Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Lonely as the grave

You can do all the planning you want but you only find out what you forgot wh

A closeup of astronaut Alan Shepard in his spa...Image via Wikipedia

en you get on with the job. And so it has proved with the story I've decided to write this month. I've got it plotted, the list of scenes written and the main characters sketched out. The POV shifts are going to be a bit of a bugger but I'll confront that during the writing of the thing.

But I was getting on with it and realised that I'd neglected one key part of it - the psychological effect of isolation. In particular, how astronauts and other colonists would get on when suffering under extreme duress for a long time. How that is handled is a key part of the story and I need to understand it better for the story to work - or at least be plausible.

One of the key elements seems to be displacement - so those who are isolated tend to blame those who sent them there for anything that goes wrong. And, importantly, it does not solve the problem. I guess its related to attribution error that humans are prone to making. So if I trip it's because of a bump in the pavement but if you do it then it's because you are a clumsy idiot. That kind of thing.

There's also the stress of living with the same people for a long time. Their habits become annoying, you feel simultaneously crowded and lonely. No way to get away but no novelty either. There'd be a need for this stress to be released, perhaps regular sessions with a psychologist or counsellor who could help to defuse them.

That last is important. Variety - essential to stopping people going nuts with bo

Atmosphere of Mars taken from low orbitImage via Wikipedia

redom. They need plenty to do. I guess this comes back to super-ordinate goals. Give people an over-arching threat and they'll pull together and ignore their differences. There was the famous Robber's Cave experiment by Muzafer Sherif in 1954 at a boys camp which divided then into two factions - the Rattlers and the Eagles. The experiment emphasises their differences and provoked outbursts of violence that then evaporated when a larger problem (a super-ordinate goal), namely the breakdown of the water and food supply, presented itself.

There is also a need for a different kind of leader at different times. Early on the group would need a charismatic leader who could show the way and lead. They'd have to be confident, outgoing and arrogant to get things done. Later on though the colony would need someone much better at looking after people's feelings. Someone much more concerned with morale than action.
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