I love stories with paranormal elements. From John Carter’s out-of-body experience in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars to Spock’s mind meld, and Obi Wan Kenobi’s Jedi powers, the paranormal is a frequent element of science fiction and lends some mystery to what could become dry, hard SF.
But giving a character paranormal abilities can be a problem. It’s a little bit like cell phones. The problem is, it solves too many problems. The key, I have found is to make the ability the problem and not the solution.
In Ambassador from Earth , Ellen is visited in her dreams by an angel who tells her that an old, beat-up, abandoned van in the woods near her home is actually an interstellar spaceship. She convinces her friends to check it out with her, and in fact it is and spaceship, holographically disguised. Through navigational misadventure they arrive at a giant space station many light years from Earth run by ruthless aliens. Ellen continues to receive instructions from her “angel” which we learn is an alien intelligence, a memory from the dead alien who brought the spacecraft to Earth originally. The alien leads her to a doomsday device he has left on the station that will destroy the super bad guy aliens. It will also mean sacrificing herself in the process and millions of innocents living in the solar system where the space station is located.
If Ellen knew all this up front the story would be a lot different. Having access to everything her “angel” knows might have kept her from ever setting foot on the spacecraft. In this case she is limited by how she perceives the alien (as an angel) and what he chooses to reveal and what she is capable of understanding. Extra-sensory perception is limited by the same unconscious biases, beliefs, culture, and expectations as normal sensory perceptions.
In my newest work, Theodore Grayson and the Devil Men of Mars (still under construction), I’m writing about another young woman gifted with clairvoyance. Truth is she’d rather be without it, especially after the British government sends her to Mars as part of a global arms race with the Germans. Now poor Lydia is millions of miles from home and the only one there her age is an American ruffian named Theodore who she quickly comes to despise. The ruins of an ancient Martian civilization have strange and traumatic effects on the seventeen-year old, nearly driving her mad. Here, the character’s personal desires are at odds with her abilities and with almost everyone else. She trusts no one and her main desire is to stay as far away from the ruins as possible and get back to Earth and London as soon as she can. Even if her clairvoyance could see exactly what the Germans are doing she would not feel obliged to tell anyone about it.
Of course the paranormal can help drive the solution of the main problem. Ellen’s contact with the alien will give her insights to defeat the really big bad aliens. Lydia will learn to control her abilities and gain incredible new ones. But simply turning into vampire or a Jedi or a teenage mutant ninja tadpole should be the beginning of the story not the end of it.
“James, you pimped the spaceship.”
Matthew Roper, and his friends, Ellen Thompson and James Lovely, discover an advanced alien spacecraft disguised as a beat up old van abandoned years ago in the woods near their homes. Soon they find themselves thrust into danger, intrigue, and war many light-years from Earth.
The Galactic Concordance is a ruthless organization of alien empires that grinds other civilizations into dust. Lost, the band of eighth graders fly to a giant space station looking for help, but are mistaken as diplomats by the Concordance.
The aliens try to strike a deal, but the children soon learn the fate of other worlds that have accepted the “help” that the Concordance offers. If the aliens learn the truth about who they are and where they are from, Earth will be annihilated.
The spacecraft’s previous master has left a fearsome device on the space station and Ellen holds the key to unlocking its power. Matt and his friends must choose between saving themselves or saving Earth.
“This is our trade station. The one of which I spoke,” said Kritar.
“What’s it doing here?”
“When the Skleth finished with our world, they must have moved it to the sixth planet, Sudos, and turned it into one of their enclaves.”
“We’re heading to one of the landing platforms,” said James.
The ship entered a large landing bay the size of a football field. The entrance was along the equator, between where the two pyramids forming the station joined. Gigantic sliding doors over a hundred feet high closed behind us, and minutes later the ship’s console chirped, indicating a breathable atmosphere now filled the chamber to a pressure equal to that inside the ship. Artificial gravity turned on in the bay, also equal to the .59 g inside the ship. Pop-up messages on the environmental screen assured us there was nothing dangerous in the air.
Ellen opened the rear hatch. Then we heard her scream the kind of scream you hear in horror movies.
Two gigantic upright scorpions met me at the hatch. Their black exoskeletons and double action pincer claws made them look like beasts from the ninth level of Hell. They stood over eight feet tall, with huge boxy bodies attached to a segmented abdomen out of which sprouted four very bug-looking legs. Two arms extended from the torso ended in multi-bladed pincers, easily capable of snapping a person’s head off.
