return because we aspire to that and think it's nice thing to do. But does anyone ever really do anything without getting something in return? I mean, lots of people give without receiving anything tangible, but there's still an emotional payoff. You still feel good about doing something good, so you're not truly doing something selfless, even if that good act was a good thing.
On the flip side, evil for the sake of evil isn't very satisfying. Why does that demon want to enslave the human race or shroud the world in darkness? Well, duh, it's evil. That's just what it does. Um, no. It's much more compelling if our demon has understandable motivation and specific reasons for doing things. Then we can empathize with it and get pulled into the story better. I'm not saying the demon should've been abused by its parents. That's a little cliche. But the acts of enslaving and destroying need to yield some payoff for our demon.
To summarize, agendas with firm motivation yield more dynamic and deeply layered conflict than straightforward good versus evil because the former is more representative of reality than the latter.
Lastly, I wanted to comment briefly on the aspect of the conspiracy that one or two readers have questioned (mild spoiler alert, but nothing too revealing). Yes, there's a secret society involved, and that's been done before in works like the Da Vinci Code (great read, by the way). As a matter of fact, I probably drew some influence from that book. If someone wants to get hung up on the unoriginal principle of including a secret society, there's not much I can do. However, I think the specifics surrounding the society's involvement and what they're trying to do are unique and original--at least, as far as I've seen. I like to think I know sci-fi, but I'm not as well read as a lot of other authors. If anyone can find a plot out there where something very similar happens, do let me know.