Sci-fi and fantasy writers are a special breed, in my opinion, creating magic and gadgets and possibilities out of pure imagination. But the inspiration does come from somewhere and we’re often asked where this mythical well is located.
Well, for me, it’s like a rainbow. (You’ll see what a brilliant analogy that is in a moment.) Snippets of inspiration arrive unexpectedly like light through clouds at just the right angle so you see something that isn’t actually there. If you’re lucky, you follow it to a conclusion that is writer gold.
Let me give you an example: the mantis shrimp.
A few weeks ago, my daughter’s boyfriend had us in stitches as he related all he knew about the mantis shrimp. It has two appendages that shoot forward at bullet speed (not an exaggeration). If they miss their prey, the force still causes a shockwave that stuns their prey and the speed boils the water around them. They’re ocean ninjas from the fourth dimension.
But that’s not what got my spidey senses tingling. They also have sixteen colour-receptive cones in their eyes. Humans have three.
Actually, thanks to high school biology my daughter was able to educate me further on this topic. What, you think I took biology? You’re funny. No, I’m a writer. I dropped science for English Lit.
So, according to my daughter, men are more likely to be colour blind than women. It results from their having two ‘good’ receptor cones and one that is mutated and thus limits their ability to differentiate colours. They tend to see only greens and blues or in shades of grey. (Yeah, there’s a joke there, but we’re going to stay on topic.)
Here’s the intriguing part (to me, anyway.) These same men are more likely to have daughters who have four receptor cones. Three normal ones and the mutated one. Sometimes the fourth one works and they are able to see colours the rest of us can’t.
That means where most of use three-receptor people see seven colours in a rainbow, those four-receptors girls see, um, way more. (I also dropped math for poetry, which qualifies me to name those new colours, not count ’em.)
Going back to the mantis shrimp, their world is so psychedelic it’s a wonder they’re moving at all and not just on their backs on the ocean floor listening to Pink Floyd.
And whether it’s two, four, or sixteen, it’s different from my perception of reality and right there becomes something I want to explore. I start looking at existing stories that are composting in the back of my mind and wondering if such a detail could fit into one of them and–the bigger question–how?
So far I haven’t figured out where to use it, but it’s in the primordial soup that is a writer’s imagination. For now, I’m just thinking about supper. Seafood, maybe.