Westerns and Sci Fi

I have a confession:

I love westerns.

A lot.

Sometimes, I sit and watch them for hours on the Encore Western Channel.

It may be a condition.

And what’s funny is that I like westerns more for the characters than the story. As I’ve written before, I’m much more about writing a good story than I am a “good” character. But it’s the strong characters in Westerns that draw me to them. From John Wayne playing John Wayne in all of his movies, to Val Kilmer and Kurt Russel in ‘Tombstone’, Robert Taylor in ‘Lomgmire’, and Emily Blunt in ‘Looper’ (ok kind of a stretch, but she was talking in a drawl and carried a shotgun…) this is what draws me to them.

And while Sci Fi tends to lean more heavily on story than character, at least the sci fi I like the most, the two are very similar. Let’s look at some comparisons to further connect my two favorite genres.

Frontier

The frontier of the American West is romanticized to no end in westerns. Sprawling open range with mountains in the distance, the threat of natives attacking the invading settlers or vice versa, and the quest to tame the wild ground found in the throws of exploration.

Or to put it another way,

“To boldly go where no one has gone before.”

When Gene Rodenberry pitched Star Trek to executives back in the 60’s, he billed the show as ‘a wagon train to the stars’. Because of this, James T. Kirk is your classic frontiersman, albeit with a space ship and laser guns instead of a covered wagon and a .45. This genius set up by one of the 20th century’s best creative minds has forever cemented Star Trek in the hearts and minds of people everywhere.

Frontiersman

As stated about Kirk above, many Sci Fi characters share traits with the heroes of westerns. Mal and Zoe from Firefly come to mind. Han Solo and Chewbacca. The list can go on and on. All of these characters have a strong sense of themselves, and hardly waiver on anything. They know that their road is one seldom traveled and rarely conquered. But they do it anyway.

Guns Blazing

Everyone like a good shootout. Therefore Sci Fi Westerns have gun fights. Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, Cowboys and Aliens, shoot even that one episode of Dr. Who was a western mash up with gun fights, fancy hats, and horses. The two genres are intertwined with enough mystery and romance regarding firearms as anything.

Breathtaking Scenery

There are two things I will never tire of:

Mountains and Space.

I runaway to the mountains every summer, and I love looking at new pictures from NASA and other space agencies that like to take pictures. In fact I’ve made several graphics from pics anyone can download from the JPL.

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Westerns and Sci Fi love to take advantage of beautiful scenery. ‘Longmire’ has quickly become one of my favorite shows because of the awesome mountain views, and Walt Longmire’s love of one liners and lever action rifles. Nothing consumes me more than stars and their dust the mountains are made of.

So go watch or read a western. I know you watch and read science fiction. If you like Native American culture and mysticism, then ‘Longmire’ is a good way to break into the Western Genre. Plus it’s set in the present so you don’t have to wade through an hour of how the settlement came to be before the action starts. It’s exclusively on Netflix now, so have fun watching ALL THE EPISODES!

Peace

Have you checked out the latest from The Silly Robot?

Uncanny Divide

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Book review: The Atlantis Deception plus NEW STAR WARS TRAILER!!!

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A. G. Riddle’s Atlantis books have become somewhat of a phenomenon recently. So much so, that other authors have been asked to write novels in the Atlantis universe. Nick Thacker has thrown his hat into the ring, and has come out with one of the best reads I’ve had in a while. Read on for a

SPOILER FREE REVIEW…

The Overview

In the Atlantis universe, humanity has spread out to the stars, and started cataloguing the various alien species it has encountered. They keep these species in ships called ‘arcologies’ that house them in environments similar to their homewards. This story takes place on one of the last of these ‘arcs’ and begins with a ship in turmoil. The expedition has been recalled due to a lack of funding, and the scientists on board are not really all that happy about it.

Cue problems.

This puts a rift between several of the characters, and irritates some of them beyond imaginable belief. If I had to really come down on any aspect of this book, it would be some of the characters incessant whining about having to leave the expedition.

All of this is of course escalated when they get locked into the center of the ship together and have to find a way to escape.

And hijinks ensue.

Honestly this is a great read. I finished it in a little over four hours tops. It’s short enough to read through quickly, yet packed enough to leave you wanting more when it ends. There are some fairly decent plot twists and some otherwise surprising elements of the ship that will have you guessing the whole time.

Go get it here!

In Other News

Holy crap new Star Wars trailer!! I love it. If you haven’t seen it yet, here you go…

Wow. Just wow. If Abrams messes this up I will be royally disappointed. Because these trailers look and sound so cool. Can’t wait til Christmas!

So get ready by reading about an adventure on a space ship!

Why are most aliens humanoid?

