Over the years, talking publicly about creative industries and the patterns I tend to see, there have been a few instances where I make predictions based on the things that I’m seeing. Obviously, that’s not unique to me, everyone tends to do it. Sometimes we’re right, sometimes we’re wrong, and generally people just shrug and move on with their lives after it’s all said and done. But from time to time we may say something stupid that gets us stuck with the prediction we’ve made. If we’re lucky, the thing we said didn’t involve the words “I’ll bet you $1000 that I’m right.” Fortunately, in this instance, I wasn’t stupid enough to say it. Unfortunately, though no one’s actually held me to this, I did happen to say that I would admit that I was wrong in public. So here we go:
I was wrong about Disney’s live-action adaptations, and specifically, I was wrong about Dumbo and the writer behind it.
Continue reading A Jackass Never Forgets
There’s a saying that has always stuck with me over the years: “everyone sees themselves as the hero of their own story.” And it’s true, no one does an action thinking they are the absolute villain. They had reasons, they felt motivations, they were doing what they thought was right. Yes, they may later regret their actions, but in the moment of doing them they felt correct even if everyone in the world may think otherwise. No one commits crime because they want to be the bad guy – either they’ve convinced themselves that they are in the right or they have a mental condition that detaches them from a sense of right and wrong. Even the greatest monsters in human history were convinced of the righteousness of their own cause, no matter how abhorrent their actions seemed to the rest of the world.
So then applying that sort of thinking to your fictional characters can make your villains feel all the more real. If you make it so that you can see where the villain is coming from, it feels more natural to us by default because we can understand, on some level, why they would act that way. Do we have to agree with their actions? Not at all. But if we can understand why the villain thinks they’re right then we can at the very least feel like that villain was realistic, even if their methods and actions are far outside of the realms of reality. For instance, while none of us would have the opportunity to assemble a gauntlet of god-like power, a lot of us could understand the motivations for wanting to do so.
But one of the problems with writing villains in those grey areas is that sometimes people mistake moral objection with a plot hole. We all do it on some level, seeing mistakes made by characters – whether they be due to a lack of planning or lack of moral fiber – as a mistake by the creators and not simply a failure of the character. Sometimes, this results in people demanding answers to questions that were actually answered within the material. And our balancer of the universe, Thanos, is no exception to this. Faced with the uncomfortable ramifications of Thanos’ ruthless “solution” to a problem he saw as a threat to the universe, a lot of people online cried foul and some even said it was a failing of the movie. Then, in almost every case where someone pointed at this “failing”, they inevitably recommended a solution of their own – almost always the same solution.
Ironically, the solution those critics recommended kind of prove that Thanos’ mistake wasn’t a plot hole. Because, when you step back to actually consider it, the solution everyone recommended would actually kill more people than Thanos did… Continue reading Thanos And Objectionable Choices
There are a few quirks of my personality that I can’t quite blame on outside influences. Though I could probably find a root cause somewhere in my past, probably when I was a toddler and can’t remember anything, there is generally no rational explanation I can think of. One of them is a tendency to hold myself to oddly strict rules that no one else will generally recognize or care about. In fact, even when I outright announce some of these rules I hold myself to, most people tend to forget them if given enough time – but I never do. And one of those is that every blog entry that I post to this site has to fit a certain variety of topics for specific days. It’s not iron clad, there’s always some wiggle room involved, but from time to time I’ll have a blog idea that I want to write or have already written and think, “man, that feels more like a Monday or Wednesday topic.”
It’s a little silly, but I’m often a silly man.
One of the topics I’ve allowed myself to post on Fridays is anything having to do with the future or sci-fi. At first it was because I momentarily considered calling it “Futuristic Fridays”, but then a few eyes were rolled and I realized it was a bridge too far. Still, it’s one of the approved topics for the day, and it’s ironic because a few things I’ve seen on twitter over the last few weeks and a few personal experiences have had me thinking about the future, specifically how much we as a species get freaked out about it. I’ve touched the topic before with talks about technophobia and the like, but all of the individual fears of future times really kind of root back to the same essential fear when it comes right down to it.
