Images of the future are often polarized along pretty extreme lines. Dystopias and utopias dominate the landscape in science fiction because they’re often thought to be the easiest to write and easiest to deliver a message. The world within a dystopia can be used to magnify today’s problems to be easier to see while the world within a utopia can often highlight issues we don’t see in our daily lives. But the truth is that they’re not nearly as easy to write as people often think and a lot of attempts fall short of the overall mark. Dystopias, in particular, are generally derived from each other and have become attached to tropes rather than genuine ideas. And utopias, as I’ve established not too long ago, are generally the improper labeling of a superficial analysis of what turns out to be post-scarcity societies.
I’ve thrown around “post-scarcity society” often in the last couple weeks without going too in depth on the subject. For some people it would be hard to really tell the differences between a utopia and a post-scarcity society, with the two of them essentially looking ideal from where we stand and showing few of the problems we could readily identify in our current culture. But the division between the two is rather clear: a post-scarcity society has solved many major problems while a utopia has ostensibly solved all problems. And the fact of the matter is, while we’ve never seen a utopia in the real world (and likely never will), we have, however briefly, gone beyond some form of scarcity. Hell, it briefly appeared to happen in the last century before a peanut farmer harshed everyone’s buzz.
But the idealized post-scarcity, the one that you want to see in your speculative fiction, can be a tricky thing to write because it often requires you to understand problems from a completely different perspective. Because writing a post-scarcity society believably requires you to recognize… Continue reading Problems In Post-Scarcity→
Presented a new project to work on in the coming weeks, I came to consider several things I’ve blogged about recently. When dealing with the future and ideas of where we’re going as a race we often find ourselves in a scared, frightened position. It makes sense, the future, especially an unknown future, can be terrifying even if all common sense and logic tells us that it should go another direction. We’re constantly afraid of the idea that the world itself may turn into a Mad Max-style wasteland, or that an arrogant politician may become the next Hitler, or that we may end up going to World War 3 over the actions of a single nation.
But in all of these cases we can look at the history of the world and the shape of what has come before to determine that it’s not always as bad as we feel. The world was once hotter than we’re making it and it managed to survive, so it would go to say that climate change is more a threat to us than to the planet itself. Hitler’s movement was born out of a fairly unique set of circumstances where the world’s economy and social climate were far worse than it is today (for now). And the World Wars were both started by a series of terrible decisions which resulted in the world’s power being separated across clearly divided lines. So, as bad as things may get, the conditions aren’t quite right for most of our greatest fears.
But there are other fears of the future where we don’t have that historical frame of reference to calm ourselves. We have no idea what would happen if tomorrow an asteroid were found to be headed right for us. We have no logical frame of reference for what happens if we discovered aliens exist and are trying to make contact. No one’s entirely sure of the full ramifications of the continued development of artificial intelligence. And these all raise interesting questions with few (if any) concrete answers. In fact, some potential answers are so outside of our normal frames of reference that we have a hard time really picturing them.
Coming out of the tail-end of what we’ll call a “pollen bender”, I’m wide wake in time to see the sun rise and sit in relative silence with my thoughts. And, thanks to the wonders of medication, those thoughts are pleasant for now. Sure, I can hear a lawnmower running at 6:30 in the morning and I know I’ll be cursing that sun before it reaches the other horizon, but at least for right now I’m in an okay place. I might have breakfast today, I may make coffee, I’ll get together a schedule and try my best to make that schedule happen.
Or I’ll pass out again once the meds fully kick in (which is totally what happened today).
But, assuming I have long enough to make it happen, what exactly belongs on that schedule? Creative types who haven’t “made it” are faced with that question often. Every day we’re silently asked by the world at large whether today is a day you should go running head long at that wall. Our brain says that the skull is becoming fragile and that the wall hurts when we run into it, but our hearts say that one more good headbutt and we just might make it through. It’s brick but we’re persistent and we’ve heard other people who managed to headbutt through that wall just fine so it’s clearly a smart decision, right?
