When a book is set in a dystopian future on Earth, you know something terrible happened. But what happened? Some Sci Fi writers draw it out, feeding you the sad tale slowly piece by piece. Nora Roberts gives it to you straight from the get go.
The Prologue of Of Blood and Bone begins:
They said a virus ended the world.
And then it gets worse . . .
“And yet the innocent–the touch of a hand, a mother’s goodnight kiss–spread the Doom, bringing sudden, painful, ugly death to billions.
“Many who survived that first shocking strike died by their own hand or by another’s as the thorny vines of madness, grief, and fear strangled the world. Still others, unable to find shelter, food, clean water, medications, simply withered and died waiting for help and hope that never came.
“The spine of technology cracked, bringing the dark, the silence. Governments toppled from their perches of power.
“The Doom gave no quarter to democracy, to dictators, to parliaments or kingdoms. It fed on presidents and peasants with equal greed.”
And then Nora Roberts reveals that the world of her novel, which begins in Year Twelve after the Doom, contains both modern technology and “magicks.”
How does the new world work?
Once the world “ends” and a new world begins to rise, it can have elements of science fiction, fantasy or the paranormal. Or a combination.
In pure Sci Fi, the new world can contain technology that is futuristic to us but that existed before the downfall, new technology created after, or a mix of both. In the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the leaders in the Capital have flying cars, but they’ve forgotten how to build airplanes. In Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, the world is in bad shape but the technology continues to advance with ever improving virtual reality technology.
Some authors use the apocalypse to clear the world of technology. In Ariel by Steven R. Boyett, one of my favorite novels, all technology just stops working and magic takes its place. After the Change, even something as simple as a bicycle just doesn’t work anymore.
Other authors mix technology and magic. Piers Anthony does this with alternate universes–one magical and one technological–in his Apprentice Adept series. Can you think of something more recent?
Plan your new world!
Imagine your own dystopian future for Earth. What will you include?
Science and technology that does not yet exist?
Magic, mystical powers, or strange abilities of the mind?
Jess leaned back in the blue, plastic Adirondack chair on the back deck. It was a kids chair and he had almost outgrown it. But it was the only chair that allowed him to tilt his head back to look at the stars.
Tunes from the 1960s purred from the outdoor speaker. His Mom kept the family speakers on a steady rotation of “decades” music going back seventy years.
They lived in the suburbs. With light pollution, Jess knew he wasn’t even seeing half the stars up there. But this summer, with all the bad news online, he found himself escaping to the quiet of the back deck and looking at the starry sky.
In school, he had read about the Civil War and the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement and a bunch of other depressing stuff. And then his grandfather had died. Jess and his grandfather were not close, but everyone went to the funeral and everyone cried. Even Jess cried.
Sometime that summer, Jess realized everyone else in his family would die. Not anytime soon. Probably not, anyway. But, eventually, his parents would grow old and die. And, eventually, Jess would also grow old and die. And if he ever had kids, they would grow old and die. Someday, everyone Jess knew would be dead.
Staring up at the night sky made him feel small and a little scared. It never used to before. But when he was little, he didn’t know how much empty space was really up there. And how tiny the Earth really was.
Last week and the week before he had stared up at the stars.
Maybe, he had thought, it would be OK to die as long as I’m remembered. Maybe I could get famous like Elvis or Beyonce. So famous that no one would ever forget me.
Jess had thought about that for a couple of weeks. He would have to be really famous to be remembered in two million years. Like Hitler famous. And he didn’t want to be evil. He remembered seeing photos of the gas chambers and shuddered.
In two million years, the wind might even wear down the Great Pyramids and the even the pharaohs of Egypt would be forgotten.
Words floated from the speaker on the dark, night air.
Words are flowing out like
Endless rain into a paper cup
They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe
It was “Across the Universe” by the Beatles. His Dad loved the Beatles. All of the Beatles were dead.
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy
Are drifting through my opened mind
And that’s when the idea struck Jess. He rummaged through the junk drawer and found a penlight. He sat back in the kid-size Adirondack and shone the light into the sky.
Dad was an engineer and he knew lots of science. He said light beams were made of photons. In space, photons just keep traveling forever–travel at the speed of light, Dad said–unless they hit something. Like a planet or a star.
Jess sent the weak beam of light into space. He clicked the light on and off. If he knew Morse Code, he could send a message on a stream of photons into space. And if that beam never ran into a star or a planet, it would travel forever. Unlike the pyramids, it would never be worn down by wind or time.
The next day Jess bought a brand new flashlight–the most powerful one he could afford at the big box hardware store. That night on the deck, he sent coded messages into space. He looked up Morse code on his phone and shot off the messages in different directions into the sky.
I am here
My name is Jess
I dont want to die
Never forget me
. . .
Halfway through high school, Jess had learned enough about lasers to build his own high-powered laser from a kit. He even got his Dad to help mount it on the roof. Mom thought he was crazy, but Dad was into science stuff and thought it was a cool project.
