Sharon Lynn Fisher is the author of Ghost Planet, coming from Tor Books on Oct. 30. The book — a two-time RWA Golden Heart finalist — is a sci-fi/romance blend that offers a “fresh and fascinating take on the human-alien problem” (says author Linnea Sinclair). She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is hard at work on her next novel and battles writerly angst with baked goods, Irish tea, and champagne. You can visit her online at SharonLynnFisher.com.
One question that interviewers always ask is how you came up with the premise for your book. While this seems fairly straightforward, and I have managed to work out a fairly straightforward answer so it doesn’t run on for a thousand words, it’s really a multifaceted question.
Because there is the idea trigger — which for Ghost Planet came when I thought of the title, and then noodled on what the story behind that title might be — and then there is the actual idea, which comes out of this crazy stew that’s been simmering for years in the creative crockpot, where your subconscious has been happily tossing in ingredients with little to no direct involvement from you.
So one thing that goes into writers’ crockpots is other stories that have impacted them in some way. Many people note the similarity between the premise of Ghost Planet and the premise of Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem — basically, the fact that my ghost-aliens are reincarnated beings generated by the colonists’ connection to dead family and friends. I thought it might be fun to take a closer look at how that sci-fi classic influenced Ghost Planet.
I was first exposed to Solaris when I saw the modern version of the film (2002), starring George Clooney. I enjoyed the story so much, I then read the novel. In the film, I loved the slow-building psychological tension, and how we learned about the history of the couple as the mystery of Solaris began to unfold. The novel takes less of a romantic approach, but I was captivated by Lem’s premise that if we ever encounter alien beings they will most likely be so different from us that we won’t be able to relate to or even communicate with them.
When writing Ghost Planet, I incorporated themes from both the film and the novel, putting my own twist on them. For starters, just as a plot point, my aliens are reincarnated only from humans who have died. In Solaris, the aliens could take anyone’s form, whether living or dead, as long as there was an emotional connection to the human. My rationale for this was that dead people would have more impact, would be more like true ghosts, and would seem less like copies, which becomes important as the novel progresses.
Where Lem pretty much left it up to the reader to decide on the true nature of the alien intelligence, I wanted to explore and flesh out this concept. I stuck with the idea that the nature of the ghosts was obscured (in my story, due to the fact they were created by a symbiotic planetary ecosystem without consciousness). But I wanted their true nature to be at least somewhat discoverable and accessible. So over the course of the novel my heroine is able to explore and better understand the symbiotic link between ghosts and colonists, and also between the ghost/colonist pairs and the planet itself.
My heroine was another major departure from the original concept. Both the film and the original novel tell their story through Kris, a scientist who travels to the planet Solaris. His wife, Rheya — who committed suicide on Earth when he left her — returns as an alien manifestation, and her presence allows us to learn about Kris, just as the overall presence of the aliens allows us to examine the psychological and philosophical impact of the scientific study of the planet.
For Ghost Planet I chose to tell the story from the point of view of the alien, Elizabeth, who must come to terms with her new identity as she struggles to understand the true nature of her existence (all the while trying not to fall in love with the human she’s bound to). Rheya’s story was grim, as her new alien manifestation also ends up taking her own life. It is suggested, too, that she is more of a manifestation of Kris’s memories than of the actual woman. I wanted Ghost Planet to be Elizabeth’s story — a study of dependence v. independence, the bonds with others that help define us, and how we find the courage to face our greatest fears.
Finally, the original story was not romantic, and the film only touched on the romance before it went to dark places. I felt there was lots of fresh, interesting ground to be covered there, and that’s what really got the creative juices flowing. At times I toyed with the idea of focusing more on the sci-fi aspects of my story and scaling back the romance. But that book had already been written. And I’m the kind of reader and writer who likes a 50/50 blend.
Have you seen any of the films or read the original novel? If so, were there parts of it that really made you think? If not, what other classic sci-fi stories left their mark on you?