Would You Have Been a Colonist?

© CoreyFord  | istockphoto.com

© CoreyFord | istockphoto.com

Okay, in my newly released novel, Saving Grace, the characters were all on their way to Earth’s first extra-planetary colony when their ship explodes and they have to land (crash) on the nearest habitable planet (or moon in this case). They have to start over from scratch where they are. However, they were almost going to have to start over from scratch once they got to the planet Terra, as the colony there is only ten or so years old. So what does that make this? Yep, it makes Saving Grace a story about building a colony.

This is another one of those ways that this “Science Fiction” story of mine is actually a historical novel in disguise. I’ve always been fascinated with stories of the earliest colonists that came to America. What American kid doesn’t start learning about the Pilgrims every November by dressing up in black with big buckles and funny hats? It also doesn’t take us long to learn about the Oregon Trail and other intrepid pioneers heading West to set up a new life. Even European history is full of storied of colonists. Australia, Africa, India…every continent has stories of colonists to tell.

And of course the first thing we learn about colonists is how hard their lives were. Carving civilization out of the wilderness is a challenge, no matter what era you live in. The Pilgrims may have come to Massachusetts seeking religious freedom, but their first challenge was simply to survive the winter. They had a lot of material to work with—good land, tools, knowledge, and determination—but they had to apply all of that to a land and climate that was unlike the world they had left behind.

Pioneers heading West were faced with the same problems. Land was abundant, the soil was fertile, minerals waited in the hills, but the sheer vastness and wildness of the territory was overwhelming to the small bands of people who set out into it. Not to mention the fact that it was already inhabited.

Spoiler alert, the moon that Grace and her friends (and foes) land on has no other human inhabitants (well, that they know of, at least), but it has abundant wildlife, rich mineral resources, and fertile ground. The whole thing is just waiting for them to claim it. The biggest problem they encounter—and it’s a huge problem—is each other.

© Americanspirit | Dreamstime.com

© Americanspirit | Dreamstime.com

Grace and company aren’t the only colonists who had that problem. One area of history that I am dying to explore more of is that of the initial colonization of Australia by the British. What I know of it paints an odd and exciting picture of ships full of convicts turned loose on the virgin landscape, surviving, evolving, devolving, causing chaos, and somehow, amidst all of that, eking out a living and creating a vibrant culture that lasts today.

This is what really excited me about writing the Grace’s Moon series. Taking what I learned in my history classes and studies about how colonies form, who the brave souls are who tend to start them, and the reasons they were founded formed the bedrock of the world on which this series is built. What would these advanced, clever people do when they suddenly had all of their technology taken away from them? How would they deal with the problems and conflicts they brought with them from Earth? Is it even possible to form a Utopian society, even when the landscape around you is rich with promise?

I wonder if the waves of colonists we have seen on Earth asked these same questions. Certainly the Puritans came to New England seeking a Utopia, but further south, in, say, Virginia, it was more of a “get rich or die trying” sort of inspiration that drove people.

Incidentally, I have an ancestor, a carpenter named Jonathan Lax, who was a settler at the original Jamestown settlement in Virginia. I don’t know much about him, but I wonder what made him leave his home in the Lake District of England to risk his life in a land that was as far away to him as the fictitious moon Grace and her people land on is to us today. Would I have been that brave? Would I have been a colonist?

You know, I think I would have. In fact, given the right promise, I think I might volunteer for a colonial mission to another planet myself. How about you? Would you leave everything you know to start over in a virgin land?


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3 thoughts on “Would You Have Been a Colonist?

  1. Oh Merry. Being a colonist was a childhood dream of mine. If they told me tomorrow I could go to Mars, I’d be off like a shot! Not sure what my family would say about it, however! 🙂 I was a n original member of the old L5 Society (look up Gerard K. O’Neill and his Standford Torus space station design). I have one more week of “writing vacation” before I head back into the draft mode. I’ll be finishing Grace’s Moon, and hopefully Fallen from Grace before I have to get back to work!

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