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!

New Horizons

With all of the recent spacecraft landings on different bodies in the solar system, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on how these achievements will affect us in the Science Fiction realm. I have a few ideas about how they could shape the near future.

LANDING ON A COMET

courtesy nasa.gov

It’s no secret or small feat that we have landed a probe on a comet. But what does this mean for us? Well for one thing we will know a lot more about comets than we previously did. Also, have you ever thought about how much fuel it would conserve to hitch a ride on one? Perhaps we will be using comets as Solar Systemic taxis in the near future.

CERES

If you don’t know what Ceres is, it is one of the largest non planets in our solar system. It is roughly the size of Pluto’s moon Charon, and resides in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. There is a probe sending higher and higher resolution pictures of it by the day, and soon we will know precisely what its surface looks like. There is already speculation, because the low resolution images have yielded different colored spots on the surface of the asteroid, as well as a rotation. It will be quite the adventure if we decide to venture out for a manned mission to Ceres,especially if we can make it on a taxi comet ride.

EUROPA

Recently the white house requested a bunch of million dollars (30 to be accurate) to fund an unmanned mission to Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Why is it so tantalizing you ask? Well there are a few reasons. The first one is that scientists believe Europa has a liquid ocean underneath its icy crust. They say this because the formation of new cracks on the surface indicate geo thermal activity and plate tectonics. This is significant because it would be the only occurrence of this mechanism in the solar system besides right here on old planet Earth.
And a liquid ocean could hold other treasures. What if there are some alien bacteria down there in those deep oceans? Bacteria tend to thrive in otherwise uninhabitable places. And what if there’s an alien fish? Or alien Merpeople?! The possibilities are endless. Of course this is all speculation. There could be no ocean and just really crappy ice that moves a lot. But it’s fun to guess.

These new horizons are ones that excite me as not only a SciFi writer, but a Sci Fi fan. I can’t wait to see what we all produce as a result of these discoveries. It really is fascinating to think that in a just a little over 100 years we’ve gone from flying planes short distances to sending craft to the far reaches of the solar system. The voyager missions are still kicking out there somewhere. We can catch a ride on a comet. We can explore new worlds seeking out strange new life.

It really is an exciting time.

Comic Relief

Who likes the jokes?!?!?!
I likes the jokes!!!!!

 

Ok, let’s do something that’s a little more fun than being a ‘serious’ writer.

I tend to find the comedy in all situations. To quote my father, “Life is too serious to be taken seriously.” Therefore, I try to fit comedy into all of my writing, and consequently the rest of my life.

We see this all over Science Fiction too. Comedy permeates such episodes of Star Trek as ‘The trouble with Tribbles”, all of the Star Wars movies, Doctor Who, and the list goes on and on and on….

Comedy is what makes something likeable, loveable.

Case in point: Firefly.

Firefly has dramatic moments, political undertones, and all sorts of commentary on society, but do you know what sticks in my mind about the show?

Jayne’s hat. And Vera. And Mal’s whit.

The funny things.

And it’s no secret that ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is one of my favorite sitcoms. They take scifi comedy to the next level! (you can hate me for that, but the show is really funny and my wife loves it too. As with the card game Citadels…)
So let’s talk about jokes:

1. Make it appropriate

An out of context joke is like watching a train wreck. It’s terrible, but you can’t look away. So use the context to make a good joke. If you’re hero (or anti-hero) is stuck in a dire situation, a joke about a trip to San Francisco is in order. Or about never marrying. Or something like that. It’s funny.

2. Make it accessible

I have a wife, whom I adore. We have several inside jokes. If I make these jokes in my stories, NO ONE WILL KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT. If you have an inside joke with someone, it’s probably not ok for public consumption. Stay away from these things in your writing.
3. Other SciFi is always open for fun!