We don’t like uncertainty, we don’t like things beyond our control, and the future is full of both… Continue reading Fear of the Future
Being a speculative fiction writer, or a genre writer of any sort, is an interesting experience because of the strange grey area we’re all placed in. We’re simultaneously the easiest to label and yet the hardest to classify. There are only so many variations on something like “drama”, but you can get pretty specific about what kind of sci-fi you write. Are you writing a hard sci-fi space action adventure? How about a soft sci-fi/fantasy space opera? There’s a lot more words for our facets than the “non-genre” works as the most specific they get are labels like “dramedy”. And yet, funny enough, it’s also surprisingly hard to figure where you really fit despite all of these available labels.
I felt the sting of this myself in the past. My own work has often been a bit of a blend between different genres. My books have been a kind of crime/mystery sci-fantasy – which can be a pain in the ass to identify to a book market – and I know I’m not alone. But it gets stranger when you consider just how often a trope can be shared across multiple subgenres but “claimed” by a specific one to such an extent that people may misidentify you by default. Does including vampires in your work naturally make your story fantasy? What if they’re alien vampires?
So a problem arises that is difficult to counteract but almost inevitable: Sometimes, people are going to get your genre wrong and change their opinions of your work accordingly. Continue reading Subjective Genre Interpretations
Though it can sometimes be a bit tricky to deal with, the driving force behind creative industries is the passion of their fans. No one could make a living off of their ideas simply by putting them out there unless there was someone willing to buy, and the biggest challenge for any creative person is to find that audience and reach them. And the more passionate that fan base gets, the better our chances are for survival as they will generally make their favorite creators part of their proverbial family in many instances, even part of one’s own identity. They put on costumes, they recommend to everyone they know, and they find ways to include your work into conversations. They are, by and large, the most powerful advertising tool a good product can have.
But sometimes, they aren’t quite enough.
Though we try to distance ourselves from the possibility, both as fans and as creators, there are times when the love of a fandom just isn’t enough to prevent an untimely end for an IP. As creators it’s an uncomfortable thing to think about because we don’t want to picture a time when we can’t keep doing what we’re doing. As fans, we can’t bear to think of the fact that there just wasn’t enough like us to keep something alive. And for television in particular, there’s even a season when we have to come to terms with this. Coming around May to June, the season for renewals and cancellations comes to pass and the same routine happens. Something that was beloved by an audience gets cancelled, other shows that seem to have gone well past their prime manage to survive, and inevitably the question is asked:
Why did the good show get cancelled and not that other crappy one? Continue reading Why Good Shows Get Cancelled
In the Alters’ World (and the Agent of Argyre series), creatures of legend reveal themselves to the world. Born through genetic abnormalities, defects and mutations, the Alters have lived for centuries as outcasts of human society, hiding their true nature from the world while colorful stories have been written by many to describe what they’ve seen. How are these creatures different from what was described in the stories? What relationship do they have with humanity? Every entry of the Alterpedia will delve into a new creature from around the world. This week we cover: Continue reading Alterpedia: Minotaurs
Though statistically we’re living in the most peaceful time of human history, it’s hard not to feel like everything is about to come to a terrible end. Be it the media, or the ready access to information we didn’t always have, or the fact that everyone feels nostalgia for their early years when things were simpler – it’s hard not to feel like this is the worst timeline. With events that once were local now feeling national and things that were national now feeling local, we’re all understandably on edge. After a moment to breathe, most of us can step back from that feeling of impending doom and put it all back into perspective. But others…
And looking at people like this, with their crazed ramblings and demands for us to repent before the end comes, leaves us with one very important question: what do they know that we don’t?
How are they so confident of this doom? Have they been gifted with visions of this dark future by a god? Are they Oracles who’ve come to warn us of our fate? Which ones are we supposed to trust more, the guys with the cardboard or the billboard? More importantly: how do we prepare for the doom they warn us of? Continue reading An Asshole’s Guide To The Apocalypse
The future is going to be different than today in ways we can’t entirely predict. Countless possibilities stretch out before us as science continues to advance in multiple fields. We can make educated guesses about those possibilities and when they’ll become realities, but there are hurdles in the way that prevent us from knowing exactly which paths will open up and when. Over the course of human history we’ve seen this pattern repeat time and time again. Breakthroughs are made all the time and cause fundamental changes overnight, like the creation of gunpowder, the discovery of electricity, or the invention of antibiotics. And the funny thing is, because a lot of these breakthroughs can be due to chance, we really can’t be absolutely sure when and how these changes will come.
