I’m blogging about how I’m reinventing myself, from a retired nurse into a contemporary sci-fi writer. More about me here. Today’s blog is the fourth and last in the series. There are two parts. PART ONE follows my progress through the literary world. PART TWO discusses the concept of collective consciousness, one of the key drivers for writing my novel.
PART ONE: THE NOVEL
I’m an avid sci-fi reader who belongs to a general, readership book club. Each time I offered up my ‘Book of the Month’ suggestion, I received back a plethora of screwed up noses. Undeterred I had a go at writing my own novel: The Seed of the Violet Tree, to see if I could bridge the gap between sci-fi and general fiction.
In a previous blog, I described my trepidation, as I awaited feedback from the beta readers, some of whom were members of my book club. This was a big deal for me. Hardly anyone in my life, especially those in my book club, knew I was a secret writer. You should have seen the shock on their faces. It was a case of ‘just take a deep breath and tell them’. These are honest people, who care about me. They wouldn’t let me embarrass myself, by going public with something sub-standard. So I’ve been sweating and biting my nails on their feedback.
Could I write a compelling story or was I about to make a complete fool of myself?
Here’s some of the feedback.
“If you’d brought this novel to book club, as your “Book of the Month” for us all to read, I’d have been delighted.”
“Are you sure it’s science fiction? [It is. I was ecstatic at this point, having proved the genre divide could be breached] It’s a great mystery. I’d call it a ‘Futuristic Mystery’ if I was you.”
“I loved the plot and never guessed the outcome. A real surprise. How did you keep a handle on all those twists? It was so full of intrigue.”
“I totally forgot it was you who wrote it, I was so engrossed in the story.”
“You can really write dialogue. I never got the characters mixed up and felt I was totally engaged in each conversation.”
“I was hooked from the start, then there’s a bit of a dip in pace; where the science and characters are introduced. Then it really picks up again. A fast moving plot. A real page turner. So much happens.”
“I always looked forward to picking the book up again. I was sad when it came to an end.”
A frequent comment which led me to re-edit was:-
“The science expected too much previous knowledge from the reader. It wasn’t essential to understand the science [such as a Lagrange point], for the storyline, but it helped when a character gave a recap.”
I’ve made one of the characters a bit more naïve about scientific concepts. This means, the science has to be spelled out in layman’s terms more often. I think this was a crucial discovery, in terms of writing sci-fi for a general readership. I have to say though, for very intelligent women, I was in disbelief about how basic my beta readers’ knowledge was, around cosmology and technology. We had quite a discussion about the level of my disbelief. It certainly explains why I’d struggled, to get them engaged in sci-fi earlier.
One of my beta readers is also a professor, who marks PhD’s. (I know, I know, I don’t know what I was thinking). She enjoyed the book and was gripped by the plot (some of the comments above are hers). She offered to proof read it as well. Something which apparently happens “automatically” for her. She thought my grammar was good. She picked up a few issues on the structure of the book. Which I include, as they are useful for other writers too.
- Logical flow of some of the paragraphs could be improved.
- One or two spelling mistakes and typos, not many.
- Some chapters should be split, others could be merged.
- You can’t prove something sociologically [apparently], you can only explain it.
- Some sentences are too long.
- Too many exclamation marks.
- Unnecessary italics and capital letters.
- Occasionally, I’d used one word when, with a bit more thought, an alternative would have been more appropriate and explained what I’d wanted to say better.
- Some parts repeated information give previously, trust your reader to remember better.
- A whole philosophical discussion then took place, on collective consciousness and how you refer to this grammatically. Is it ‘they’ or ‘it’ or can this be interchangeable? A fascinating discussion about collective consciousness followed, which I’m excited to discuss in Part Two.
Much of the above did seem obvious, once it had been pointed it out. I have to say, none of my general readers, without the professor’s background, thought much of this was an issue. Anyway, I’ve since been back on Amazon Kindle (again) and re-edited, having taken all comments on board.
