Science Fiction? Fantasy? Does it matter?

They should have sent a poet...
They should have sent a poet…

May 13, 2013

I just finished a major project: a fantasy novel. Now, I’m seriously considering a new venture for next year: a science fiction novel. Anyone who’s known me for more than five years should know that science fiction was my first great literary love. It’s what pushed me to become a writer. It’s the genre I read and saw and instantly thought, “I want to do this for the rest of my life.”

It’s also why some people wondered why I would possibly write a fantasy work.

I never really considered the genre when writing Charcoal Streets. In fact, given some tweaks, I could see it adapted as a science fiction story instead. I recall once reading about a version of The Hobbit that was rewritten as a space opera. The methods of getting the fantastic into the “real world” or introducing strange concepts really just depend on window dressing. Maybe telekinesis is due to mutations or maybe it’s due to magic. Science fiction has robots and fantasy has golems and animated statues. What’s the difference?

That being the case, I’ve realized I write fantasy or science fiction specifically based on the kind of story I want to tell. I write fantasy to show something about people. I write science fiction to show something about the world. I’ll admit it’s not always the case, but it seems to be a general pattern.

Fantasy allows me to introduce something strange into a person’s life. It’s not so much how it happened, but rather just that it happened. Does it really matter, for example, if the monster in the closet is the boogeyman or a mutant escaped from a lab? Maybe. Maybe not. In the grand picture, the important thing should be the story. Am I trying to say something about the nature of science and the world? Science fiction is probably the best way to go. If I’m trying to analyze culture, fantasy is probably the best option.

In the end, really, I’m just trying to show something about the world. I just have to pick the best vehicle for that message.

And now, let’s enjoy some science fiction becoming science fact. You are about to watch a man on a space station record a song and transmit it to your mind using light processed through a silicone chip.

Learning How to Spell: Post Writing Stress

It makes sense if you write.
It makes sense if you write.

May 6, 2013

With Charcoal Streets undergoing final editing, I finally have a little bit of time to get back to writing these articles, reading, and not stressing about the book.

Of course, I just spent the last week not writing as much because I was stressing about the book.

It’s not the first book I’ve written. Back in high school, I wrote a science fiction novel I hope to polish up and publish someday. I’ve ghostwritten a book and a half. Each and every time, though, I end up feeling like I just got back from some jungle war zone. I notice the little things more. I feel twitchy when I don’t type, but I feel like I should still be working on said novel.

I have Post Writing Stress Disorder.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but the writing process is hard. Really hard. Anyone who says writing is easy has never really done it, and it only gets harder the better you get at it. I remember writing a lot more when I was younger, but that was before I knew how to really do it. Now, I may write less, but that’s because I take the time to draft, check, edit, proofread, rewrite, and check my work like I was looking into a specific grain of sand on a beach.

Hopeless by ~tasteofomi on deviantART

Now that the warzone is behind me (mostly), I have to try and move on to another project. I’m still going to keep writing here and I’m putting videos out on the YouTube channel. I’m also thinking of what the next big project will be. Maybe I’ll keep writing Charcoal Streets stories for the next collection. Or maybe a full novel?

What about “The Divine Anomaly?” Should I expand that into the full novella and put back the subplots I cut out for length requirements? Or maybe I’ll get the other stories I’ve been tossing around in that universe and the next anthology will be science fiction.

Once the initial brain-drain is over, it’s always important to get right back to work. I’ve found that if I spend more than a week not doing serious writing, I tend to just not do it for weeks at a time, and I really want to avoid that. Writing, I’ve found, is a lot like working out. It’s fine to start steady, but go hard and push yourself. After you give yourself time to rest to make sure you don’t burn out or hurt yourself, jump right back in and go even harder.

Time to  get back to work on lift those linguistic dumbbells.

The Mind by *SavvyShark on deviantART

Tell the Story, but not the Whole Story

Yes, I'm sure the music's great, but we don't need every lyric to hear the song.
Yes, I’m sure the music’s great, but we don’t need every lyric to hear the song.

January 15, 2013

When does a story end? For that matter, when does it start?

One of the big problems I always have when I’m writing something is that I’m never quite certain where I should start the story. There’s also the matter of what parts of the story itself I want to show. I have images of specific events, specific scenes, but I always have to snake back to them, find out how we got there. Take the current science fiction story, “Lights of Pegasus,” I’m writing for later this month.