Getting to that “made it” point is known to be incredibly hard, downright brutal at times. We sacrifice our days to goals that the world tells us are unobtainable, then we’re told by that same world that if we don’t charge skull first into the metaphorical brick that we’re not really dedicated to it anyway. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, and the schedule’s still not totally filled out. So you’re left feeling around blindly, trying to determine what’s really worth your time, and finding some regrets along the way. Because, until you see the results, everything is a… Continue reading Monday Musing: Priorities→
Recently I wrote about the potential drawbacks of immortality and, funny enough, I haven’t stopped thinking about mortality since. We’re the only animals on this planet that understand we’re here for a finite time. From the day we first learn what death is, we know on some level that it’ll eventually be our turn. When we’re young, it doesn’t quite occur to us day to day, but we still feel it on some level. And when we’re older – well some of us can’t stop thinking about it. The fear of death, in one way or another, shapes our very lives as we decide how we want to spend what little time we have here.
And a result of this, as I mentioned last week, is that the very idea of religion is often an attempt at finding a way out. Mythology has often dealt with the ideas of the natural world and explaining what’s around us. We have gods of thunder to explain why lightning streaks across the sky and the world rumbles like the clash of a mighty hammer. We tell stories of how all the world’s ills came from a box opened in a moment of curiosity or eating the wrong fruit. It’s in our nature to personify the forces of the world around us. But your religion, if you’re honest with yourself, is almost always about your mortality – a fact I forgot to mention when writing on how to go about treating the faith of fictional characters.
Many would say that your religion is what you believe in, but there are systems of belief out there which are fairly anti-religious. Others would say that a belief in a god of some sort is required, but there are forms of Buddhism with no gods to speak of. And, of course, some would say the rites and rituals are what make a religion and that you’re otherwise just spiritual – but once again I don’t quite agree. I’ve personally interacted with people who aren’t Wiccan but will still practice some of their rituals. To them, it’s simply a mythology, even if it’s a religion for someone else. And we’ve all known people who hold a religion but don’t stick to the traditions. In fact, many think that someone who does try to stick to all of their traditions zealously is not of sound mind.
So, while these religions may have all of those beliefs and rituals, the one thing holding them above simple mythology is that people believe in their version of the afterlife. And the funny thing is, because it’s so important to these belief systems, that afterlife says a lot about the people that believe in it. Continue reading Monday Musing: What Our Afterlives Say About Us→
In today’s era it’s fairly well established that everyone understands the importance of a suspension of disbelief. Long ago it was a bit less likely that someone would be compelled to stop reading or watching a story in the middle because of their lack of belief. The reason for it is fairly simple: most fiction at one time was thought to reflect the real world and how it works. Even the most fantastic of stories from those eras was, in part, believed to be representative of the world as it was. The earliest plays to feature gods and monsters were telling stories from the religions of the era. Works like Dante’s Inferno were, at the very least, thought to be a theory into what the afterlife might actually have been. And Shakespeare, while pushing some boundaries and making up some shit as he went (particularly words), was generally writing about events that everyone believed could happen – witches included.
So it often gets overlooked that suspension of disbelief, in its current form, is really a fairly new concept in the grand scheme. Sure, there was always a need for the audience to believe irrational behaviors, but the scenarios were generally plausible. This really applied to almost everything, no matter how silly or believable it may sound to us in the modern day. Two families bitterly feuding with each other and tearing young lovers apart? Happens all the time. Zeus getting frisky with a village girl in the shape of a bull? According to the things people used to believe…apparently that happened all the time too. So what we have as “suspension of disbelief” today is not necessarily what they used to have in the days of yore.
And this is a problem for writers and even audiences because that means, at times, it’s hard to gauge just when suspension of disbelief is going to become an issue. It’s especially true in speculative fiction genres that push some limits because we often find that audiences will reject something even after they’ve accepted something far less mundane. We’ve all encountered a situation where someone will believe that a character can fly, but then seemingly become irrationally upset with how believable another element of the story happens to be. As you’ve likely heard before, “you believe that man has superpowers, but this is where you draw the line?”
