Dawn on an Alien World

Went to a fantastic party hosted by the Huddarts, Friday night.  I enjoyed myself throughly.  Meet new people, had a few too many drinks, and had a lot of fun.  Some of the conversations ended up as discussions about my novel.

I’m at an impasse with my novel.  I have to decided the setting of my novel.  The setting turns out crucial when developing the plot, since I desire to keep things realistic  The novel can either take place on a post-nuclear war Earth in the near future.  Or it can occur on the planet Mars about 200 years from now.  In both cases, a central element of a swarm of military drones and a covert ops team trying to infiltrate a ruined city works.  However the Mars plot called for  starships (the original plot).  These starships act as vehicles for the plot: one gets shot down, another acts as a carrier to launch fighters and a third acts as a spaceborne heavy weapon.  And they play pivotal points in my plot.  The last two can be replaced with either a land-based facility or an orbital platform.  But I can’t come up with a plot element for the first one.  I need a reason why a military group finds itself under fire from a swarm.  And said military group has to be far from safety, carry some sort of important mission-critical cargo and needs extraction.  Being dropped from a crashed starship explains it all.

Now in the post-nuke Earth starships don’t exist.  At least not in any large form.  However with a near future plot I can use real life experience, existing technology and current events to make the story more realistic.  I also face the danger of offending readers if I make things too realistic or tie my story too close to the current world.  And I’m not in the mood to deal with snarky, political vigilantes and their poisonous e-mails.  Besides I do want to give the story a sort of a ruined future in the desert feel.  The Mars plot nicely abstracts all that away, but I lose realism.  The Earth plot bases itself in realism but I’d have to do a balancing act to keep the plot neutral and interesting.

So what should I do?  Stick with the easier to write but more space opera Mars plot?  Or a realistic, gritty Earth-based plot that needs a good explanations, and realistic equivalents to my Mars plot?

Update: Played a bit of Alpha Centauri, and I would absolutely love to write my novel in such a setting.  But a Earth far from Earth comes with its own set of problems.