The basic story is that a research team has been dispatched to a distant star system where ships mysteriously disappear. The only person to ever leave came out insane and his ship was never found. Eventually, the new crew find that they are hallucinating and some are taking these as omens of a higher power, perhaps God, trying to warn them off.

The Church by *thebrokenview on deviantART

The original draft began with Sumiko Wright, the protagonist, attending a sermon given by the last ship’s survivor, Ulrich, now turned into a self-described prophet. My original draft actually included a fair amount of the sermon, a speech that set the stage for the setting and the dilemmas in the second third of the tale. However, after careful rewrites, I cut out everything and just started with the closing statements.


Because it really did feel like a sermon. Yes, the information got across and yes, you did learn a lot about Ulrich, but seeing as how he only appears in that first scene, it felt like a cheat. After all, this was Sumiko’s story. She and the rest of the crew were going into what was dubbed the new Bermuda Triangle.

And that brought another problem.

This is a short story, less than 10,000 words. How much can I show of these characters (Aguilar, Keri, Ericson, and James) and still get the right effect and keep the story moving? After all, having too many people and having too much background will bog the story down.

hallucination by ~kudrett on deviantART
Eventually, I decided that the hallucinations would be primarily seen from Sumiko’s point of view, but one or two others would hesitantly describe their own experiences. Hearing them second-hand, I felt, would mimic Sumiko’s own reluctance to accept that something possibly supernatural was happening. After all, up until she starts seeing devastated cities and hearing crying children, everything in the story is pretty hard SF.

Well, except for the hyperspace jumps. Hey, I needed a quick FTL mode of travel for this story to work, after all.

While others will eventually see the hallucinations, I’m deciding to really just go into detail with Sumiko and only hint at what the others are seeing. Since this is a science fiction story, I have enough to worry about when it comes to the science part and making sure the world is understandable.

More updates and writing stories to come! Stay tuned, and if anyone has any tips or ideas for a Shadowrun game, comment below. I’ll be running my first one this week and would appreciate ideas or situations.

Shadowrun Suspects Wallpaper by ~KlausScherwinski on deviantART

The Fed in Your Head

Smile for the fascists!

October 12, 2011

The awesome thing about science fiction is that it can show us a world of possibilities both mundane and extraordinary. The scary thing about science fiction is when a part of it actually comes true, but it’s not a part we really wanted.

Remember in Minority Report when the cops used a machine connected to psychics in order to predict when murders would occur? Seemed all fantastic and futurey, right?

As it turns out, not so much.

Minority Report by ~inkedartist on deviantART

Our government has mined the internet for data for some time. Think Eagle Eye sans Julianne Moore and insane computers. Looking for key words and patterns in social media is not that outrageous, although Big Brother looking over your shoulder and flagging you because you were talking about the news and happened to mention “bomb,” “President,” and “kill” probably got on some peoples’ nerves. However, the Department of Homeland Security is moving on the road to complete thought police by testing out a new piece of technology.

It’s called Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST), and boy is it neat-o. It does the same thing as mining the internet for data, but hey! This one goes right to the source and looks at things such as video, audio, heart rate, breathing, and even facial expressions. Homeland Security claims its non-intrusive, but it doesn’t get more intrusive that having a piece of government hardware looking at my pores and trying to guess if that twitch is because I’m nervous for hiding something or because I had a bean burrito and I’m holding a fart in.

Proponents of the new technology cite the well-worn scenario of a bomber entering a stadium, or a terrorist getting through airport security. Would you want little Billy and Susie to die because we didn’t catch this guy? Of course not, but if the government had the ability to monitor our physiological signs and try to guess if we would commit a crime, would you really want that technology applied to you? And don’t say that it’ll be only for terrorists, because as soon as the government can monitor someone, EVERYONE is up for grabs.

Here’s a fun game. If you’re on a phone and you hear a light click, that’s Homeland Security tapping the line. I’m not making that up. I’ve got friends in the department that can validate that. They even get THEIR calls tapped once in a while.

homeland security? by ~Satansgoalie on deviantART

Look, I get it. It’s a scary world. There are people out there who have no qualms about killing themselves or women and children and puppies. I’m not blind to that, but if FAST works, it will give the government a tool to try and guess who will commit a crime.

And what will they do then?