If you take yourself too seriously, you shouldn’t be an artist. Art, occasionally gets made fun of. Not always in a demeaning way. Take the show Castle. Nathan Fillion is the lead, he was also the lead in the aforementioned Firefly. In a Halloween episode of Castle, he dressed up as his character, Mal Reynolds, and even referenced his role in Firefly. There are several other things he’s done in reference to the show, but you get the idea. If we can learn to reference things in fun and not take it seriously, it will make everything funnier.

4. Make fun of yourself

Make fun of what you’re writing inside of the story. I wrote a terrible novel and in it I make fun of some of the ideas that I present. Because they’re ridiculous! If I can’t make fun of my ridiculous ideas, then they aren’t worth writing down. Learn not to take yourself so seriously. I love hard scifi, but sometimes it gets on my nerves and I have to stop reading or watching. Laughter directed at your own work can be a wonderful thing!

 

I hope this helps you out a little. I know that being able to laugh at myself and other things is a great joy, and it makes me actually like writing. So let’s all start laughing!

Hey you PUNKS! Subgenres in Sci Fi

Calling all you punks out there!
So, if you haven’t delved into the world of punk sub-genres, you’re definitely missing out. I recently finished a Cyberpunk short story that will be published in an anthology coming next month, and it was really fun.
Like all of my writing it’s probably lame, but it was still fun.
So let’s talk about some punk sub-genres.

1. Cyberpunk

According to Wikipedia, the foremost scholarly site on any subject (yeah right), “Cyberpunk is a postmodern and science fiction genre noted for its focus on “high tech and low life.”

Basically the internet rules everything and no one is really happy.

Wow. I just realized what that means. We all live in a Cyberpunk novel. Anyway.

It usually centers around characters who have to deal with the most ridiculously sad situations, and stand up to large corporations or government entities that want to control every aspect of society. There’s lots of cool technology, and the imagination can run wild.

Reference works: ‘Neuromancer’ by William Gibson, ‘Blade Runner’ the movie, which was adapted from Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and the anime series ‘Ghost in the Shell

2. Steampunk

Back to our source for everything, Steampunk ‘involves a setting where steam power is widely used—whether in an alternative history such as Victorian era Britain or “Wild West“-era United States, or in a post-apocalyptic time —that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy.’

It’s pretty cool stuff. I recently got some positive feedback on Facebook and Twitter, so I will be writing some stories in this genre. I think I like it so much because of the many machines. In Cyberpunk everything is cybernetic and runs on information, in steampunk, everything seems like it took a little more engineering because it runs on steam and fire. Lots of gears and clockwork, lots of trains, and oh yeah lots of airships.

That’s right, a staple of this genre are ships that run on steam, and they float in the sky instead of the ocean. Love it.

Reference works: ‘The Wild Wild West’ film featuring Will Smith and Kevin Kline (save your bad comedy comments, I’m just giving stylistic examples), ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ graphic novels and film, ‘Final Fantasy VI and IX’ are also good examles (video game)

Side note: This sub-genre also spawned several sub-sub-genres (?) including dieselpunk and clockpunk.

I know it’s weird, but trust me you’ll like it. And those of you who already do like it will agree with me I’m sure.

3. Mystery Science Fiction

It’s exactly what it sounds like.

I wrote a short story recently, and tried to make it a murder/mystery set in a Cyberpunk world. The problem was that I ran out of room! I was shooting for 5000 words, and i went over by about six or so, but instead of a ‘mystery’ it was more of a ‘noir/detective’ thing. Don’t get me wrong, it was still great to write. But Mysteries require lots of words, so shoot for a novel.

Reference Works: ‘I, Robot’ by Isaac Asimov and the movie adaptation with…Will Smith…, he must really like punk sub-genres cause Robotis pretty Cyberpunk too, and my friend Nick Thacker has written a novel entitled ‘The Golden Crystal’. It’s a mystery/thriller and incorporates elements of Sci Fi as well. I got to beta read it and I loved it.

So who’s up for writing some sub-genre stuff? I’ve been at it, and I want to do more. Let me know what you’re working on, and I will definitely keep you posted on my stuff.