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Author Topic: Starting a new book idea  (Read 5668 times)
thain
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« Topic Start: December 06, 2008, 04:42:12 pm »

So I got an idea for an SF novel with lots of metaphysical underpinnings a few days ago, and I'm trying to lash together a semi-coherent skeleton of a plot.  If I can keep myself writing, count on random posts begging for input on the metaphysics. 

My big question is this: if a book is SF and unapologetically SF, how much creative liberty is expected/accepted/tolerated when discussing religion within that context?  I intend to do a fairly significant amount of research so that I can try to get things right, but part of what I'm writing about involves most major religions CHANGING due to my particular SF plot device (for those interested, I'll put my premise a few paragraphs down, along with questions and partial answers I and a few friends have already established).  If you were reading an SF book that addressed your own belief system, how "right" would you expect or want the author to get things, and how willing would you be to suspend disbelief and assume that the author's chosen plot device could quite literally change the groundwork of your beliefs?

Thoughts on this, and feedback on the premise itself are very welcome.


Plot premise (please note, I realize that the one character I've named thus far has a very cheesy name - this name is subject to change):

Mankind has discovered the secret of reincarnation, allowing the spirit to be directed to its new incarnation by choice, rather than karma.  The Soul Harvesters, members of an organization established, sanctioned, and staffed by every global power in the world, are responsible for the reincarnation of every soul on the planet.  For particularly influential individuals, the soul is harvested along with the mind, so that their reincarnation can resume life precisely where death cut them off.  For particularly wicked individuals, several "Hell" dimensions have been plumbed, and they eagerly await new souls.

Despite the existence of the Hell dimensions, war has not been abolished.  Soldiers are even quicker to die for their countries than ever, knowing full well that they will be brought back by the Soul Harvesters.

The vast majority of society is content to know that they will, for all intents, live forever, as the question of life after death has been definitively answered.  Religion has largely been marginalized to novelty status, as man now considers himself god of himself.  Those practitioners of the surviving religions tend to assume that this is all part of their deity‚Äôs plan for the world, with JCI practitioners believing this to be a sign of God's mercy, allowing mankind as many "second chances" as it takes to finally get things right.  The Hindu religion has actually experienced an explosive surge after reinterpreting their beliefs to allow for human control of karmic reward and punishment.

There is a growing discontent, however, with the very fact that humans are allowed this measure of control over the life, death, and rebirth of all beings.  Remaining Buddhists, especially, are concerned by the fact that no one, no matter how he or she lives, is ever able to escape the cycle of death and rebirth.

Mahayana Buddha, spiritual leader of the surviving followers of Buddhist philosophy, is seeking influence within the Soul Harvesters in the hopes that she may be able to exert some subtle machinations, return humanity to the path toward Nirvana, and one day bring an end to the endless cycle.


Premise Questions/Answers:
Are new babies being born?  Is there an endless supply of souls?
Babies are definitely being born (Buddhists believe that the soul enters the body at birth, so the child does not need a soul until it is born), but do the Harvesters keep a "surplus" of souls or do they enforce a total population control, ending one life (human or animal) as another begins.

Problem potentially solvable (at least partially) via animal reincarnations: since Hindu practitioners are embracing the harvesters as part of their religion, it could simply be that, if a freshly dead human soul isn't "available" for a birth, so to speak, the harvesters take an animal soul and give it a karmic upgrade to human form.

In my preliminary research, I think I've found the answer I'll be going with regarding the number of souls - The Hindu Vedic religion says "Brahman (world soul) is of the nature of truth, knowledge, and infinity."  At least one source I've read indicates that this means there is an infinite supply of new souls, so the harvesters basically have direct access to Brahman, although I may not call it such.  This will get fleshed out more, but those souls that have already lived will be closer to the "surface" of Brahman, so to speak, so that they receive first priority, but if there is ever a point where a birth occurs without any "used" souls being available, the Brahman void is able to produce a "fresh" soul for use, if that makes any sense.  Conversely, if the death rate is higher than the birth rate, the souls simply return to Brahman


Are the Soul Harvesters run-of-the-mill humans (like, anyone with specialized scientific/medical training can apply for the job), or are they something Other?
They're human, but I haven't yet decided how much of what they do is Science and how much is "Other." I can almost visualize a "grim reaper brigade," but I'm not quite sure if that would work within the confines of SF in gneral, or my story specifically, so they may be using computers more than scythes.


