In California, there’s a law (Prop 65) that requires people selling things to label the contents and whether they’ll harm you. Sometimes this goes to silly extremes, like those little signs in bars warning you that there might be cigarette smoke outside, but I’d rather have too much information than a lack of it, personally.
Since there are a lot of people who believe stories can work their way into peoples’ brains and turn them into unfeeling zombies who thirst for blood, I figured I’d do some content labeling on my story. Amazon wouldn’t let me upload it as YA, which it is, so I’m kind of bouncing between kids’ and regular sci fi, with an occasional YA association appearing. I’m not sure about this word-worming theory, since I’ve read everything I could get my hands on my whole life, and I turned out fine. But I do try to respect other peoples’ sentiments, so here’s a great big old warning label for One Sunny Night. Which is a sensitive YA story about a boy coming of age, and dealing with the challenges of adulthood (while surviving multiple disasters).
Guns: The most lethal part of the book happens in the first twenty pages, as Sonny falls painfully into the story. He sees a man die, and is briefly face to face with the corpse – just before some villains shoot it and send it flying. His new dog attacks one of them.
Most of the deaths happen to nameless, backstory-lacking clones but later on in the story, some of the clones are introduced, and we get to know their individual personalities. I’m keeping my mouth shut as far as the characters’ fates.
Adventure stories require violence. That said, I tried to de-emphasize the amount of fighting the hero directly experiences. He’s more of a diplomat than a fighter, plus he’s pretty good at surviving nature.
There are some countries in my fictional universe where you can have guns. My hero comes from a country where you can’t. He’s familiar with them from movies and videogames, but he has never fired one.
Guns have talismanic qualities in my fictional universe. When they come out, things get serious, and everyone’s life is about to take a sharp unanticipated swerve, typically for the worse.
Now I do have stunrods, which are about the size of a flashlight and can kill or incapacitate a person without a trace, and those are legal everywhere. Murders occasionally happen, and given the amount of casual everyday surveillance (everyone’s got a video camera in their hand, just like we do now), murderers are almost always caught and sent to prison (where they spend their time enduring empathy training in virtual reality). People who anticipate being attacked can acquire back-capacitors (“backcaps”) which will turn a stunrod blast around and kill the wielder. Electromagnetic anti-bullet shields can happen. People can get cybernetic microbot-deploying implants which will throw anyone trying to forcibly introduce their DNA into their blood/bodily fluids into a massive seizure, so there’s not a lot of rape. You can get cybernetic implants that detect other peoples’ add-ons, but they can get add-ons that deliberately broadcast wrong information to fool attackers, and so on.
Bottom line: it’s a really bad idea to just walk up and attack someone because, as the Beach Boys once sang, “You don’t know what I’ve got.”
My side novel, Sieging Manganela, which I’ll release somewhere between books two and three in the Sonnyverse, is a war story. The war is an asymmetrical one between (a) some great big macho bioengineered supersoldiers who are all covered in muscle and have superhuman reflexes and etc.; and (b) some really smart nerds with drones. This results in spectacles like a squad of huge guys facing a fleet of drones (which can be fab printed to look like anything; in this particular scene they are toys – clown cars, dolls, cymbal clashing monkeys). The drones might emit any of a number of projectiles or poisons. The soldiers are each packing at least twenty different weapons, depending on whether they need chemical neutralizers or electrical disruption or good old fashioned ballistics, and most of their drill time has to do with identifying substances and drawing the corresponding weapon.
I’m into riffing on violence and making it surreal, and separating it out from aggression, and thinking about it. As opposed to encouraging it. And even so, I’ll allow that a few of my characters have very punchable faces.
Sex: Towards the end of the book, Sonny finds himself at a party, where everybody hooks up, except him. He is perturbed and vexed. At least he has a dog to keep him company, and a job to keep him focused.
I might let Sonny actually have sex in the next book, after he turns sixteen, but it definitely won’t be graphic. Plus it will probably lead to trouble. Like everything else he does.
Boobs: Sonny is a fifteen-year-old straight boy who likes to check out boobs. He actually faces a test involving boobs; they’re kind of like Scylla and Charybdis. If he can manage to not stare creepishly at the boobs, he can learn a valuable skill. I also want to point out that some of the boobs in this book are used for nature’s intended purpose, feeding babies. I instructed my cover artist to include plenty of boobs on the cover, to scare away people who don't want to read about them.
Animals: I’m very much in favor of animals. All pets in my books are immortal. Animal abusers suffer the grisly fates they deserve. I’ll cop to being mean to fish, but that’s only because they’re delicious. Some of my countries are vegan and at least one grants animals provisional citizenship, although my characters tend to adapt to the local diet which sometimes includes dead cows, sheep, etc. Vatgrown meat/fish is popular.
Messages: I don’t like stories with heavy messages. My stories are about people who all believe in different messages, setting them aside and cooperating.
Cussing: Bodily only (shit, asshole, fartface), and sparingly, except for the clones, who regard it as friendly bonding, and then they wonder why nobody likes them. No sexual epithets, no racial namecalling, no blasphemy.
Religions: They’re visible, embedded in the scenery, if you look closely enough. There are entire religious communities living peaceful honorable lives (as well as a few wicked cults), but my characters don’t run into them.
Message: There is a secret, but that mainly has to do with a personal challenge to myself as to whether I could write an esoteric novel which is science fiction and contains no mysticism. It also helped me string the plot together. Props to you if you find it.
Mysticism: Absolutely none whatsoever.
Science: I take bioengineering to absurd levels – e.g., biological 3D printers that’ll let you make pliosaurs. Plus I’ve got some digitized people, and lots of genetic editing has been going on amongst the live people. The rest is feasible.
Models: One of the themes in this story has to do with not having blind faith in your role models. I think it’s at least as important to learn about how to recognize and avoid shady people.
Diversity: Inclusive. Let me know if I’ve left anybody out; I’ve got a few more roles to fill in the sequels.