Think about your favorite writers—the ones you return to time and time again—and I’ll bet you can identify certain thematic predilections they have. They return to certain concepts, even in stories that are otherwise very different from each other. Because they can’t help themselves.
I’m no different, though it’s taken hindsight to make my pet-themes apparent to me. I didn’t set out to have any particular recurring premise, but if you write for long enough ideas will come out that you’ve explored before, even if it’s from different angles.
It’s just like when you’re walking a beach and find some interesting artifact half buried in the sand. You pick it up and turn it over in your hand, unable to let it go. Well, eventually you let it go because you die, gloriously. But while you’re still alive you come back to these ideas because on some level they’re unresolved. You set them up and let them play out, then set them up in a different configuration and let them play out again.
What are my recurring themes?
Apparently, the people in my books are often confronted with some new reality that forces them to reevaluate their understanding of the world, and of themselves. And I mean that last bit literally—it’s why transhumanist patterns keep emerging in my stories. Who is a person when they’re not who they thought they were? Are they still themselves? Is there some essential self that persists across physiology? And if we’re not ourselves, who are we?
A lot of this comes from—say it with me—my childhood. I was profoundly introverted, and not too happy with the way the world worked. Not only that, I had a suspicion that reality was a construct made up of largely arbitrary assumptions. I didn’t have the language to articulate any of that, but it was a compelling idea to me, and one that’s stood the test of time. (As far as wondering whether what we see is “real,” it certainly doesn’t help to read up on the world of quantum mechanics.)
So what should I do about this?
Am I destined to keep turning over the same artifact forever? Yes and no, I think. As a reader I’d quickly get bored covering the same territory. On the other hand, I don’t think my work is done in this particular arena, and the novel I’m planning next deals with another aspect of self identity and transhumanism. But I’ve never seen it from quite this angle, so there may be something new there for me to learn.
I leave you with a quote from Babylon 5 (season 3) about walkabouts. It really struck a chord with me at the time, and I think it’s apt here:
The theory is, if you’re separated from yourself, you start walking and you keep walking until you meet yourself. Then you sit down, and you have a long talk. Talk about everything that you’ve learned, everything that you’ve felt, and you talk until you’ve run out of words. Now, that’s vital, because the real important things can’t be said. And then, if you’re lucky, you look up, and there’s just you. Then you can go home.