Let’s say we do use this to catch a guy with a Semtex vest trying to sneak into a ballpark. Law enforcement gets him, saves the day, and the game resumes. Wonderful. Now let’s say little Johnny has a bad day because he burned his mouth on his Starbucks double mocha venti latte alfredo sauce coffee, and he’s in a bad mood. He walks into work not the least bit ready to deal with anyone’s crap, and the system flags him for harboring violent thoughts.

thought police by ~Satansgoalie on deviantART

What then? Hold him until we find out what he was GOING to do? There are any number of ethical concerns with punishing someone who has done nothing. By simply predicting the future, we change it. If you told me that I was going to give a really bad presentation because I didn’t get enough sleep or I would be crabby because I would then lock my keys in my car, I would take steps to prevent those things from happening.

When you predict, you alter the series of events leading up to the prophesized moment. How can you possibly punish someone for future deeds? Granted, if I was driving around with a trunk-load of pipe bombs, the cops might have something to charge me with, but you cannot prosecute people who have done nothing. It’s a violation of privacy and an insane idea.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to wait for the nice men in black SUVs to get here. I hear Guantanamo is lovely this time of year. In the meantime, please enjoy this video of the first trailer for The Avengers. Get excited!

Clichés That Must Die

My God... It's full of fail...

April 4, 2011

UPDATE: Fellow blogger and long-time logophile Amy at Dark Archivist has a rebuttal to one point in this article. Touché, my friend.

If you’re anything like me, you love you some science fiction, fantasy, and horror. There’s nothing better than an epic space battle with battleships the size of Alaska blasting each other with nuclear-yield weapons, a suspenseful chase as a vicious killer chases the last remaining protagonist you actually like, or the swarms of eldritch sigils flying through the air as a practitioner of the dark arts invokes otherworldly powers to crush his foes.

Good times…

As much as I’m a fan of the genre, there are those things that just… bug me. Really bug me. They’re things that seem to have just taken hold of the collective imagination for both writers and fans. They’ve become standard, not necessarily something you choose to use. Imagine if you suddenly found out that you didn’t need to use a ball to play baseball and could use rocks, or if you learned that cars could easily be built with three wheels and we picked four because, well, someone did it like that first.

Possessed Mind by *tashythemushroom on deviantART

Nightgowns and Little Girls

Look at The Ring, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Exorcist, and The Last Exorcism. What do they have in common aside from mentally tormented young girls and an overuse of the term “exorcism”? If you guessed a white nightgown, you’re right.

I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure The Exorcist started this one. It made sense back then. Regan was a young girl who was thought to be sick, so it makes sense mommy dearest put her in her sleeping gown to make her comfortable. But why oh why did every woman dealing with a ghost or demon (or herself a ghost) have to wear this now? It’s like the similarly ridiculous “ black trench coat = mysterious badass” mentality.

Why not a hospital gown or even regular clothes? Why not just regular pajamas?  The easy answer is that such clothes can easily date a character, but a nightgown is something that, at least today, looks old. How many women out there own a nightgown like the ones worn in these films? Anyone?

Organic Space Ship v1 by ~bastilg on deviantART

We’re Fighting a Militarized Rutabaga

What’s that? An alien ship approaching your  interstellar flagship? Oh no! It’s organic! It appears to have been grown by an advanced civilization. All its systems are carbon-based weapons and armor. All your ship has is a laminated alloy hull with ceramic plates for heat dissipation, high-powered coilguns, and thermonuclear missiles.

Oh noes.

Really, though, this one is just plain annoying. It’s hard to really pin down where this one started. Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee Timeline stories have a version of this little cliché wherein the god-like Xeelee “grow” their technology, although it’s not organic, so the description is a bit vague. Babylon 5, Star Wars (New Jedi Order), and even Battlestar Galactica to an extent all used the assumption that organic technology is superior to simple metal and artificial materials designed from the ground up to perform a specific task.

Do you think “organic” is better? Would you rather wade into battle with a vest made of hardwood or advanced ceramics and Kevlar built to withstand such strain?

Would you rather have a dozen mathematicians in a room perform split second calculations for orbital reentry or have a single computer system built with accuracy to the trillionth degree?

Would you rather have an artificial  weapon, like a gun that fires ferrous slugs at a fraction the speed of light, or biological weapons that are indiscriminate, can be killed by extreme temperature and radiation, and may even mutate?

I’ll stick with metal and circuits, thank you.

Mexican Jedi. by ~VictorViin18 on deviantART

Where are the Brown People?

This one’s a personally sore spot for me. For a show like Star Trek, one which claims to be multicultural, to not have a single prominent Hispanic character besides the animalistic B’Elanna Torres is inexcusable. Want to know how many Hispanic characters I can count in speculative fiction?

