Books, news, & views from Karen Traviss

Tentacles and guesswork

A buddy who's been beta-reading for me since I started writing fiction mailed me this feature this morning with the message: "Hi Karen, how much more ahead of the science community can you get?" Yes, it's those fantastic cephalopods again, this time about clever stuff they do with their DNA:

Image of octopus

Not a spoiler for the Ringer series, but you get where Ian's heading, and the answers Dr Kinnery didn’t find.

When I did some initial research on cephalopods years ago (as in reading, not chopping them up) I knew right away that they'd keep me in books for years. And they have, bless their clever little tentacles. Okay, I'm not a marine biologist, so my extrapolation has just been layman's guesswork, but I couldn't look at them and not see the endless potential for stories, even ones that weren't actually about octopuses and squid, and not even SF. (Same with jellyfish, who are equally amazing.) They’re so unlike mammals that it's impossible for me not to wonder what happens when we interact, either as individuals – alien or real-life – or at the genetic level, as in the Ringer books.

SF authors are used to being predictive because that’s part of the job, although we still have to explain why none of us really saw the internet coming, or why we gave the world false hope about personal jetpacks. And you can't patent a good guess. But actual scientific research like this confirms you're on the right track, which – if you're concerned about realism – gives you more confidence to push the envelope of the possible.

Don’t be too hard on us about the absence of personal jetpacks. Just imagine your neighbour, the one who can’t park straight and hits the fence every time he tries to back into his drive, and then visualise him crashing on you from a few hundred feet with a fuel tank. It’s all for the best.