Jess studied star charts and learned how to aim his laser using the computer in his room. He sent coded messages into the night sky almost every night. He aimed the laser into the empty stretches between stars, nebulae, and galaxies to give his messages the best chance of flying forever through space.
No human would ever see them. Racing at the speed of light away from the Earth, no human could ever catch up with them to capture the light and decode it.
And what alien would ever know how to decode Morse code? Or care to try?
But Jess knew that his coded messages racing through space would last longer than even the Earth itself. Eventually, the sun would supernova and the Earth and the Moon and every human landmark in the Solar System would be absorbed, melted, obliterated. But Jess’s small, silent, staggered rays of light would live on.
. . .
In college, he studied engineering and physics, trying to decide which way to go. Both were incredibly tough. Jess had programmed the computer in his bedroom at home to aim the roof-mounted laser at the emptiest reaches of space. He had saved hundreds of different coded messages and each night, his computer sent the messages into space.
He was so busy at school, he forgot about the laser most of the time. And, miracle of miracles, he finally had a girlfriend!
But when he came home on breaks, he checked the laser on the roof. He cleared the dead leaves away, wiped the lens, applied another coat of water proofing. He checked his sky maps and scheduled some new programs to run when he was away. At night, sitting on the deck, he thought up new messages to send.
I am Jess
This message will outlast everyone
Jess was not trying to reach anyone out there. He never thought to try to look for replies to his messages. Besides, detecting a laser reply from space would be quite a trick. That would take more physics, engineering and money than he had.
So it was merely by luck that he was sitting on the back deck after graduation, drinking a beer and peering up into the sky, that he saw it. (This final paragraph is optional for your story ending.)
. . . .
Submit your story ending
I can’t wait to see your story endings! Don’t forget to read the contest rules.
Each month, I’ll post a new, unfinished story. Write your own ending in 500 words or less. Post your ending as a comment at the bottom of the contest story page.
I will read all the entries. I will judge them based on three factors:
How interesting the ending is.
How well the entry continues the style and feel of my part of the story.
How well written the entry is, including if it contains a good mix of exciting action, snappy dialogue, and vivid description. (Not all endings require dialogue, but if done well, it always helps.)
What about the prizes? OK, Slytherin, if you want to know so badly, skip to the end below!
All entries must be submitted as a comment on the original story contest page by midnight on the 15th day of the contest month. If the comments remain open after that time, you can leave a comment or paste your story ending, but it will not be considered for judging.
I will pick a winner. I will announce the winner in a new blog post by the end of the month. I will also announce the winner on Twitter at @mattcrosswrites. If you leave your Twitter handle in your post (and if you win), I will include your Twitter handle in my announcement. On Twitter, I will mention you more than once. Probably an embarrassing number of times. I’m very proud of all my contestants, and especially proud of the winners.
Content and Name
All story content must be PG-rated or G-rated. Because I am the judge, I will decide what is PG-rated. If your submission is more like PG-13 or more “mature,” I will read the story and I may share a comment with you if I like it. But I will not allow it to post to this site. (I like all good writing, but this site is just not the right forum for such “mature” content.)
If you want an example, here is a bit of violence contained in a winning entry. This is the most visceral we’ve gotten so far. “Less than a second later, a searing bolt of plasma hit his chest like a sledgehammer and sent him tumbling backwards into the cold depths of the Elizabeth River.”
Your name and your Twitter handle don’t have to be real names. I love pen names! But don’t make me feel foolish posting them, or I won’t pick you as the winner. I’m not going to announce the winning story was written by Iam A. Moron, also known on Twitter as @FartFace. (I may be a moron and a fart face, but don’t make me announce it on the internet!)
Do you have to provide a Twitter handle? No.
Do you have to provide a real e-mail address? Yes. Without an e-mail address, I can’t send you the prizes. And I won’t pick you as the winner.
Who owns the story?
We do. I own the beginning I wrote. You own the ending you wrote. The complete story that includes your ending is owned by both of us. It will be written “by [Your Name] and Matthew Cross.”
If you send me a story ending by posting it in the comments on my website (or if you e-mail it to me), then you are giving me permission to post any part of your submitted story content on any page of my website forever.
Announcing the winner
By the end of the contest month, I will post the winning story–my beginning and your ending–as a blog post for all of our fans to read. If I have enough good entries, I may also post two or three finalist stories. At this time, I only have the resources to give one prize. To the winner go the spoils. (Also, “There can be only one!”)
The Kuiper Belt orbits around the sun just beyond the orbit of Neptune. It covers a vast region of space starting about 2.7 billion miles (4.4 billion kilometers) from the sun. It stretches to about 9.3 billion miles (14.9 billion kilometers) away from the sun.
Here’s another way of thinking about it. The distance from the sun to the Earth is described as 1 atomic unit (AU). The Kuiper Belt stretches from 30 AU to 100 AU from the sun. That means the distance from the inside edge of the Kuiper Belt to its outside edge is much wider than the region inside the Kuiper Belt, the region from the sun to Neptune! (Compare that to the Asteroid Belt, which is only 140 million miles wide.)