There are people who work towards these sorts of breakthroughs for a living, however, and they’ll often tell us where they think things will be going. Someone working in the development of artificial intelligence will have some pretty convincing arguments about when an artificial superintelligence might be created. Someone involved in fusion research will have a credible sounding prediction of when their reactors might be able to power our civilization. And every once in a while NASA will drop us some interesting pictures that make us wonder if they’re trying to tell us something.
As speculative fiction writers, one of the fun things is to take ideas like this and run with them as far as we can. You’ll find few people who get as fascinated with the idea of technological singularities as scifi authors. And, while a lot of us may have a looser definition of what this singularity may be than academic communities, most people who are concerned with this world changing event base their stories in some aspect of modern scientific understanding. Even in instances where we hand-wave it away, there’s a respect for science involved. For as ridiculously implausible as most FTL concepts are, for example, they exist because someone realizes that FTL would be a game changer in a universe far more vast than we once realized. In fact, even without going faster than light, there are a lot of technologies related to space travel that get scifi authors and fans really excited. Yet, in the modern discourse, there are a lot of people who have a hard time understanding just how important space can be for us down here on Earth.
To those people I always like to point out: the destination doesn’t change the world, the journey and what we find out there does… Continue reading Swans and Singularities: Space Travel
One of the things that unites speculative fiction genres is dealing with a world that’s different from our own in ways that seem impossible. With fantasy the line is easily drawn, we know that there aren’t actually wizards or dragons no matter how much we want to believe. But with science fiction there’s always this grey area where we’re not entirely sure just what is and isn’t really possible. It’s that grey area that gives the genre its unique flavor as we explore worlds that seem completely insane but still have that vague sense of truth to them. In essence, when you describe something in science fiction as not possible you can always feel that lingering sense of “yet”.
It’s because of this that I’ve always been a big fan of Clarke’s laws – particularly the third law. According to Arthur C. Clarke, sci-fi author and futurist responsible for stories like 2001: A Space Odyssey, any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic. It may sound like an easy excuse for writing impossible things and calling them scientific, but when you think about the real world you realize it’s surprisingly accurate. To this day there are people who believe everything that NASA does is an elaborate hoax because, to them, everything NASA does seems impossible. Even people who do trust in science will doubt some things are possible just because a theory sounds insane despite evidence.
And one of the most interesting aspects of this concept as a speculative fiction writer is that some of those theories may shape our future. We can’t be entirely sure which will actually happen, but we know that the world of the future will be drastically different from the world of today. In fact, in academic circles they say that we may one day hit a “technological singularity” – a point at which technology has advanced so far that society would be near unrecognizable to us. Some people have a hard time wrapping their heads around that, but anyone who reads this right now is doing so through a device that would have been considered witchcraft a thousand years ago. So how is it that we can have experienced such dramatic changes and yet still feel like things can’t go further?
For that, we have to talk about swans… Continue reading Clarke, Singularities, And Swans
When looking at the history of Europe, one of the interesting things that comes up time and time again is the overlap of Christian holidays (particularly Catholic) with Pagan precursors. It’s pretty well known that Halloween is actually a Christian holiday that was created to overlap with the Samhain. Christmas probably had some influences from the Saturnalia and Yule. Easter may have straight up taken its name from a pagan goddess. But how Christians react to these holidays today is based in large part on just how much the church sold the “Christian” aspects of it. Easter and Christmas, anchored deeply into the lore of Jesus himself, is now generally forgotten by the general worshiper to have some pagan roots, but Halloween?
And because these three holidays are the most widely celebrated of the Christian holidays, they kind of shape how we think of Christian holidays as a whole. For those who don’t go out of their way to find these origins, it seems ridiculous that these holy days may be related to pagan holidays. Meanwhile, for those who’ve been told about this often, it often leads to the belief that every single holiday Christians ever came up with were to rip off the pagans (even when this isn’t necessarily true). But when someone takes the time to really look into the history of these holidays, it often turns out to be more complicated than first glance.
Like, for instance, when people celebrate the same holidays in the same fashion for the same reasons… to completely different gods. Continue reading Witchy Holidays