Reality Skimming

Ethics in SF #3: Nancy Jane Moore (2 of 2)

This week we conclude Nancy Jane Moore's two-part feature on Ethics in SF.

Ethics in SF: A series of interviews, articles and debates on the Reality Skimming blog, hosted by Lynda Williams, author of the Okal Rel Saga.

Nancy Jane MooreNancy Jane Moore is the author of Changeling, originally published as part of the Conversation Pieces series from Aqueduct Press and now available as an ebook from Book View Café; Conscientious Inconsistencies, a collection from the UK press PS Publishing; and Flashes of Illumination, an ebook collection of short-short stories from Book View Café. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous print and ebook anthologies as well as in magazines ranging from The National Law Journal to Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

She is a founding member of Broad Universe and of the online writers’ co-op, Book View Café, as well as being a member of SFWA. Currently she’s revising a novel at the request of an editor and working on a story for the third volume of the Book View Café Shadow Conspiracy steampunk anthologies. She blogs each Thursday on the Book View Café blog, and can be found on Facebook and Google+. See her author page at Book View Café.

Q. Doing the right thing can have a high cost. How do you make the pain real for your protagonists?

In “Gambit,” the main character ends up in serious trouble with the military authorities. There’s a chance she might get away with what she’s done, but only if it fits into a larger strategy. That’s a typical scenario for me: the character who does something right and ends up paying a price. In “Homesteading,” there’s the possibility that by doing the right thing she’s also done the most practical thing, made the choice that will make her safer. But neither she nor the reader know if that’s the way things will work out.

"Homesteading" appears in Conscientious Inconsistencies

My characters don't always do the “right thing,” but when I write stories like that, their decision haunts them as well. I've had my characters follow their orders, even when they thought they were wrong. They’ve decided not to rock the boat, even though they knew injustice was being done, because it would do no good and would only harm them. "Borders," which appeared in the anthology Treachery and Treason, and "In Demeter's Gardens," which appeared in the anthology Front Lines, are good examples of this. I suspect this is the kind of ethical challenge many of us confront in our daily lives: We see something wrong being done at work, for example, but we do little or nothing because taking a stand would likely harm us without righting the wrong.

Rocket Boys and the Geek Girls
Rocket Boys and the Geek Girls

But I’ve also been known to let the characters take a futile stand, even though the end result is painful. In "Blindsided by Venus in the House of Mars," which appeared originally in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and has recently been reprinted in the Book View Café ebook anthology Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls, my main character must choose between loyalty to the man she loves and loyalty to a man who fought alongside her in a failed revolution. She's on the run, and choosing the lover is not only her preferred choice, but choice that will keep her safe. By showing how much her lover means to her, I make not just the decision, but the aftermath, painful. In that story, she will suffer no matter which man she chooses.

As I think about it, when my characters are presented with a moral choice, odds are they’re going to suffer whether they do the right thing or the wrong one!

Your Turn: Comment with your own reaction to the questions.

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