Speculation and the Art of Fiction

It’s always something that is thought or said that invigorates the mind of a writer. For instance, when pitching Star Wars episode VII to J.J. Abrams, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy simply asked, “Who is Luke Skywalker?”

This was enough to get J.J. to take on the project and co write the movie with Lawrence Kasdan. Similarly, for my most recently published fiction, I asked the question, “How would a superintelligent AI act towards humans?”

 

Simple questions, but important none the less. Once the question is asked, speculation must replace curiosity. One must move from wondering about the question to answering the question. Sometimes the questions get radically profound answers, leading one to see the beauty and terror of The Matrix.

Other times the answer is midichlorians.

But what separates good speculation from bad?

 

Plausibility

Plausibility? Aren’t we talking about fiction here?

Sure. But that doesn’t mean you can just wave your hand and it not be a plot hole. I always like the Star Trek TNG answer to the transporters.

“Are the transporters online?”

“Almost, we need to fix something on the Heisenberg compensators.”

What does a Heisenberg compensator do exactly? I don’t know. All I know is it compensates for the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which is the main barrier for technology like that. It isn’t a matter of fiction, per se, but it is a matter of plausibility.

Originality

Originality is a tricky subject, because one could argue that it no longer exists. While that may be somewhat true, presentation is always original whether good or bad. An original presentation can make or break the fiction we are trying to write.

In order to bring this to the forefront, remember to speculate from your own viewpoint and not a preconceived notion. The status quo never stirred anyone to great achievement, unless it moved them in tangent.

Consumability

Ok that isn’t really a word.

But what i mean is that it has to be palatable. Someone has to want to read/watch/play it. Bad fiction that is of the most wildly original speculation is still bad fiction. The point of being an artist is to have an audience that will consume the art, otherwise you’re just a pompous windbag who nobody cares about.

Don’t be that person.

Create things that are good. Get an editor. Hire an artist. Rewrite the sentence until it makes sense. Do whatever it takes.

 

The Art of Fiction is one that is one that heavily relies on speculation. A rocket scientist can not speculate on the right amount of fuel to get to the space station. An accountant cannot speculate on the cost of a mission that the rocket scientist is purchasing fuel for.

But a writer can speculate about how both of them do their jobs.

Happy Writing.

5 reasons to consume media outside of the mainstream

We all love Star Wars, Star trek, Battlestar Galctica, all that stuff. And that’s fine. But the problem is that there is plenty of stuff out there that’s great Sci Fi, but doesn’t get all of the hullabaloo and exposure. So here are 5 reasons to seek out things that are not readily in the mainstream.

5. A lot of it is just as good as mainstream

Dr Levenson (Carl Isherwood) and Commander Altaire (Sarah Wood)

(On the Shoulders of Giants by Kenneth Barker)

The production on a lot of indie science fiction is top notch. It’s creators are hellbent on making the best product they can, simply for this reason: they’re sci fi fans too. They want to add to the medium without sacrificing quality, and they end up making great stuff.

4. A lot of it is NOT as good as the mainstream

I once started reading a science fiction book and stopped reading it after about 20 pages. Not that long into the story, and they were already reversing the polarity to escape hyperspace. Needless to say I have never even thought about picking up this book again. I also wrote a terrible novel and never want anyone, who hasn’t already, to suffer through it. If you find one of these awful gems take notes. They are great blueprints for what not to do.

3. Pleasant surprises

I love picking up an indie novel, comic book, or movie and finding that it’s absolutely wonderful. The movie Moon with Kevin Spacey and Sam Rockwell comes to mind. I liked that movie so much I watched it again.

2. Motivation

We all need to see that it’s possible to achieve what we are striving for. And browsing through Amazon for a well written and reviewed indie sci fi novel is great motivation.

1. It’s just plain fun

When one ventures away from the mainstream, they can find magical things. These things lead to that one finding love, and expressing their gratitude towards these things. And that leads to finding more and more things to love and share and have absolute fun with. Let’s not forget why we got into this mess in the first place. It’s because we enjoy it.

Why Firefly is stuck in our hearts

courtesy blackgate.com

DDo a google search of the word ‘firefly’ and you don’t get an insect that lights up it’s abdomen. You get this awesome show that Joss Whedon created and Fox destroyed. But just why is it awesome?

1. The characters

They are memorable and they all add to the ensemble rather than detract from it. No matter the situation, each one of them has something to contribute and we love them for it. From hard nosed Mal to delicate Kaylee, all of them are loved.

2. The Western flair

Everybody digs cowboys. And shootouts. And all that stuff. Throw it on a spaceship or strange planet and it’s practically irresistible. The set designers and costume directors are forever enshrined as geniuses in my book.

3. The one liners

“I aim to misbehave.”

“She’s starting to damage my calm.”

“Were I unwed, i would take you in a manly fashion.”

“Sir? I like you to take the helm, please. I need this man to tear all my clothes off.”