Who is responsible for managing the Hell dimension? Is it otherworldly or is it terrestrial?
The Hell dimensions are otherworldy, and I haven't yet decided if they are the typical "hells" with demons and such running the show or if they are simply lower planes of existence where life is much harder. I'm leaning toward the Buddhist idea, where the Hells are other planes of existence over which the cycle of death and rebirth still has jurisdiction (which means that someone being sent there could eventually return to Earth).  It is important to note that Buddhist Hells still have demons, but these beings are also subject to the cycle of death and rebirth.


What sorts of qualifications land one in the recycling of the soul versus the condemnation into Hell? Are they similar qualifications to current beliefs regarding the soul's judgment to Heaven, Hell, (or Purgatory, if you're a Catholic)?
The condemnation into a hell is handled by jurisdiction of the harvesters, but the decision requires approval from either the governing body of whatever country that soul lived in prior to death or from the UN as a whole so that the authority can't be abused. I'd say conditions for damnation are somewhat similar to the qualifications in current belief systems, with the proviso that it's closer to a courtroom, so adultery or theft might not land you in hell, and even a few murders, so long as you can prove reformation, but a killing spree, genocide, or equally universally reprehensible act could easily result in damnation.
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« Reply #1: December 06, 2008, 04:48:06 pm »

Mahayana Buddha, spiritual leader of the surviving followers of Buddhist philosophy, is seeking influence within the Soul Harvesters in the hopes that she may be able to exert some subtle machinations, return humanity to the path toward Nirvana, and one day bring an end to the endless cycle.

This I assume would be the focus of the actual story?  The background is very interesting. Have you read any SF with similar ideas/themes? 
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« Reply #2: December 06, 2008, 04:50:39 pm »

This I assume would be the focus of the actual story?  The background is very interesting. Have you read any SF with similar ideas/themes? 

If I have read stories with similar ideas/themes, I've forgotten them, but I'm certainly not discounting the possibility I'm being influenced.  Really, most SF that deals with cloning at least touches on the idea of reincarnation (and that's probably the source of my premise's idea that particularly influential people can have their memories "harvested," too) - I'm just taking it a bit further.

Oddly enough, I got this idea from a dream (maybe not that odd for most, but I never remember my dreams Smiley)
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« Reply #3: December 06, 2008, 05:29:19 pm »



So if a person does not want to be re-incarnated by design, do they have to go into hiding to die?  Or do the Soul Harvesters have some way of automatically tracking deaths?  Is there any penalty for trying to die 'outside the system' - is it against the law, are there rebel organizations to help those who want to opt out, is it even a consideration or do the soul harvesters automatically receive the souls?

Would organizations helping people hide their deaths be working with or against the organization trying to return to the path to nirvana, overtly or covertly?

Absent, maybe going off in the wrong direction here
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« Reply #4: December 06, 2008, 05:44:29 pm »

So if a person does not want to be re-incarnated by design, do they have to go into hiding to die?  Or do the Soul Harvesters have some way of automatically tracking deaths?  Is there any penalty for trying to die 'outside the system' - is it against the law, are there rebel organizations to help those who want to opt out, is it even a consideration or do the soul harvesters automatically receive the souls?

Would organizations helping people hide their deaths be working with or against the organization trying to return to the path to nirvana, overtly or covertly?


Woohoo!  I love questions.  I haven't put that into my premise yet, but I've already got a loose idea for a scene in my script skeleton talking about a group trying to mask a death from the harvesters.  At this point, my thought is, despite their best efforts, they fail, but any group trying to help hide a person's death would be working with the group attempting to achieve Nirvana. 

Right now, my thought is that it would be considered a crime to try to mask a death from the Harvesters, if they are caught.  There's not really much in the way of a "Big Brother" system monitoring every citizen, but I'm still working out how the Harvesters actually "receive" the souls.  If they end up more like a grim reaper brigade, they would know as soon as the soul actually entered their domain, but if they just have access to Brahman, the soul would still eventually end up back in Brahman, so they would be none the wiser without an informant.  Honestly, this conceptual scene is the biggest reason I like the idea of a group of reapers, as it would give them a chance to show up at the scene, potentially providing me with the contact point to allow Mahayana Buddha to influence the Harvesters.

