Big ideas and little ideas in “Forbidden Sanctuary”

My first novel, Forbidden Sanctuary, isn’t getting many sales as an ebook.  Fine.  Whatever.  Have it your way.  But I was actually pleased at how well it held up when I re-read it during the ebookification process.  It’s good solid idea-based science fiction.  So go buy it!

This post about big ideas and small ideas got me to thinking about the big ideas behind Forbidden Sanctuary.  When you’re starting out, you’re dying to find a big idea that you can turn into a publishable novel.  I had two big ideas behind this novel.

The first one was: What if the Christian pattern of redemption and resurrection occurs on other planets as well?  What if each intelligent life form has its own Christ figure?  If we accept that there is alien intelligence, why should God care only about us?

This is a not a bad idea, as science fiction ideas go.  At least I thought so.  But by itself it didn’t give me a novel; there’s no conflict or tension, and therefore there’s no story.  So it was the second big idea that got me to the starting line.  What if we have a first contact story, where one of the aliens who land on Earth is a member of a Christian-like persecuted sect who would be killed if his beliefs were known?  And so the alien escapes and is hidden by Christians, and the alien leaders demand his return, and there’s your conflict and tension.

But as usual it’s a little idea that I remember most fondly from the novel.  A first contact novel requires some explanation of why the aliens are here — are they trying to straighten us out or conquer us or steal our women or what?  The idea I came up with was that, for the aliens in my novel, space travel was a ritual of the state religion.  They belonged to an ancient Roman-like culture and no longer understood how they did what they did; in fact, their technology was otherwise far behind ours, so they were as afraid of us as we were of them.  And that helped motivate much of the action in the novel.

This idea is a bit of a stretch, but FTL travel in and of itself is a stretch.  Every thriller plot is a stretch.  And I couldn’t have written the novel if I hadn’t come up with it.

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