The Really Big Idea: Ross Willard

by veilwar

After a long absence, the Really Big Idea returns with Ross Willard, who found an interesting way to get around perfection.

If you were perfect, would you find your life interesting? Enjoyable perhaps. But there might not be many stories to tell the grandkids if every decision you made was correct and wise; if every path you took was lined with roses and adulation. But maybe the frustration of those who have to deal with you would be worthy of a story or two…

System Purge

When I was a younger writer, one of the problems I often found in my writing was that my protagonists tended to be “Too Perfect.”  Perhaps it was all that time I spent reading comic books, or perhaps I was creating the characters to comfort myself and couldn’t stand for my heroes to be flawed, but somehow all of my characters ended up being so good at absolutely everything that nothing was ever a challenge for them.  Not really, anyhow.

System Purge

Since then I’ve learned the joys of writing flawed characters, but in order to get from there to here took a certain amount of self-training, and the first step, for me, was writing second generation characters.

Essentially, I knew that if I created a whole new universe to work in, I would simply create a whole new set of overly perfect characters, in order to make myself start imagining characters who had to struggle and grow, I had to stay in the same universe I’d worked in before.  The logic went something like this: if I had a character who was a perfect fighter, and I wrote a story about, say, one of his students, then I clearly could not make that student as skilled as his teacher, thus I could make his life a perpetual struggle.

That’s correct, in order to write an interesting story, I had to trick myself into making an interesting character.  While I have long since abandoned most of the universes that I had to use this trick in, there was one world that struck me as interesting enough to bear revisiting when, after several years of practice as a writer, I stumbled upon some of my old writing.

The too-perfect characters I had created were a brilliant scientist and the sentient machine he’d created.  Both characters were far too intelligent and far too powerful to be interesting, but the effect that they had on the world was, potentially, fascinating.

It wasn’t just the introduction of self-aware robots and genetic engineering that captured my imagination, it was the legacy that the characters had left behind.  Specifically, I couldn’t help but wonder what their creations thought of the two.  After some thought, I realized that the man and the machine would be seen either as father figures, or as gods, which of course led to the even more interesting question: what does a society do when their gods abandon them?

In building the universe, and the backstory of these two absent characters, I realized that there were three groups with relevant perspectives: there were the machines, who had known their creator and progenitor personally, there were the genetically engineered humans, who knew of him, but only distantly, and there were those who lived in the ‘human’ world (ie contemporary society) who had been effected by both characters, but did not know anything about them.

My book has three main characters in it, each with a slightly different relationship to their ‘father.’  While it isn’t expressed outright, a lot of the subtext that I tried to put in it is about each of these characters coming of age.  Each one needs to ‘grow up’ in a very specific, and very different way, and each one is dealing with an very different ‘absence’ in their life.

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