This week will see a series of short posts that ask a question and give a short, simplified answer. Like the blog series baseball joe at fox sports, too short for a full post yet too long for the twitter…

Why are most aliens humanoid?

In a lot of mediums, aliens are mostly humanoid. (see: Star Trek, Star Wars, Alien, Predator, The Marvel Universe, etc. etc.)

Why is this?

I simply think it’s because we can’t imagine anything else. And don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of stories with wildly different aliens, including some of the ones I mentioned above.

But it’s also this:

It’s hard to imagine anything else and make it work in a story. Even the some of the weirdest aliens are still more or less humanoid.

So what can we do to fix it?

How weird can it get? Pretty weird

I just finished reading Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Sci Fi epic The Mote in God’s Eye.

I don’t necessarily agree, but Robert Heinlein said:

“Possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read”.

It was alright.

Actually, the story had a bit of a cycle. It was three pages of absolute garbage, and then a page or two of sheer genius. I seriously had to fight to get through the beginning. There’s a lot of background information to get through, and it takes forever to get through it.

The end result is actually pretty good though, as I said before, so I wanted to cover some things that make this novel a worthy read and some things we can pull from it as Science Fiction writers.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW

 

Absolute Weirdness

If nothing else, the ideas in this book are absolute gold. In most ‘first contact’ type books, the aliens come to Earth and are warlike or way more advanced than humans. Not really so in this one. For one thing, the humans go out to find the aliens in this one because the aliens went crazy and tried to go find the humans…you have to read it to get that.

Aside from the unusual meeting, the aliens are SUPER weird! I was honestly blown away by how original the aliens were. They are asymmetrical, breeding dependent, and live in a ridiculous caste system that they genetically engineered. Yeah, go check this junk out. On top of that, there are leftovers from all of their genetic experiments, which reveal the true nature of their species to the humans.

Plot. When it finally got there…

For all of its shortcomings in execution, the plot was actually pretty good. The Moties (the aliens) are actually aware of the humans existence, but have no way to leave their system. They actually try to hide their breeding problems from the humans in order to leave their planet! The humans discover all of the deception however and set up a military blockade. The unfolding of the plot is somewhat slow and labored (at one point, you the reader get told all of the Motie secrets but have to wait for the rest of the characters to catch up) but it really is very clever.

Accessible Hard Sci Fi

This book is definitely nestled in the hard sci fi genre. They accelerate in gravities, the military is very prominent in space, and explanations are given for everything from Motie physiology to how the airlocks work on multiple ships. And yet there’s enough action off of the ships to give it a little lighter feel. One of the things that gets buried under the Moties’ weirdness is the humans own societal systems at work. There is a somewhat complicated love story and all kinds of resentment on both sides.

The characters get a little hard to sort at times, mainly because there are so many of them, but they are generally accessible. I felt sympathy and empathy with a lot of them, along with anger and astonishment at some of their decisions. All in all it was way more enjoyable than this garbage I tried to read.

Interesting Futurism

If you don’t know, I’m a Christian. More specifically I’m a pastor. So the thing that stood out to me the most in this book was the religion. There was talk of the Motie religions, and a few offshoots within human religions, but there are definite human traditions at work. The Christian Church is still going strong and one of the characters is a sort of Muslim. I say sort of because he fights his upbringing in his head the whole time. I simply found it interesting that the authors projected these two religions forward. Most authors don’t bother with that. Something to think about.

 

If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry I didn’t spoil too much. In fact, the first half will make you forget everything I’ve told you, so go pick up a copy! It’s definitely an interesting read.

It’s summer time, and I have two things going: reading list and baby watch. My wife is due in July, so I will be reading a lot of books while I wait for the baby. On top of several non fiction books I have lined up, i will be reading Ender’s Game and Rama II this summer. Join me? Or send some suggestions? Whatever you do, keep writing!

Doctor Who and the Snowmen

Hello everyone,

did you miss me?

I most certainly missed writing for all of you! But let’s jump right in:

Doctor Who and the Snowmen was on this past Tuesday (because it was the annual Christmas special) and it was brilliant!

Here’s why:

1. Easily accessible by new watchers

What I’ve noticed in the show as a whole since Matt Smith took over as the new doctor is this: it’s more accessible. I watched a lot of Doctor Who when David Tennant played the time lord, and at times it was, to quote Sheldon Cooper, Doctor Why Bother. But since the 2010 revamp, my wife has even become a fan of the Doctor. And she usually finds every excuse not to watch science fiction. The Snowmen episode was like this as well, allowing new watchers to discover the magic of this decades spanning franchise. But wait! There’s more:

SPOILERS IF YOU CONTINUE

2. There was plenty of stuff for people who already watch Doctor Who

Like I said, I’ve been watching the Doctor for quite some time. I’ve been with him through the throws of alien Santas, weird disembodied parasitic creatures, freaky stone angels and tons of other monsters. So when the female lead in Snowmen was someone who played another character I was confused. And then at the end of the episode, of course, my confusion was turned into the next major overarching storyline. There were recurring characters and themes as well, adding to the familiarity of the Who universe. But the blending of accessibility and familiarity was great.