On a semi-related note - most people will not know they were reincarnated until at least several years into their lives, when they learn as children that everyone is reincarnated, and only the very rich or very powerful will ever have direct access to their past lives (the great leaders of the world will, by default, be reincarnated with all their memories, allowing them another full lifetime to contribute to society, while the very rich can purchase their past, so to speak, but only AFTER reincarnation - they can't simply pay the Harvesters to ensure they retain their memories before dying).
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« Reply #5: December 06, 2008, 05:52:55 pm »

while the very rich can purchase their past, so to speak, but only AFTER reincarnation - they can't simply pay the Harvesters to ensure they retain their memories before dying).


Would there be any effect on inheritance laws, with the very rich trying to leave their money to their next incarnation, or their next incarnation trying to sue their physical heirs to get their money back?  Or would money only be for one lifetime, and someone wanting to buy back their memories would have to get rich again (or be born into a rich family) before they could do it?

Would the Soul Harvesters be bribe-able?  Or would Karmic balance be enforced in some manner?

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« Reply #6: December 06, 2008, 05:58:42 pm »

My big question is this: if a book is SF and unapologetically SF, how much creative liberty is expected/accepted/tolerated when discussing religion within that context?  I intend to do a fairly significant amount of research so that I can try to get things right, but part of what I'm writing about involves most major religions CHANGING due to my particular SF plot device (for those interested, I'll put my premise a few paragraphs down, along with questions and partial answers I and a few friends have already established).  If you were reading an SF book that addressed your own belief system, how "right" would you expect or want the author to get things, and how willing would you be to suspend disbelief and assume that the author's chosen plot device could quite literally change the groundwork of your beliefs?

This is where you run into the speculative fiction vs. science fiction problem.

Personally?  I think the idea sounds great, and I'd love to see where it goes.

People who are into the hard-science aspects of SF, or the space opera, or anything like that?  Won't want to touch it with a ten foot pole.

As far as what you can get away with, that depends.  If you're looking for publication, you can get away with a little less - but this is SF.  You can get away with all KINDS of things in SF that would never fly anywhere else.

You want a brigade of mortal grim reapers out scooping up souls?  DO IT.  No reason not to - and plenty of reasons to claim that death and reincarnation needs the personal touch so the soul doesn't *escape*.

As far as the religious questions - I don't expect fiction in general to get religion right.  I think that would be a great adaptation of Hinduism - though of course, I'm not Hindu.  But I'd think you'd really have to look at the caste issues ... though you could have a lot of fun with that, too.

(and, of course - who does the judging in the first place?  LOTS of room for corruption and dissatisfaction there!)
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« Reply #7: December 06, 2008, 06:06:28 pm »

Would there be any effect on inheritance laws, with the very rich trying to leave their money to their next incarnation, or their next incarnation trying to sue their physical heirs to get their money back?  Or would money only be for one lifetime, and someone wanting to buy back their memories would have to get rich again (or be born into a rich family) before they could do it?

Would the Soul Harvesters be bribe-able?  Or would Karmic balance be enforced in some manner?

Reincarnations would not be able to sue physical heirs to get their money back, and since only the Harvesters actually have the records of who reincarnates as whom, trying to leave money to your next incarnation would not be possible via last will, as reincarnation records would be treated with similar confidentiality to medical records, just with a large price tag attached, so only the very rich could actually afford to find out who they were in a past life.  So yes, they would have to get rich again or luck out and be born into a rich family in order to "get back" their past lives.

Technically, a rich individual could "gamble" on their future success by hiding a certain amount of money for their future self, but it would be somewhat pointless, since they would already be rich enough to not necessarily need the hidden money by the time they found out where it was hidden.

The Harvesters could technically be bribe-able, but I'm thinking there are going to be some checks and balances in place to make sure they don't break the rules in this regard.

EDIT TO ADD: At worst, a bribe would allow a person to be reborn into a rich family, or to be reborn in a certain country.
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« Reply #8: December 06, 2008, 06:08:23 pm »

If I have read stories with similar ideas/themes, I've forgotten them, but I'm certainly not discounting the possibility I'm being influenced. 

