Last week, at the ripe old age of 37, I got married. It was a small affair with family and friends, just west of Dripping Springs, Texas in the Hill Country. The weather had been rainy leading up to the day, but on Friday, the sun was shining and a cool breeze was blowing. Dominique was beautiful, the flowers were beautiful, and everyone we hired to play music and serve food did a great job. We danced the night away with friends and later, listened to stories from drunken family members as we sat around a fire. All of that was expected… what I didn’t expect was that in the course of writing my toast for the reception, I would finally nail down where my writing style came from.
As religion fades from popularity, traditional church weddings will surely follow. We were no exception, and through a series of compromises, we settled on a non-denominational ceremony. I was surprised to learn, upon meeting with our officiant, that we could write any ceremony we wanted. What an opportunity! A writer who has written about love all his life with the chance to write his own ceremony? Surely, he would not pass that up, right?
With El Matador going on 10 months, a book to finish, a wedding to finalize, and so on and so on, there just wasn’t any time. So we compromised again and Frankensteined a new ceremony based off the officiant’s past work. That did not, however, keep us from having to write our own vows, and in my case, a toast.
I went through several iterations before settling on a final version. I kept the political jokes at bay and removed anything vaguely sexual (I’m so glad we decided to wait until marriage, sweetie, as El Matador looks on). Early on in the process, I found myself sitting and thinking about a single question: what is love?
Baby, don’t hurt me.
It dawned on me that I have been trying to understand love since a very young age. I continue to explore the concept in my books, rifling through the variants as if choosing a flavor of ice cream: I’ll have one scoop of unrequited love, a scoop of romantic love, and two scoops of pragmatic love with a cherry of infidelity on top.
One draft of my toast started like this:
I started keeping a diary when I was fifteen. It was in a Word doc that I named dec6.doc and it’s still on my computer. The first line? Fuck the world. I was fifteen. Also, I had started using fiction to help deal with my problems. So I would sit down and write as if my life were a story, and I’d make things out to be bigger than they were, and I’d get my rage and frustration and sadness out that way.
My diary wasn’t about my day-to-day life, and I didn’t write it in more than a couple times per month. What I wrote wasn’t an accurate depiction of my life either, and over time, I realized I’d created a second, fictional Daniel.
What I wrote most about was love, or at least, what I thought love to be. And over the years, I noticed I was constantly redefining what love actually is. This continued to present day in my books. I’m still trying to figure out what makes relationships tick. Relationships… not love. I’m no longer trying to understand love. At 37 years old, I’ve taken a stand on what I think love is.
Love is a choice.
At that point, as I started to meander towards describing love versus attraction, I abandoned this thread. I didn’t need to tell a room full of people what love was. They either knew or they didn’t. And regardless, my opinion on the matter shouldn’t really hold any water for them.
Also, worse, love is a choice just sounds kinda shitty. Too pragmatic. It implies that we choose to love someone but that we aren’t compelled to love them. That sounds a little more like codependency to me, not love. You may be compelled to love someone, to feel a connection you can’t explain nor would ever want to, but you choose to be with them, you choose to work on that love and make it into a relationship.
My early novels are blatantly focused on the idea of love, but there’s no discussion of how that love came to be. In Xronixle, X loves his high school sweetheart C, so he makes a copy of her in virtual reality after she breaks up with him. But why does he love her? Even if it is simple puberty-fueled, high school love, it should be addressed and investigated. Having lived and written the book, and having come out the other side, I know, as the author, that what X felt wasn’t love… but how do I express that in a story?
I didn’t. 24 year old Daniel didn’t even try to explore it. Shame on you, young Daniel.
I feel like I did a better job of questioning love in my latest book, Por Vida. There is love between Sepideh and Natasha, but it’s because they fill holes in each other’s lives. There’s love between Doyle and Vida, but it’s revealed to be more obsession than anything else.
And spoiler alert for my newest book, but there are two characters, a male and female, who by all rules of storytelling, should fall in love. But they don’t. The story, the situation, and the characters themselves don’t allow it.
There always has to be a reason people love each other. There has to be a reason people choose love.
Last night, Dominique wanted to watch the first episode of Altered Carbon, which I certainly didn’t mind seeing again. After it was over, I asked her thoughts and she said it was interesting. We talked briefly about Science Fiction in general; she’s not a big fan of the violence and futuristic technology.
To which I replied:
That’s the thing about Science Fiction. You have to look past the technology and the guns and the gratuitous nudity, because at its core, it’s just a story about people, and relationships, and love. The story is always about humanity.
And that’s how I write my books. Technology, both real and fictional, allows us to look at our humanity in ways never thought possible. Eternal re-sleeving. Memory modification. Virtual reality. Augmented reality. Instant communication. I mean, look what social media has done to us in just the last few years…
I think love, relationships, and humanity are at the core of every good Science Fiction novel (and other genres as well). Books like Replay by Ken Grimwood and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger come to mind.
Hell, even 1984, with its bleak dystopian setting and eerily prescient system of government, comes down to one single, simple, devastating act of betrayal between two humans. That’s it. Do it to her. The reader feels something in that moment, and I’ve always wondered if that was the one true emotion George Orwell wanted to communicate to people, so much so that he built an entire world just to support it. Who did he betray in his lifetime? Or who betrayed him?
Anyway, choose love, my fellow writers. Choose relationships and humanity. You can still have your mechs and your spaceships and your vorpal swords, but if there aren’t any people in your story… what’s the point?