After I’d received the feedback, I was totally overwhelmed. You think you’ve done okay, you hope you’re a “real” writer. Receiving such a positive response, from honest people who I trust and admire, left me with a feeling I’ve never really had before; not to that extent anyway. Until I find a more appropriate word, “flabbergasted” will have to do for now. My novel and I are now shipshape and good to go. Marketing will begin in earnest and, on that note, you can read a free sample of The Seed of the Violet Tree here.
Discussing the book stimulated a debate around artificial intelligence, the future of humanity and our ability to control our own destiny. It proved a point, which most sci-fi readers already know; sci-fi is an enabler. It helps the reader to become once removed, from the way we live our lives today. In doing so, it provides a fresh perspective, a birds-eye view, on the big questions facing us and the type of civilisation we are creating.
All in all, I believe my venture into sci-fi writing has been a success, The Seed of the Violet Tree having appealed to a general readership. The novel facilitated debate on science, technology and the future of humanity; to a degree I hadn’t previously experienced in book club.
PART TWO: COLLECTIVE CONCIOUSNESS
In the novel, I raise the subject of collective consciousness. Here’s an extract:-
“Their [human] consciousness has potential to open doors to insights…[an artificial intelligence] could never reach….to wisdom. There’s something about the way they coordinate this consciousness that I haven’t yet grasped. They interweave it, to build abstract meanings through art, music, discourse, literature, love. This creativity deepens their understanding even further. It turns their individual minds into a single collective one. More than the sum of its parts. I’m only beginning to understand that knowledge myself, it’s an amazing gift, precious.”
I am constantly frustrated that we humans, undervalue our collective consciousness and the potential it has to do good. It is our under-utilised sixth sense. We simply allow it to emerge and very rarely pro-actively scrutinise it. Usually it takes a tragedy, like war, for us to do so. Here’s an example:
I live in Manchester, in the UK. On 22nd May 2017, a suicide bomber killed twenty-two people and injured hundreds of others. Many of the victims were children. They had been attending an Ariana Grande concert in the city centre. The venue, the M.E.N Arena, is one I often frequent. My sister was there four weeks earlier. My young niece regularly goes to events there and my sister used to wait for her in the very area the bomb went off. My nieces and nephews, knew children who had died or been injured. The daughter, of a colleague of mine, lost one of her best friends.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, in Manchester was affected. The city became one mind. The symbol of our city, the worker-bee, born out of the industrial revolution, took on a new meaning; the shared consciousness of the hive.
I was in Scotland at the time, alone in a remote spot. The news came through on my phone. I was so stunned I was unable to cry. I sat up all night and watched the 24 hour TV coverage. The next day I could hardly function. This was my city, my people. In talking to friends and family and in following the media, I quickly realised I was having an identical, shared experience to that of everyone I knew. I went home. I couldn’t rest until I’d gone into the very heart of my city and stood, numb, at the impromptu memorial. Here’s my photograph. You could hear a pin drop. No one needed to speak, it seemed there were insufficient words and, anyway, we all knew what was being said.
Overnight the symbol of the bee took on new meaning. There were queues, hundreds of people deep, to have bee tattoos. Pictures of bees became even more prevalent in the city. I now have a transfer of one on the petrol cap of my car. A exceptional local poet, Tony Walsh wrote a poem, ”This is the place’, which somehow, miraculously, managed to sum up not only how we were all feeling, but who we all were. Here’s a few extracts:-
‘This is the place where our folks came to work, where they struggled in puddles, they hurt in the dirt.’
‘They were scheming for greatness, they dreamed to their graves.’
‘And they left us a spirit. They left us a vibe, That Mancunian way to survive.’
‘Some are born here, some drawn here, but they all call it home.’
‘And they’ve covered the cobbles, but they’ll never defeat, all the dreamers and schemers who still teem through these streets.’
The collective consciousness, of the Manchester hive, was born out of a shared history and shared experiences; the M.E.N Arena attack being one of the most poignant. It emerged from a set of shared values, an unspoken understanding of who we were, what we stood for, what was important to us. We expressed it in a series of memorials, in conversations with friends, and strangers who suddenly felt like friends. We described it in street art, tattoos, poetry and music. We used the experience to reaffirm who we were, socially and politically, and to identify what was important to us. What was sacred. It broke our hearts that this, cosmopolitan city, had been attacked by a suicide bomber who, prior to the attack, we had all accepted as a fellow Mancunian. There was anger, a lot of soul searching, a lot of reaffirming; anyone who lives here is ‘one of us’. There’s a whole other debate to be had around this. It’s obviously not quite as simple as I’m painting it.