As far as suspension of disbelief is concerned, you would think that the more ridiculous premise would be the part rejected, not the more mundane aspects. For a long time I couldn’t quite reconcile these concepts myself. But recently something clicked for me that hadn’t in the past as I came to realize that there was something other than suspension of disbelief at play here. Because it’s ostensibly part of the idea of “suspension of disbelief”, it often gets overlooked as being something of a distinct phenomenon. It’s the root cause of those weird moments where someone will believe in a talking dragon but not in a character’s actions.
As spring time rolls around and certain holidays come to pass, a few questions inevitably start popping up. Our modern holidays, inspired long ago by more ancient traditions, don’t make a lot of sense to us in our modern frames of reference. For instance, the Easter Bunny references a spring hare that traveled with some old European deities. Coloring eggs for Easter is part of an old Norse tradition representing the dawn. And, as for St. Patrick’s Day, there’s a whole lot we don’t fully understand about these little bastards.
The Leprechaun as we know them today have been changed repeatedly over the course of centuries. Beginning as part of Irish folklore, they’ve since become entwined with Irish stereotypes and traditions that have long since lost meaning. With even the origin of their name not being entirely clear, with some sources citing “little people” and others saying it was referring to their jobs as shoe cobblers, it makes sense they didn’t stay firm in all that time. Even the color they wear and the way they behave has been altered to suit contemporary mindsets over the ages. By this point, they’re essentially an inkblot test of how you feel about the Irish – for better or worse.
But one thing that hasn’t really changed much about Leprechauns over the ages is the fact that they are magical, lucky, and generally holders of great wealth. Some stories say this is due to their workaholic nature, acting in a miserly fashion and hoarding every coin they could possibly get. Others say that it’s due to their magical nature and ability to do things no human could. And some even say they found the treasures lost or buried by people and simply kept them. But all variations of this story generally have one unifying detail: If you can capture the little shits, they have to bargain their way free – potentially even giving you the location to their treasure (which is one of the few things they’re bound to tell the truth on).
With one set of holidays behind us and a couple on the horizon, we’re in the midst of what I would consider the Hallmark movie season. Though not all are strictly “Hallmark” movies, it is the time of year where a great deal of made for TV movies with similar themes flood networks that honestly have nothing better to show – particularly those aimed at “family”. These movies are easily identified by the fact they all have the same earmarks. First, they’re centered on a holiday or an event that happens to be family oriented. Second, their central plot (often the only plot) is generally based around that family dynamic one way or another. And third, the cast seems to have been slipped something before the cameras started rolling.
It’s never the cast’s fault, mind you – it’s just the way of the genre almost by default. Made cheaply and probably written on the back of literal Hallmark cards, these movies are the tried and true made for TV garbage that you watch only because you have nothing better to do. That’s not to say there isn’t an audience, there most certainly is, but most of that audience is either bored, lonely, or both. The few who don’t fill these requirements generally fit into the archetype that the characters themselves are based on. And even if you like some of them, you know, deep down, that they’re not exactly works of art. The scenarios rarely make sense, the characters are about as two dimensional as a greeting card, and any emotional weight is based primarily in how soft a target you happen to be.
And almost all of us know this. Though a few are fond of a couple of these, and others might have a straight up guilty pleasure of the bunch, we all know we’d rather be doing something else if we had the choice. An entire channel is devoted to these movies, and few would willingly watch it, but a dedicated, nostalgia driven fanbase keeps the thing afloat. Once, when about to watch one of these movies, my friend – an avid romance fan – asked me why I was looking to torture myself. Simply put: I was morbidly curious.
So, it raises a question: how can a business based entirely on human emotions have so little a grasp on how those emotions actually work (and how do we avoid the same mistakes)? Continue reading Why “Hallmark” Movies Suck→
Ah, 2017, a new year and a new beginning for people who felt last year just wasn’t up to snuff. A lot of people entered this year with the idea that last year was somehow the worst year ever. For the longest time I thought it was just hyperbole in jest, a little poking of fun at the various misfortunes that happened, but eventually it became very clear that people meant it. Many were convinced that somehow the year itself was just so unrelentingly bad that it surpassed all previous bad years. To the internet, in particular, the idea that 2016 was a terrible year is just accepted fact. So, to all those relieved the year is over, here’s to a clean slate!