These are the best. Whedon has shown time and time again to be a master of dialogue, and the actors portray it to the intended scale. I can not count how many times I pull these out and use them in conversation. They really are close to my heart.

There you have it. Now let’s strive for this level in our own writing!

Great Sci Fi vacation spots: New Mexico

VLA

If you’ve never been to the Land of Enchantment, you’re missing out. There are tons of things to do, and the scenery is breathtaking. Here are three of my top Sci Fi vacation attractions in New Mexico:

1. Roswell

From alien lamp posts to museums full of alien surgeries, this place has it all. There are several stops on the main drag, and several off to the side if you’re adventurous. And not only will you be able to hear the original radio transmission concerning a UFO; you will also be able to see great art, lots of great souvenirs, and tons of little and big green men to take pictures with. It’s a really fun place to visit, and the chain hotel rates are on the cheap side. And when you get bored, just travel an hour west towards…

2. Space Museum and White Sands, Alamogordo, NM

This place is great. Several floors of American space memorabilia and interactive exhibits. They have everything from space crafts to missiles to space suits and everything in between. And once you’re done perusing the exhibits, make your way down the hill to the IMAX theater. it’s projected onto the dome roof, giving the illusion of the night sky. A great experience on any level. But still not quite as magnificent as

3. The Very Large Array, near Socorro, NM

VLA

There are 27 of those big dishes. 27!!!!!!!!

And they’re huge. This collection of dishes is actually a giant radio telescope used to look at celestial bodies. And not only is it cool in and of itself, it was in the movie Contact. And Matthew McConaughey just won the oscar for best actor. So there. Your argument is invalid.

But seriously it’s just a wonderful experience. And the drive is beautiful, and night time is SPECTACULAR. Go see it.

There you have it. If you want a really Sci Fi vacation, New Mexico is the place to be.

Where Science Fact Meets Science Fiction

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that the Silly Robot has a special place in his memory banks and emotion chip for the Hard Sci Fi genre. Authors such as Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and John Scalzi permeate the way I think about science fiction and how it is written.

Lately I have ben frequenting io9.com, reading all sorts of interesting articles about all sorts of interesting things. The thing I love about io9 is their blending of science articles with a genuine love for science fiction. They intertwine sci fi into most of their articles about science, and do so in very informative and entertaining ways. I have gleaned several ideas for stories on their site, and I hope they continue to churn out content for years to come.

Creating Hard Science Fiction

Hard science fiction is special to me because science is a major part of the storyline. I have a degree in Agriculture, which basically means i have a degree in biology with a concentration on production, so being scientifically accurate is sort of ingrained into my being. I have scoured countless scientific journals for research facts, and doing so for fiction i write is commonplace. Weaving these facts into a work of fiction is accomplished in many different ways.

I love Arthur C. Clarke because of his use of science in his stories. They aren’t always the strongest plots, but the science is fascinating. I just have to keep reading and reading to find out what all of the gadgets do.

Heinlein tends to use science as a sociopolitical device in his stories. Artificial Intelligence running revolutions, exo suits driving a conquest, and Martian colonies causing a dramatic social revolution on Earth are a few ways he accomplishes this. Ideals are achieved through the use of technology and scientific proficiency.

Elements of Hard Science Fiction

HSF is usually associated with long paragraphs explaining tech and how it is used. John Scalzi has a fascinating few pages on his ‘skip’ drive in the novel Old Man’s War. And it actually adds a weird element to the story as he does it. It’s quite fascinating. And OMW is a really good book on top of it.

Most HSF stories take place in space, utilizing FTL propulsion and other theoretical technologies. The desire of the authors to stay scientifically relevant drives the universes their stories take place in. Some of them, Isaac Asimov comes to mind, even start a separate writing career in the non-fiction section of the bookstore. Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke were even brought into the newsroom for the Moon Landing in 1969. Science permeated these mens’ lives, driving them to write the fiction they are so renowned for.

How To Do It

So what if you just like writing about some guy who galavants around the galaxy with a laser gun saving pretty girls?

Then HSF probably isn’t for you.

But if you want to write it, remember a few of these things:

Science

It’s all based on a desire to stick to facts and accepted theories. Find a theme and go with it.

Speculation

Sticking to facts doesn’t mean you can’t draw conclusions based on them. Does your FTL drive move the ship or the space around it? How does time factor into your story? Are there sentient species on other planets? All of these, and more, can shape your story.

Silliness

Have fun. Reading some of the guys that are dead then switching to guys that came after them is sometimes disheartening. They think HSF means that everyone is totally and completely serious about everything and nobody laughs. Heinlein makes all sorts of jokes in his writing, and Arthur C. Clarke has an entire story about two British freight pilots sneaking the prince aboard their vessel without the captain finding out.

That’s why I like John Scalzi. He’s a throwback to those guys without being a copy. Go read his books.

To Infinity and Beyond

If you want to write HSF, become a researcher. A true student who learns and adapts. Have fun in the facts. And most of all, write good stories.