Why do I write scifi?

author Jemima Pett

This was the question posed by Patricia Lynn Josephine for a guest post prior to the Zanzibar’s Rings tour. I mentioned it in one of the posts here, but Patricia has changed her website, and the old content is no longer available. So here it is… a post written in January 22 that made me think.

Writing Scifi

Hi, I’m Jemima Pett, and I’m a science fiction writer.

Patricia asked me: why do I write scifi?

And I stopped.

I thought for a while, and nothing really happened in my brain.

Except… why am I a science fiction writer? 

Why not thrillers, or romance, or adventure… I’d add mystery, but there’s usually a fair bit of mystery in my books, and usually some adventure, but not the sort that ‘action & adventure’ usually means. Five on a Desert Island sort of adventure, not the Da Vinci Code, although I do prefer to write scifi for grown-ups. That’s an audience that’s older than YA but not in need of the ‘adult’ tag, i.e, not X rated.

But why in space?

Why not Australia, or Norfolk, or the Grand Canyon, or somewhere else I’ve been several times?

Why a planetary system way above the plane of our galaxy, the edge of space where people only go because there’s an incredibly valuable metal that allows instantaneous communications across lightyears, even when travelling at the mythical warp speed—several times faster than light.

Well, that starts to answer the question, really.

I absolutely hate reading books where the author has got the details of the place wrong. So writing about imaginary places means nobody’s going to argue with you. It has to feel real, though. Even if the sky is pink.

If you can only do armchair research on your chosen location, it’s fairly helpful if the main details are very close to you. So close, they’re in your head. Even some of the science is imaginary. But the best scifi uses ‘possible science’. 

I used to do things in my work which involved working out logical developments given a set of starting conditions. Building scenarios. What would happen if, instead of Brexit, the UK stayed with the EU, and the US decided to make a strategic alliance with (pick a country).

One set of scenarios I worked with (the Millennium scenarios) had three versions I liked for the future—approximately 2025—and one I didn’t. That one was called Atlantic Storm for short, and involved UK aligning itself with the US against Europe, and pulling away from events in the Middle East. 

So the science of science fiction is not as farfetched as you might think.

asteroid value
from Universe Today Aug 2009

Many science fiction writers use their own particular specialisms as their starting point. Mine is people and planets. Others have more psychological approaches—try Juliana Rew’s Unwinding for a really mind-bending story. Becky Chambers does absolutely amazing things with people and aliens, and alien people, with a big biochemistry influence. Sue Ann Bowling used her genetics specialism to create evolved people with a very interesting background—akin to Arthur C Clarke’s The Sentinel, but more fully developed.

And many, many people like shiny fast toys, enjoy space ships and battles, and the politics that go with them. Which is what scifi looks like to many potential readers, because of Star Wars and Star Trek, not to mentioned Battlestar Galactica and most (it seems) screen scifi. But Gene Roddenbury put lots of speculative fiction into Star Trek. All those ‘What If … the society of Planet X had been influenced by gangster movies and got stuck in that society?’

What If…? is what science fiction is all about.

It may not even be in space.

It may be quite weird.

Which is why it has the wider genre term of Speculative Fiction (spec-fic).

And that may be why I like reading it.

Just imagine what would happen if….

And if you like reading scifi or time travel books, why not join my SpaceTime Reading Challenge?

10 Things you didn’t know about… Jemima Pett

The last of my featured posts in the blog tour for Zanzibar’s Rings appeared on Lynn’s Romance Enthusiasm, which is pretty weird as it’s really a Romance blog behind an Adult blogger screen!

I thought as they already had a biography for me, I might as well go to town with the adventures my imagination took me on when I was a kid. Some of it is true.

Actually, it’s all true, but some of it mainly happened in my head. And as Dumbledore said, just because it’s in your head, what makes it not true?

