My mother had a tumor, and now she doesn’t. I’ve always said that science fiction is all around us, and it’s not even fiction. This truth has accelerated in the last fifteen years with mobile/remote communicators and micro-computers (cell phones), and a world wide interactive informational protocol (the internet). Another place that we find tomorrow today is in the hospital. I have been on duty helping my mother use the bathroom and blow her nose (I figure I have at least five solid years of debt owed to her in these tasks and I’m not even wiping her butt!). While trying to sleep in the minutes between her needs I have witnessed some truly sci-fi things. Before I go into that I want to make my nurse spiel.
Screw Doctors. I’ve told you my feelings on doctors before. It isn’t that doctors are inherently bad, no group is inherently bad. They are, by the laws of probability, distribution and randomization, a mixed bag, but society venerates doctors in a way that is all out of proportion with the role they play. Perhaps only athletes are more disproportionately compensated for their jobs. Specialists are grand and all that, but generally speaking, a doctor has no skill that a chemist with a sewing hobby could not demonstrate. It is trainable knowledge! It is variable knowledge! The problem I’ve encountered with this veneration is that it can create some really titanic egos. When an entire society tells you that you are inherently good, you begin to think you are inerrantly good. Friends, that ain’t so. For me, it’s led to a general mistrust of Doctors. I can’t help but wonder what the effects of social “hyper-valuation” are on this persons psyche. I’ll also say that I like lawyers. A scummy lawyer will tell you exactly what they are and why. There is a delightful lack of complexity to it. A lawyer has no god complex and really can’t afford one if they are to survive. I appreciate that type of honest dishonesty. When Shakespeare said “First, kill all the Lawyers,” he may have been on to something, but if he had seen the bizarre creatures that are modern American doctors, he would have penned an entire new tragedy.
Now let me tell you about nurses. You want a hero for your story that is more believable than a starship captain and has more direct, ground floor interaction with hard science than a lab rat? Nurses, my friends. I have read and edited more stories about doctors than I can count, and nearly every one of them is saturated with a form of the American “doctor mythology,” but rarely do I get a story about a nurse. Nurse characters in the fiction I get tend to be subordinate, weak, and often just window dressing- a half hearted attempt to put a working girl in a male dominated story. Let me tell you this: the closest character trope to the modern nurse in the science fiction literature of today is the battle hardened interplanetary shock marine. You know the one, military sci-fi writers love that character. Sargent Killington of the 42nd drop brigade, chewing a cigar he lit with a flame thrower as he rains mini-nukes down on some xeno-form city. Dear readers- Sargent Killington ain’t got nothing on Michelle F., my mom’s RN. These pros must know EKG patterns like Gibbon knew the Latin of Cicero. Nurses know blood chemistry and the hydrostatic pressure system that is the turnpike of your body. They engage regularly with a host of devices and technologies that require precise on the spot calibration, and in the end, they will be the ones that bring you home alive. I have read hundreds of stories about the marine sergeant, carrying his buddy over his shoulder while alien bugs slither and snap right on his heals, but not a single tale has come across my desk about a nurse with six or more beds of highly traumatized strangers that he/she will carry on till morning. The greatest strength of these heroes however is not science, or skill with hand and eye. What makes them perfect candidates for your future fiction (and mine) is that, while the hypothetical military hero kills the villain with a curse and spit, these nurse heroes handle the villains of pathogen and human weakness and they do it with a kind word and a smile- two things I
can’t manage if I don’t have my morning coffee.
That is the Science of Fiction: Dedicated today to the wonderful staff of Baptist Hospital’s 6th floor, to Michelle F. and Terrye R., and those great women that made coffee for me and tried not to wake me up when I grabbed a short nap in the corner, and who made me feel less afraid and more certain. These women that drive home foot sore and stained with blood and human waste to partners that hardly see them and will never have a TV show singing their praises and will never have BMW’s- we owe you some stories. I for one will start writing them.
Next up: The New Writer’s Advice Omnibus. A distillation of all the advice I have gathered from some of sci-fi’s best editors and up and comers (and of course, yours truly) They include: it’s versus its, there versus their, and myriad other unthinkables. And coming soon: My long awaited interview with Futurismic Magazine Editor and kind rejector of your fiction- Chris East!
Andrew C. Porter, Editor at large