If you have ever seen a model of the solar system, you know the eight planets all travel in the same plane around the sun. Their orbits–the paths they take–look like a disc (or flat plate) of rings around the sun. The Main Asteroid Belt also orbits around the sun, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, along this same plane. The Main Asteroid Belt is flat.
Unlike the Main Asteroid Belt, the Kuiper Belt is not flat. It is donut-shaped with icy bodies orbiting the sun above and below the plane or disc formed by the orbits of the planets.
The largest object in the Kuiper Belt is the dwarf planet Pluto. Astronomers once called Pluto a planet, but in 2006 it was reclassified as a dwarf planet. Like other planets, it orbits the sun and it has enough mass to have formed a round shape, instead of the bumpy, irregular shape of an asteroid. But Pluto’s gravity has not cleared a path through Pluto’s orbit of asteroids and other bodies.
Most of the objects floating in the Kuiper Belt are small clumps of rock and ice. These are ancient remnants left over from the formation of our Solar System.
In the wizarding world of Harry Potter, the students of Hogwarts are sorted into four houses. And, of course, the famous Sorting Hat chooses your house for you.
Young Adult books are about finding yourself. (And Middle Grade books, too!) And part of finding yourself is finding your “tribe,” the type of people you want to hang out with. The kind of people you want to become.
Let’s explore the tribes in a Sci Fi standout: Divergent.
In Divergent, by Veronica Roth, at age sixteen you must choose from one of five factions. You can choose to remain in the faction that raised you. Or you can risk joining another faction. If you fail the tests, you become one of the homeless outcasts, the factionless, a fate worse than death!
Welcome to the Choosing Ceremony
“Welcome to the Choosing Ceremony. Welcome to the day we honor the democratic philosophy of our ancestors, which tells us that every man has the right to choose his own way in this world.
. . . .
“Our dependents are now sixteen. They stand on the precipice of adulthood, and it is now up to them to decide what kind of people they will be . . . . Decades ago our ancestors realized that it was not political ideology, religious belief, race, or nationalism that is to blame for a warring world. Rather, they determined that it was the fault of human personality–of humankind’s inclination toward evil, in whatever form that is. They divided into factions that sought to eradicate those qualities they believed responsible for the world’s disarray.”
[I]t is now up to them to decide what kind of people they will be.
“Those who blamed aggression formed Amity.”
“The Amity exchange smiles. They are dressed comfortably, in red or yellow. Every time I see them, they seem kind, loving, free. But joining them has never been an option for me.”
“Those who blamed ignorance became the Erudite.”
“And when they clear out [my brother Caleb’s] room, what will they discover? I imagine books jammed between the dresser and the wall, books under his mattress. The Erudite thirst for knowledge filling all the hidden places in his room.”
. . . .
“A long time ago, Erudite pursued knowledge and ingenuity for the sake of doing good. Now they pursue knowledge and ingenuity with greed in their hearts.”
“Those who blamed duplicity created Candor.”
“The Candor man wears a black suit with a white tie–Candor standard uniform. Their faction values honesty and sees the truth as black and white, so that is what they wear.”
“Those who blamed selfishness made Abnegation.”
“The houses on my street are all the same size and shape. They are made of gray cement, with few windows, in economical, no-nonsense rectangles. Their lawns are crabgrass and their mailboxes are dull metal. To some the sight might be gloomy, but to me their simplicity is comforting.
If we have little, and want for little, and we are all equal, we envy no one.
“The reason for the simplicity isn’t disdain for uniqueness, as the other factions have sometimes interpreted it. Everything–our houses, our clothes, our hairstyles–is meant to help us forget ourselves and to protect us from vanity, greed, and envy, which are just forms of selfishness. If we have little, and want for little, and we are all equal, we envy no one.
“I try to love it.”
. . . .
“I blame selfishness; I do.”
. . . .
“But I am not selfless enough. Sixteen years of trying and I am not enough.”
“And those who blamed cowardice were the Dauntless.”
“In front of [the school] is a large metal sculpture that the Dauntless climb after school, daring each other to go higher and higher. Last year I watched one of them fall and break her leg.”
. . . .
“At exactly 7:25, the Dauntless prove their bravery by jumping from a moving train.
“My father calls the Dauntless ‘hellions.’ They are pierced, tattooed, and black clothed. Their primary purpose is to guard the fence that surrounds our city. From what, I don’t know.”
Choose your faction!
“In the last circle are five metal bowls so large they could hold my entire body, if I curled up. Each one contains a substance that represents each faction: gray stones for Abnegation, water for Erudite, earth for Amity, lit coals for Dauntless, and glass for Candor.
I will cut into my hand and sprinkle my blood into the bowl of the faction I choose.
“When Marcus calls my name, I will walk to the center of the three circles. I will not speak. He will offer me a knife. I will cut into my hand and sprinkle my blood into the bowl of the faction I choose.”
Which faction will you choose?
Choose one of the five factions. Choose your tribe. How will you decide?