3. They kept me wanting more

I’ll admit that I wanted more of the Doctor long before this special. But this episode kept getting more convoluted by the second, and I loved it. The villain wasn’t even that nasty; but everything surrounding the story line of the episode leading up to the realization of something wrong with the time stream was genius. I can’t wait for this next season of Doctor Who and all of the adventures it will bring.

So what does this have to do with a writing blog?

I’m so glad you asked.

1. Be easily accessible

You want new readers right?

Give them something they can jump into. I write a lot of short stories, and one of my beta readers has told me that they love my voicing. I give them just enough world building so they can jump in, then it’s all about being involved in the story. If your readers spend all of their time in the story, and not trying to figure out what’s going on, they will have accessed the story well.

2. Let them know you wrote the story

My beta readers also tell me that they know when it’s me writing because of the voicing (mentioned above) and my dialogue driven stories. One of my readers likens my work to a comic book with no pictures.

I told him that I should get someone to draw pictures…

But in all seriousness, how do your readers know that it’s you? If you’re writing a series, can people jump from one story to the next and know who the main characters are? That’s one thing I really dig about Doctor Who, every episode is a separate story, but they all have a role in the overarching storyline.

Sidenote: that is also what I love about the Bible.

But what is going on in the universe(s) you have created to keep everyone on the same track?

3. Leave them wanting more

This should go without saying. Especially since we talk a lot about short stories here. We have to leave the reader wanting more stories.

Because what’s the point of writing stories if no one wants to read them?

Leave your readers wanting more. It will motivate you to write more and give you some free word of mouth marketing. Tell all your friends to…tell all their friends.

So your final assignment, if you haven’t already, is to go watch Doctor Who and the snowmen. And then go watch all the rest of Doctor Who.

It will take you forever.

And try putting some of this stuff into your writing!

It’s Funny Like That

So I’m sitting here watching ‘Farscape’ and I can’t help but wonder:

What happens when we meet some alien species and they’re nothing like the ones in Science Fiction?

Star Wars and Star Trek have so permeated our culture that there is a certain sense of what aliens are like. We think that they will have universal translators, unspeakable technology, and civilized manners.

Or they’re like the extra terrestrials in ‘Independence Day’ and they just want to strip mine every planet they find.
What I like about ‘Farscape is its tendency to make fun of Sci Fi and its view of alien species, even to the point of the main character saying, “Boy…was Spielberg ever wrong.” He goes through a wormhole and ends up in the middle of an interstellar society governed by a ruthless military force.
So here’s the question for the week:

If you write aliens into your stories, what kind of aliens will they be?

Evil or good?

Humanoid or other?

Highly technological or primitive?

There are many different categories to choose from; all of them great.

1. Do some research

If you haven’t yet, you should go check out my guest post at Live Hacked. It has lots of cool stuff about researching for Sci Fi writing. But the main point is that you actually do some research. In the quest for what alien life form to use, do some research. Watch some shows, and see what actual scientists think.
2. Write them plausibly

If the aliens in your book just happen to speak English, or whatever you’re writing in for that matter, I’m gonna call shenanigans. Aliens will not speak English. But if you explain a universal translator or have someone that speaks their language and English, I’ll probably buy it.

Also, aliens aren’t from Earth at all. They won’t act like humans. They will do weird things. Write them into your story.

3. Follow the leaders

I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we have no truly original ideas. Someone has always broken ground before us. So when you’re researching for your alien species (see step 1) make sure that you follow others’ examples. Unless the example you want to follow is lame. Then don’t do that. I once read a novel where the main characters were supposed to be super-intelligent humans with alien DNA. Therefore they could just magically do whatever they wanted. I mean anything. The male read a book on sword fighting then beat someone who had trained their whole life in the sport.

Lame excuse for writing.

But take the ‘Old Man’s War’ universe. Some alien races are friends with the humans, others are enemies. They all have evolved differently and are of different intellect levels. The humans are constantly trying to further their knowledge of each species so they can fight for survival.

Good writing.

Follow the leaders and see what works for your creation.

I hope some of these tips are helpful. Let me know.

I’m also hoping to get a short story collection in time for Christmas, so keep room open on your Kindle!