10 Things you Didn’t Know about Jemima Pett

  1. Jemima wrote her first book at around age 8, called the Whispering Stream. It was ten small pages long, and written in pencil.
  2. Between 8 and 12, Jemima was a champion show jumper. She had six horses in a stable outside her house, and she won a medal in the Olympic Games with either Zingaro or Riversprite. She also built show jumps out of stuff from her father’s shed, and jumped over them in the garden. No, there were no horses, except model ones, whose stable was a shelf in her bedroom. They are still in her living room cabinet.
  3. By about 10, Jemima had graduated to terraforming and designing fantasy islands. You know, if she had been born thirty years later, there would have been a huge career for her in gaming and animation.
  4. Jemima’s careers advice at school was “well, you’re going to do maths at university, aren’t you?” Nobody said, but what next? And she hated maths at university. It wasn’t problem solving any more, and she was a problem solver.
  5. Several decades (and careers) later, Jemima decided to get into ‘environmental’ subjects, since it no longer meant ‘heating and ventilation’. First she did some grad courses with the Open University, including geology, environmental impacts, oceanography and planetary science. Then she did a Masters degree and got into research related to energy efficiency and climate change.
  6. Jemima absolutely loved working on research in energy efficiency and climate change, loved the people she worked with and the events she went to. Her particular skill is linking issues and ideas across different academic disciplines.
  7. The low point of this part of her career was being at a reception to launch some research at the Houses of Parliament, and having to shake the hand of a particularly oily politician. How was it? Clammy.
  8. Once she went part-time, she started writing again. A world running on strawberry juice in fuel cells featured strongly in her first series. She still thinks we should be researching the properties of strawberry juice as a renewable energy resource.
  9. Her first seventeen guinea pigs (over twelve years) were immortalised in her first series by having characters named after them. Her latest two guinea pigs are named after characters in the series.
  10. One vet she knew said he approached guinea pig diagnosis as follows: if he can’t identify it for a small mammal, he thinks horses and scales it down. So her guinea pigs are really show jumping horses, scaled down. Of course!

But you probably knew, or guessed, most of that.

And next month – it’s Christmas, or Yuletide, or whatever you’d like to celebrate for the winter/summer solstice.

Dear Reader, Love Author

Zanzibar's Rings Available now

The last stop in the blog tour last March was this one, at a site simply called Dear Reader, Love Author.

Dear Reader, Love Jemima Pett

Dear Reader,

When I’m talking to people at book shows, scifi gets a curious reaction. Some simply dismiss it out of hand, some love all the shoot-em-up high-tech space-wars stuff in it, and others look for something more in it.

I’m not really into the shoot-em-up stuff, but I do love space ships. But what I love even more are people, personalities, and the possibilities in creating alien entities. People who develop on planets unlike our earth are unlikely to have the same physical or emotional reactions as ourselves. If they are part of a human diaspora, then they might—but the culture the original settlers bring with them will alter their viewpoints.

If you think how many and varied our cultures on earth are now, how much more wonderful would it be out in the galaxy?

It’s really an ecology question. Why do creatures evolve as they do? What functions do their forms provide, and why so different from something else in the same niche? Are opposable thumbs really essential for grasping tools? How does one categorise ‘intelligence’ of wildly different forms?

That’s one reason I admire author Becky Chambers so much. Her worlds, her cultures, her people… her AIs growing sentient… all wonderful, and logical developments. It gets difficult to write scifi that has no influence from the authors I admire most.

So I settled on an out-of-the-way star system that is the main source of something the galaxy needs for instantaneous communication. One of the protagonists talks to the trees, and wonders what lifeforms were destroyed when they settled the planet. The Viridian System series stems from there. Some people thrown together, in institutional arrangements that most of them hate. A chance for an extended chase in search of a mythical sword, followed by a space accident that results in meeting aliens with a common goal.

And now the last in the series. People cut off from their loved ones in a galactic disaster. I didn’t realise when I was writing it, but it’s really about people adjusting to isolation, to changes to their customary freedoms, and rediscovering self-sufficiency. Mostly, it’s about missing loved ones.

It’s a mystery adventure set in another solar system, but you may find something of your own world that seems familiar.

I hope you enjoy it.


Jemima Pett


I was really pleased with this. It started me thinking of something – and then Patricia Josephine stepped in for an interview “Why Do I Write Science Fiction.?” That stumped me for days. You can see what I said on her blog!

Next time… the last one. It’s the third of the 10 Things… written with tongue firmly in cheek.

Update on the books

Yes, books.

I’ve nothing much to say about The Perihelix, except my editor is working on it and I have a provisional launch date of January 12th.  If I don’t get the edited copy back in the first week of December, I think the launch date will slip.  I want to set up a blog tour, but I can’t find a tour provider with a good record of managing scifi books.  I looked at the blogs involved with a couple of scifi books toured by a reputable outfit, and most of the blogs involved had very few followers.  I’m hoping my Goodreads groups will provide a better platform – or I may put together my own blog after the hard work of the launch is done.

I have done some work on the cover, though.  I’d like to play with it a little more before a formal reveal, although I did put the current version in my graphic for my Blogoversary over on Jemima Pett. The eagle-eyed may have spotted it already!

Book 2 has got about 3000 words in the file – a combination of the first chapter and a half which I carried on writing straight after finishing the Perihelix (in August! How time flies), and notes and snippets, which occur to me as I go.  Basically, the plan for the book is coming together, and I came up with the title Casualties of Warp the other day.  Better than my last idea, but I think titles have to wait for the book to be finished.  I haven’t checked whether there’s anything out there with that title either.

So, if you’ve got any ideas to help me on blog tours, or thoughts on the second book title, or would just like to say hi, pop a comment below.