My point is. Why does it take a tragedy, for a collective consciousness to arise so acutely? Surely this is something we should be constantly appraising, doing something with, putting to good use. By not doing so we’re giving damaging organisations, such as ISIS, the upper hand. They have defined their own brand of collective consciousness. They’ve sown it amongst their followers and used it to capture the hearts of our most young and vulnerable citizens. They’ve fashioned it into an enrolment tool.
In my novel, I hint at a civilisation where, after aeons of evolution, a collective consciousness has emerged and the people think as one mind. This mindset is interwoven with the needs of the planet, as the mindset’s source of survival. The collective consciousness is made up of multiple individuals, leading varied, rich lives. Yet they are unified, by a core set of interdependent beliefs and behaviours, which serve the common good.
This chapter triggered a discussion, amongst my readers and myself. Is such a collective consciousness, that acts in the interests of all, possible or a completely naïve dream? Is the human race capable of pro-actively defining, harnessing and expressing a collective consciousness, without the need of tragic experiences such as the M.E.N Arena? To what extent could ideas and beliefs, falling outside of this collective consciousness be tolerated; in the most positive sense of the word?
We then got on to discussing the issue of a Singleton, which also arises in the novel. An entity which is a single source of control over a society, its resources and systems. We began to ask the question. ‘If ‘we’ do not define our own collective consciousness, globally, then someone or something else will, eventually. This may well be intentional but, could easily be unintentional. A single global company could, gradually, gain a monopoly on the population’s media outlets, technological dependence, food, finances, education, employment; completely bypassing our established political systems. A singleton might rise out of a global ideology that rapidly gains traction. Alternatively, a wealthy individual(s) from the elite 1%, with sufficient resources and ego at their disposal, might decide to take control. And of course, it could be an artificial superintelligence, which decides it knows what’s best for us, because we are either unable or refusing, to do this for ourselves.
As the Artificial Superintelligence in my novel puts it:-
“Their [Human] default position, around any new circumstance or invention, is lazy thinking, collective procrastination. “Let’s just go with this new piece of technology,” for example, “see where it takes us.” Trial and error, instead of having an overarching, global plan, about how to maximise its use and how to mitigate its potential risks.
I think it is time to act. The world is getting smaller every day. Is the nature of a global collective consciousness, yet another thing, such as climate change, that the population of this planet is going to happily sleepwalk towards, as it shrugs its collective shoulders and says, “Well, you know, sniff, what can you do?”
I loved having this conversation with my readers but, after a while, we stopped the debate. The scary, was beginning to feel too real and we had wandered into the quagmire of Brexit. At the moment, the UK is in its clutches. There is absolutely no collective consciousness whatsoever, beyond banging our collective heads on the table and wishing it was all over. Opinion is split in half, as to whether we should leave or remain in Europe. Much of the problem is around our inability to define collective consciousness. Who are we? Who do we want to be in the future? As a minimum, this should have been agreed before any vote was put to the electorate in a referendum. We’re still not discussing it. There has been far too much mud slinging and not enough bridge building towards a common position.
I’ll leave you with the story and words of Joe Cox, a 42 year old British Member of Parliament, with a young family. Joe had been active in the Brexit campaign on the Remain side. She had a strong history of supporting inter-racial understanding, cooperation and cohesion, both locally and internationally. She was murdered on the street, on 16th June 2016, by a far-right extremist who shouted, ‘This is for Britain. Britain will always come first’, as he shot her three times and stabbed her multiple times. In the aftermath, a particular speech Joe had made, was played over and over on the media. One line from her speech has been constantly repeated ever since. Much has been done to try and maximise the legacy of this. The line is:-
‘We are far more united and have more in common, than that which divides us.’