But I’ve never been too attached to the idea that the particular year really means anything. Trends happen across large periods of time, not just within the confines of a particular year, so no one year is really any better or worse than any year around it. And a lot of people have gone around picking at the idea 2016 was the “worst year” and found that it wasn’t actually as bad as people thought it was. Do a quick search and you’ll find dozens of articles and hundreds of social media accounts listing off the long list of reasons 2016 wasn’t so bad.
3. The Giant Panda, arguably the world’s second cutest panda, has official been removed from the endangered species list.
So that left me with a question that I realized hadn’t been asked too often: if the year wasn’t really that bad, why did everyone think it was? And, more importantly for this blog, what does it tell us about human nature? Continue reading Monday Musing: Worst Year Ever?→
Despite their differences, every creative field has similar challenges. You have to have a vision to make it work, and often that vision has to be something really important to you. If you lack the sufficient will and determination, you’ll generally not get very far in whatever you’re trying to create. Whether it be a painting, composition, or a novel – you have to go in being a little bit single-minded. Distractions are easy, after all, and there may be people who want you to do something else entirely. There may even be parts of yourself, or outside voices, which tell you that you’re not good enough. As a result, finishing requires being able to tune all of that out and push forward despite almost everything.
This, despite how neurotic creative types may be, actually requires a great deal of pride, even ego. It’s not something we have all the time, but when it comes to our personal work we can be incredibly stubborn. In fact, quite a few of us have to train a sense of self-righteousness. It often becomes something of a monster – an inner asshole. We hone a bit of our personal ego and our passion for the project to craft this alter-ego which shuts out certain opinions and doesn’t care what others think.
Everyone actually has a version of this inner asshole, just expressed in different ways and to different degrees. We don’t like this side, but it still exists – giving us the ability to be egotistical enough to not be swayed from our goals. The stronger it is, the easier time we have doing things that would otherwise scare us. Some would say that requires some sort of an emotional callous, but callouses are numb and this other facet of our personality is still pretty damn passionate. The greats are generally people who can turn this on and off at will, able to achieve a degree of tunnel vision when necessary but then shut it off when it’s no longer helpful. They keep this personality in check for as long as possible, unleashing it only when needed.
Unfortunately, this is a double edged sword. A lot of you already know how hard it can be to take criticism well, but there are other times in the middle of the project that we often overlook. For every determined artist there’s a moment where they’ll find their project in a place other than where they intended it to be. Maybe you’ve gotten half way through the painting and realized that it isn’t matching the image in your head. Maybe the natural flow of events in your story has come to a different place. Maybe the thing you were so attached to turns out to not work very well at all. At this point, those people who once had so much determination are now facing a brand new kind of problem.
Every day someone has to get up and push themselves to get to work. Some days, that’s a little harder than others. And, I’m willing to venture a guess quite a few people aren’t feeling too great right now. I can understand why those people are a little stressed out. The environment is in shambles, it feels like a lot of progress we’ve made has been backsliding, and the economy tends to be unkind to people in the wrong tax brackets. These are all struggles we share, and everyone has others struggles almost entirely unique to them. If we’re lucky, some of those struggles get easier over time. If we’re unlucky, a few new ones will come along to make the next day harder than the last. But if we’re really unlucky, something goes off the deep end and we find ourselves appointing a crazy hair madman as our leader.
Understandably, some people have a hard time getting up after that. There’s plenty of time to try to figure out what caused it, or what it means, and we’ve got some time to figure out how this is all going to play out. But for today, we have to remember that each new day is another day we have to make count. Even if you’re driving through wastelands, running for your life, you still have to get up in the morning and make your way forward. After all, the alternative is to give up and giving up opens up a fresh new form of hell.