I spoke into the tube. “Hey. What’s up, guys?”
One of the two creatures made a series of buzzes, chirps, and clicks. “Greetings Ambassador. His Excellency, the Prefect, sends his regards. Are all your staff embarked?”
“There are others with me,” I said.
The creature continued making sounds. “We received no communication announcing your arrival. Are more of your ships inbound?”
“Just us,” I said.
“The Prefect regrets the hasty preparations. A diplomatic module is being prepared for your use. If you will accompany us, we will bring you to your embassy.”
“Sure, that would be great,” I said.
Prying Ellen out of the front seat of the ship almost took a crowbar. She was terrified of these creatures. They scared the you-know-what out of me, too, but they were being very polite. Besides, if they’d wanted to, they could have stripped our bones clean by now.
We were led through a passage to a transparent wall through which we could see inside. The entire interior of the station was one super large chamber. Big doesn’t come close to describing it. Standing in the Superdome, you’d see big. This was more like being an ant standing in the Superdome. Blazing lights along the walls lit the inside of the station as bright as daylight, but with more yellow than sunshine on Earth. Elevated highways extended from a wide ledge running around the entire chamber. Vehicles, some as big as buses, and some as small as toys, zipped around the outside perimeter and along the causeways on grooved tracks. In the center of the great room, floating in mid air, were structures like buildings, of many different shapes. The buildings were all connected by tubes and spires, branched out of the sides of the station walls to the buildings.
“It’s a floating city,” James said, and that was the best way I think any of us could describe it.
The scorpion creatures led us down a winding series of ramps branching off from the passage outside the landing bay. Eventually, we came to a smaller room, with transparent walls on either side.
“We must await transport,” said one of the creatures. “The atmosphere within the main chamber is incompatible with your environmental requirements.”
A vehicle pulled alongside the room and docked by extending a flexible membrane. A part of the transparent wall slid open and we entered the vehicle. It sped down a grooved track for several hundred meters, before switching to another track, taking us along one of the causeways toward the center of the station.
“This is different than I remember,” said Kritar. “Most of the internal space was used for storing freight, and fuel for our ships, before.”
With so many different species, each with their own atmosphere and gravity requirements, they’ve built all kinds of different modules inside now,” I said.
“Nice town,” said James, “any good places to eat?”
“You will find nutritional units at the facility prepared for you,” chirped one of the creatures.
I looked at Ellen. She was still wide-eyed, and kept her hands clamped onto my arm. She was one of the bravest people I knew. Maybe she just really hated bugs. After all that had happened to us in the last few hours, it was a wonder we weren’t all completely freaked out. I don’t think it hit me until then. I felt like I was watching a movie of myself.
The transport docked with a spherical building as big as a large house. The giant bugs ushered us in.
“This is your embassy, Ambassador. It can be configured as you require. The Prefect gives assurance all reasonable security precautions have been made, but you may take more as you choose. These devices will activate the environmental systems as you move through the enclave.” The creature held four metallic discs, half the size of a CD, hanging from lanyards. I took the devices and handed them out to Ellen and James.
“Thanks,” I said.
“The Concordance welcomes prospective member states. Communicate any requirements you have to the Prefect’s office.”
The two giant bugs left.
“You all understand, of course, Ambassador, they are listening and watching us,” said Kritar.
“I don’t like this place. I want to go home,” Ellen said, not at all happy.
“When do we eat?” James asked.
“Find the phone and call Dominoes. I like pepperoni and mushrooms.”
James snorted and rolled his eyes.
“I don’t understand,” said Ellen, “what’s going on?”
“They have never seen your species before,” said Kritar. “They simply assume you are an ambassador from a distant planet sent to negotiate for membership in the Concordance.”
“But we’re just kids,” said James.
“Ixnay on the idskay!” I hissed. “If they’re listening, we need to make it hard for them to understand. Speak Spenglish or slang. Use cultural references, i.e. ‘Domino’s’.”
Ellen and I spoke fairly good Spanish. Blending it with English and slang should keep whoever might be listening guessing as much as possible, I hoped. The aliens thought we were the ambassador and staff from some other species, seeking to join their interstellar version of the UN. Our lives, and maybe those of everyone on Earth, might depend on us keeping them thinking that.
“Let’s get the 411 on this place,” I said.