We Are Discoverers

(Originally published in the Del Rey Internet Newsletter, September 2003, at the request of my editor, who said:”You should write an article for the newsletter.  And mention your books somewhere in there!”)


We are discoverers.

I don’t mean “we,” the human race as a whole.  I mean, literally, us: you and me, and him and her… each one of us, individually.

You are a discoverer. Your entire life has been one discovery after another.

The moment you first opened your eyes, you were presented with mystery in its purest form: a flow of light and shadow and color and sound.  Tastes and scents; sensations.  Your job was to add it all up, and figure it out — find out where you are, what is around you, and what to do.

You solved the first mysteries: That blob over there turned out to be Mom; that shape with the wiggly bit on the end was Not Mom.

Later: Mom is a person, and will give you Oreos; the shape with the wiggly bit is the dog, who will steal your Oreos.  And later: Oreos are kept in the cupboard; the dog is not your brother.

Small revelations, one after the other,each building on the previous, each greeted with surprise, and delight.

And you kept it up.  There was no stopping you.  You were a natural.

We take to discovery because we’re made that way.  Reason, applied to the physical world, is our species’ method of survival.  A squirrel stores nuts; a wolf hunts prey; we figure things out.

When we are young, it’s our job to see, discover, and continue to discover until we know enough about the world to function in it.  At some point, the personal discoveries become fewer, and our knowledge starts coming through a structured process of learning from others (school, conversation, the newspaper…).

But some of us remember that young delight.  Some of us have acquired the habit of discovery.  We love it.  We seek it out, over and over.

We read science fiction and fantasy.

Open any SF book.  Take a look at the first sentence.

Where are we? Is it Earth?  The past?  The future?  Who are these people?  Are they even people?  What is going on?  What does it mean?

You can’t tell from the first sentence.  You need the second sentence, and the next, and the next…

And the world, piece by piece, unfolds to you.  You add it up, you reason it out, with an echo of those first, primal acts of discovery.

You loved it then; you still love it.  You are, at heart, a discoverer.

In the Steerswoman series, I created an entire organization of people whose purpose is purely to Find Things Out.  The Steerswomen wander through their world, seeing, investigating, and discovering.  It’s their job, and they love their job.

The world of the Steerswomen unfolds in the books, as created worlds do.  But in this case the protagonist, Rowan, is herself a person bent on uncovering truths.  She’s trained in reason and observation; but more than that, she is — like you — at heart and by nature, a discoverer.

And so you and she both have the skills to realize: things in Rowan’s world are not quite what they seem — and something is very wrong.

You add it up; so does she.  Each discovery reveals a new piece of knowledge.  And knowledge, of course, is power…

But you know, as the steerswoman knows, that knowledge is also joy.


copyright 2003 Rosemary Kirstein