Johnny Rico from Starship Troopers (the book, not the movie), Bender from Futurama, and Vazquez from Aliens.

Adama doesn’t count because although he’s played by a Mexican American actor, he does not portray a Hispanic character.

It seems that, in the future, there are no Mexicans, Ecuadorans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, or anything else. We’ve got Europeans, Asian-inspired culture to pander to the anime crowd, and some assorted ethnicities for flavoring. But where are the Mexicans?

Or the Costa Ricans? Brazilians? Chileans? Iraqis? Turks? Libyans? Anyone brown?

I really can’t find a good example of these demographics in speculative fiction. Sorry. Any idea?

Coca Cola by ~Telegraph-Road on deviantART

Why do writers still use these ideas? The best explanation is that at some point, it sounded or looked cool. The nightgown made sense from a storytelling perspective. Biological technology has some useful applications. At one point, Latin Americans were a fringe minority. We know better today, and yet these ideas linger on. These are only three little clichés, but I was thinking about them this weekend. There are many more, and maybe I’ll explain some later.

In the meantime, enjoy these links, and I’ll see you on Wednesday.  

  • We have some nice black bookshelves in the apartment, but if we have the time, money, and space, I’d certainly love to get one of these awesome bookcases.
  • And finally, I just barely watched The Hangover a few weeks ago and loved it. And now I can’t wait for the sequel. Check out the new trailer below, and I’ll see you on Wednesday!

Divine by Zero: Halloween Madness and The Future is Broken

It’s Divine by Zero time! I’ve got some time this week before I start working in the afternoon again, so let’s get the party started with some good ol’ links. If you’re on the site between October 25 and Halloween 2010, I hope you like the site’s, uhm, costume. It’s subtle, but I couldn’t think of anything else.

Also, on a personal note, I’d like to thank everyone who extended support and advice in the last month. Suffice to say, I was lied to, taken advantage of, and put into an awkward financial and professional position. But it’s over now. Expect things to not be so down from now on.

And now to the links!

  • Let’s start with a costume idea that took a few months to get ready. No really. This costume you have to GROW into maturity.
  • Artist Alex CF is one of my favorites in the world. He does a lot of things, but what he’s best known for as his intricate models and props. He’s covering everything from Lovecraft Mythos to a cabinet holding artifacts Dante brought back from hell itself. He has an incredible eye for detail, and I had the cash, I’d have a room just filled with his work.
  • Halloween is coming up. If you want to go as Iron Man, why not build your own arc reactor? Everyone knows the costume’s better when you make it yourself…
  • Are you fading in and out of news programs? There’s a reason for it. One observant Brit shows how to build a news report just like the pros use.

  • I still have to see Piranha 3D, but I heard good things about. referred to it as “fish and titties,” so is it any wonder the sequel is going to be called Piranha 3DD. No, I’m not kidding. That’s about as subtle as calling any Michael Bay movie Busty Brunettes and Guns.
  • In other scary news, it looks as though BP and other companies have been funding the Tea Party in an effort to fight legislation against climate change. We already knew Koch Industries and others were funding and pulling the strings, so maybe it’s time we just stop calling them the Tea Party and start calling them something more appropriate.
  • A high school cheerleader was suspended because, in one of the Facebook pictures, she appeared to be holding a beer. Even though she and her mother deny the young woman was drinking the beer, the school still went after her. Fair? Not fair?
  • An old college professor of mine shared this on Facebook. If you ever get the chance to study speculative fiction, you’ll learn to see what most people call “sci-fi” in a whole new light, and you’ll be exposed to ideas about sociology, psychology, and technology you never thought possible. Of course… you run the risk of running into professors that sound like this:

  • Got a college degree? Guess what? You’re qualified to mop floors. Got a doctorate? Still qualified to mop floors! It seems that people with advanced degrees, millions of them, are doing jobs one would never expect. It’s still a tough economy, my friends. Take the jobs you can.
  • Speaking of tough economic times, check out how to cut your food bills by a few thousand dollars a year. I already do several of these steps and let me tell you… it works. Also, food made from scratch tastes better. And I love cooking. So it’s a win-win.
  • We all known blonde jokes. We do. I just never thought there would be a world-wide organization that would validate every blond joke I’ve ever heard or said in a single website.
  • And finally, Christine O’Donnell may not be a witch, but here’s someone who certainly has her foot in the house of darkness. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a true American icon back just in time for Halloween. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, take it away.