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.

Infograph3

2015-07-18 20.43.50

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

51mTpqUvu9L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_

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

23660519

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!

Where’s my Lightsaber?

Why don’t we have lightsabers yet? Seems like almost 40 years (WHOA) is enough time to figure out something from a sci fi medium. I mean we had those flip phones int he 90’s after Star Trek. This is a question that bugs a lot of people, and I think I will let Dr. Michio Kaku give his explanation and timetable for his own design…

Fascinating stuff. I still think there’s room to improve though…

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?

All I want for Christmas is…

Well it’s that time of year. Winter has come through the solstice, and soon Christmas day will be upon us. I’ve also been celebrating Hanukkah this year, lighting my menorah religiously and eating way too many chocolate coins…

But Christmas is the big holiday celebrated in my family, and the holiday has become the high point of the year for many. With gifts coming from all around, one can be bombarded by all sorts of things that are either lame, useless, or awesome. Here is a list of some of the things I would love to have for Christmas…

Star Wars VII not to suck

500x281

I can’t stress enough how much Star Wars means to millions of people. Much like Star Trek is so important to millions of people. And JJ Abrams turned ‘Into Darkness’ into ‘POO’. I hated it.

So here’s what i want: I want Star Wars 7 to be original and awesome. No remaking an old movie in the name of ‘fan service’. Boo. Make it good. I want terrible dialogue, lightsaber fights, and some sweet X wing action. Think you can handle that JJ?

Jetpacks

o-JET-PACK-HISTORY-facebook

So this thing is real. You can watch a video here. I mean seriously, we’ve been waiting for these things forever. And this one can be made for about 20-25 grand depending on how fancy you want to get. That’s as much as a car. A CAR. When are we going to get a reasonably priced version of this? I wants one. In the worst way.

Firefly

Please Mr. Whedon? Please? Just sell the rights to Disney and I bet you could get another deal…

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everybody. See you after the New Year!

Adventure Time

There’s something about Adventure that I can’t shake. Whether it’s in a book, or in real life, I crave it. It’s why I read Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon series, and Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘Rendezvous With Rama’. It’s why I love Star Wars. It’s why I hunt and fish. I’m sort of a junkie.

What makes an adventure so great?

I think in the beginning, what’s so great about an adventure is the goal. There’s something you have to get, something to accomplish. This goal ends up driving the first part of your adventure and causes a sense of purpose. If you happen to be going on this adventure with others, an instant bond is formed within your party because of the common goal. Ah, the excitement of a fresh departure.

But then something goes wrong…

Perhaps you lose a friend (heavens NO!)

Or maybe you find another group of adventurers who happen to be a little less morally conservative than you are. Perhaps your mode of transportation becomes broken, requiring a pit stop. Maybe you meet someone who really needs your help RIGHT NOW and the other thing can wait. Maybe it’s taking longer to reach your goal than you previously thought. Whatever the case is, this adventure is starting to turn into a job.

But then you realize

You are becoming or have become something much more than you were before. Gained some courage. Perhaps some Jedi powers or some sweet swordsmanship skilz. Perhaps a magic staff or a talking bird. The one guy you couldn’t connect with when you started out is now your bestest friend in the whole wide world. You would totally take an arrow for that guy. Or a bullet. Or a laser beam. You know, whatever projectiles are being flung your way. Maybe you don’t reach your goal. Or you have to spend another book/movie finding it. Or another week out in the bush. Who cares. You’ve finally realized that the greatest thing about your adventure was the adventure itself. So why not stay out a little longer?

Secrets to Writing Good Sci Fi part 2

Last time I talked about Genre, World Building, and Character Development. All important ingredients in the recipe that is Science Fiction writing.

And yet they are only part of the recipe. So today I want to talk about some other ingredients.

1. Voice

When I write stories, I always think about Genre and World Building when starting to write. These two things greatly influence the voice, or tone, of my story. If I’m writing a cyberpunk noir story in the vein of Bladerunner, I write in first person and speak of the world through the eyes of a hardened detective. Attention to little details like that are what give my story just the right voice. It sets the mood and helps push the story along. If Star Wars had been a first person narrative type of thing it wouldn’t have worked. There would have had to been one main character who was followed the whole time. That means we wouldn’t have many scenes with Vader.

WHO WANTS STAR WARS WITHOUT VADER?!?!?!?!

Appropriate voicing does a lot for a story.

2. Plot

Plot is very important to your story. DUH. But seriously you should spend some time on it. I write short fiction, but my plots can get pretty convoluted. The main thing to remember is that the plot is what will make or break your story. The plot is the story you are telling, not just events that unfold. Give it room to breathe. I know you want the cool scene in your story where there’s a bunch of cool tech and robots and bombs and cars and flying motorcycles and… but if there’s no point to that scene, why is it there? We all have cool Sci Fi ideas, that’s why we want to write. But if we can not organize those ideas into a coherent story line, we’re basically writing a magazine article for futuristic tech with no pictures. Boring.

3. Character Relations

Last time I talked about character development as it related to a situation. Now I want to talk a little bit about how they interact with other characters. I’m currently working on story, and the excerpt I gave last week was very character heavy. It opens with a conversation between a rich businessman and his chief of operations having a conversation about their workers and the cost of saving their lives. It reveals that one loves money and the other loves people. This affects how they interact with each other, and later with other people. The science of relationships is a hard one to pin down. I’m fortunate enough to interact with people on a daily basis, forming my thought processes when writing dialogue. This helps drive my story in a number of ways, and saves me time, and lots of prose, when developing character relations. One of my beta readers loves that my stories are dialogue driven ‘just like comic books.” He loves that I do just enough world building to focus my story into dialogue and build characters, their relationships with other characters, and their relation to the plot as a whole.

WOW. Lots of thoughts this week. Hopefully it will spur you to write more Sci Fi. I’ve got my plate full with this story I’m working on, and it’s already in novella range as far as word count. I hope all of you are having good writing days.

 

Keep it up!

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!

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!