I wasn't suggesting that you had taken the idea from elsewhere, I just wondered if you had seen some of the classic SF that has dealt with reincarnation so you could see how others have handled it. Farmer's Riverworld series and Zelazny's Lord of Light are probably the best known. I'd strongly recommend reading Lord of Light, particularly the third story of the novel where Sam is dealing with the Masters of Karma who control the mechanical reincarnation.  It's not that much like what you are thinking of, but it does show how such could be abused.
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« Reply #9: December 06, 2008, 06:12:35 pm »

People who are into the hard-science aspects of SF, or the space opera, or anything like that?  Won't want to touch it with a ten foot pole.

Which is probably why I like this idea because I won't touch those sub-genres with a ten foot pole Cheesy

Thain, I love this idea.  It seems to have a distopian feel to it which is probably why it's something that I would like to read.  I can't offer any advice or questions that others haven't mentioned, but I will post as soon as I can think of some.
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« Reply #10: December 06, 2008, 06:13:16 pm »

As far as the religious questions - I don't expect fiction in general to get religion right.  I think that would be a great adaptation of Hinduism - though of course, I'm not Hindu.  But I'd think you'd really have to look at the caste issues ... though you could have a lot of fun with that, too.

(and, of course - who does the judging in the first place?  LOTS of room for corruption and dissatisfaction there!)

I hadn't even thought of the caste issue, but you're right, that COULD be a lot of fun.

Certainly part of the conflict over the reincarnation is that leaving it in human hands leaves room for corruption, but at least for the moment I'm leaning more toward people suspecting corruption (after all, anyone who gets born into a bad neighbourhood can simply say the harvesters were out to get their previous incarnation) without there actually being (much) corruption.

The bigger "problem," of course, is the fact that religious traditions that look at reincarnation as something to be escaped (like Buddhism, obviously) aren't going to appreciate the Harvesters ensuring that everyone is forced to come back again and again.
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« Reply #11: December 06, 2008, 06:14:12 pm »

The Harvesters could technically be bribe-able, but I'm thinking there are going to be some checks and balances in place to make sure they don't break the rules in this regard.

What about amateurs?  If reincarnation records are confidential, and have such a big price tag attached (which would probably help fund the the Harvesters) would past life regression be against the law, or at least frowned upon?  Hypnotists, card readers, even guided and unguided meditations often have past life revelations as their goal.  Would this be a problem?

I realize these are minor details which would most likely be dealt with in the background of the novel, but they are the questions that leap to my mind.  A development like that would have to affect the political climate, laws, people's habits and privacy norms, etc., pretty deeply, once the initial turmoil died down and it became SOP.

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« Reply #12: December 06, 2008, 06:18:12 pm »

I'd strongly recommend reading Lord of Light

Inter-library loan, here I come!  I've not heard of either of the books you mentioned, but my interest is piqued Smiley
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« Reply #13: December 06, 2008, 06:22:20 pm »

What about amateurs?  If reincarnation records are confidential, and have such a big price tag attached (which would probably help fund the the Harvesters) would past life regression be against the law, or at least frowned upon?  Hypnotists, card readers, even guided and unguided meditations often have past life revelations as their goal.  Would this be a problem?

Wow, Marilyn, I really appreciate all these questions.  Some I had at least briefly thought of, but some hadn't even crossed my mind yet.

"Amateur" past life revelations would not be against the law, but since the reincarnation records are so lucrative for the Harvesters, there would be every attempt made to discredit past life regressions, possibly going so far as to have "celebrity" personas talk about how they had tried "X" method and never gotten a straight answer, but a trip to the Harvesters uncovered every secret of their storied past.  In fact, that seems like a good "scene-setter," so thanks doubly!
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« Reply #14: December 06, 2008, 06:23:48 pm »

Wow, Marilyn, I really appreciate all these questions.  Some I had at least briefly thought of, but some hadn't even crossed my mind yet.

"Amateur" past life revelations would not be against the law, but since the reincarnation records are so lucrative for the Harvesters, there would be every attempt made to discredit past life regressions, possibly going so far as to have "celebrity" personas talk about how they had tried "X" method and never gotten a straight answer, but a trip to the Harvesters uncovered every secret of their storied past.  In fact, that seems like a good "scene-setter," so thanks doubly!

Would Harvesters themselves gain cult following?  How does one become a Harvester?  (do you inherit the position?  reincarnate as?)  How much do they keep their secrets?
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