Embracing the Future (no matter what it may be)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately.

We live in an interesting period of history. I won’t go into a rant on any level. But I will say this: we have to start thinking about our future.

The Future!

Back in the 50’s and 60’s futurism was all the rage. The space race was on, the Cold War was in full swing, and Science Fiction writers were mostly positive about the way things were going. Artists and writers came up with worlds that were full of awesome technology and shining visions of jetpacks and flying cars.

If you haven’t noticed, we don’t have either of those.

Others envisioned a world run by electronic strips on small cards and computers that run everything in the home.

We have those.

The point is simply this:

They dared to dream of the future.

Futuristic Dreams

As writers of science fiction, it is important to dream of the future. Often our stories are set there, making it not only important, but necessary. Maybe you dream of a space faring human race. Or perhaps you stick with the 80’s futurists and see a world full of cybernetics and dystopia. But we have to always be looking forward, to what lies ahead.

What does your future look like?

I have several visions of the future. All of them are different and depend on an infinite number of circumstances.

Revisiting the Past

“A generation which ignores history has no past — and no future.”
Robert A. Heinlein

Have you read Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End? How about Heinlein’s Starship Troopers? Asimov’s Robot series? What about Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451? Alduous Huxley’s Brave New World?

All of these works have their own perspective of the future. And the best thing is that they were written in the past, yet they hold visions of a future not yet reached. By observing these writer’s visions of the future, we can draw our own conclusions. One interesting thing to note is that some of these writers thought their futures would be in place in the time we live in now. Which begs the question:

When do we see our futures happening?

This post is kind of weird and very speculative, but the main thing I want to get across is our need to dream. I said at the beginning that I have been thinking a lot lately.

I’ve been thinking about the future.

Ok for real, let’s talk about Arthur C Clarke

I’ve been on somewhat of a Clarke binge lately, reading two novels and a few of his short stories. If you haven’t read any of his work, I highly encourage you to pick some of it up. The two novels I read were ‘Rendezvous with Rama’ and ‘Childhood’s End’. I want to talk a little bit about them and a few of the things that make them great, and a few things that I felt were lacking.

SPOILERS TO FOLLOW

Style

First and foremost, I want to say that Arthur C. Clarke is a capital everything FANTASTIC story teller. I could not put either of these books down and finished them within a few days. He has a way of describing things without being too wordy. Circumlocution is not in his skill set.  These novels are not lengthy events, and yet they are packed with great wordsmithing.

World

If you read things that describe who Arthur C. Clarke was, you will often find the words ‘author’ and ‘futurist’. His novels are set in fantastical worlds where computers run everything and space is ripe for exploration.

But Will, computers do run the world and we have two cars on Mars.

Yeah but Clarke was writing before we even had a space program.

In fact, many of the things Clarke dreamed up in his writings are part of our world today. Go research it.

He also has a way of bringing you into his universe, and keeping you there. This is most likely due to his wonderful storytelling, but it’s a wonderful side effect. you get cool futures and the desire to stay in them.

Plot

Here’s where I start being slightly negative. Let’s start with ‘Childhood’s End‘. It’s split up into three parts, with the first being by far the best. In fact, Clark wrote the first part as a short story, and it was liked so much he made it into a novel.

I’m gonna be honest, I hated the ending. You can think I’m an idiot for that, or whatever, but I thought it was lame. A super powerful, corporeal presence needs a race of space devils to cultivate races to add to its hive mind?

Star Trek V anyone? You remember, the TERRIBLE one?

And ‘Rendezvous with Rama’ kind of let me down. I was entranced by the story for the whole book, and then BAM! ‘Well actually Rama is just using our sun for inertia to fly off again.’

The last line was pretty good though. And I do understand that he went on to write three more books. But the second was written 17 years after the first. So for 17 years everyone was left wondering what happened with Rama. But I’m still blown away by his storytelling abilities. I spent two days enamored with finding out why Rama was here only to find out that Clarke didn’t even know!

Characters

Clarke is great at writing, but not great at writing characters. And this is by design. He doesn’t focus too much on his characters because they aren’t the center of the story. His ideas and visions of the future are. Don’t get me wrong, i still like some of his characters. They’re often just used to add some new idea to the story, not to be the focus of it or thicken the plot.

I hope that this post drives you to appreciate Clarke. He was a great writer, and a dreamer of dreams. If you haven’t read the books i talked about, go pick them up. Maybe you’ll like the plots more than I did. But one thing’s for sure: you will finish them. And you will probably finish them quickly.

And when you finish great Sci Fi quickly, you have more time to write great Sci Fi 🙂

Secrets to Writing Good Sci Fi part 3: Tech

This post is going to be a weird one.

The last ‘Secrets’ post was put up almost a month ago and there’s been a guest post since then. I also have a guest post going up at What If It All Means Something soon, and my day job has been grueling. So I haven’t really been neglecting Silly Robots, so much as trying to get a new post up with little success until now. Which means I’m short on time, but still want to give you, the faithful reader, content.

FOR FREE!!!!!

Anyway, this post will focus on something all Science Fiction writers hold near and dear to their hearts:

TECH

Tech and Sci FI go hand in hand. One is hard pressed to find a Science Fiction medium with little to no technology. It truly is a pillar of the genre. It can do everything from drive the story to lurk quietly in the background. Here are some of the ways I use tech in my stories.

Sub-Genre

Sub genres in Sci Fi are extremely important to how you will use tech. For instance, if you are writing something in a punk genre your tech will build your world. Steampunk is built on steam tech, cyberpunk built on cyber tech. Likewise, space opera usually deals with starships and alien planets with all kinds of weird stuff. A dystopian future, n matter what sub genre, always has some weird invention that affects life as we know it (see ‘Brave New World’ or ‘The Minority Report’). What’s important to remember is that you are building a certain type of world. if you don’t get the tech right in that world, your story will be weak.

Use

When is it ok to throw in a tech heavy chapter? Probably when there isn’t a whole lot going on. For instance, in a dialogue heavy scene. Throwing in a few paragraphs of tech doing the cool stuff it does between conversations is a great way to be tech heavy without seeming that way.

In my opinion, battles have to be kept in check as well. Writing in tech to move a scene along is kind of lame. The good guys are losing?! OH NO! But wait, they still had this unreasonably ridiculous weapon that trumps all other weapons! SWEET!

No. It really isn’t.

Remember that as a writer, you have to be creative. That means no cop outs (unless what you’re writing is a parody).

Well just a few of my thoughts on tech and how to use it. Not extensive by any means, but it’s a starting point. If you haven’t checked out Grant Barnes’ guest post yet, you really should. There will be two more guest posts coming up soon as well. So if you’re tired of me don’t worry! Other people will be writing here…