Recently, I pointed out that one of the major sticking points for a lot of creators and readers is the little details that people start to hold onto as they become bigger and bigger fans. One of the extensions of this is that there’s an ever building feeling that you must defend the “continuity”. It’s a common thing to witness, people who start to argue about the details they know in order to try to defend their particular version of how the universe is supposed to work. And you know what? That’s fine.
What isn’t fine is when you start to use it as an excuse to never ever let anything change. You’ve seen it, you know it happens, there are plenty of people who wanted to get into reading comic books, fantasy stories or sci-fi novels who were scared away by the idea they had to do homework before they could get started. There’s an ever present grumbling whenever someone in the stories gets a new detail added to them that doesn’t mesh with their image of that character. And, of course, who can forget our friend the black Storm Trooper?
As I pointed out this last Friday with the passing of Leonard Nimoy, the geek community as a whole has a somewhat unique relationship with what we love. We tend to find meaning in it in a way that keeps us going from day to day. We’re not all obsessed by it, but the ones who are have gotten there as a natural progression of finding more and more purpose in what they’ve latched onto.
And as the love for these creations grows you find that it starts to bleed into the real world over time. Every major movie release in the fantasy or sci-fi genres will almost universally have at least one group of cosplayers show up. Whenever a new Harry Potter book hit the shelves towards the end of the series – you found an awful lot of Harry look-a-likes lining up around the corner. In a very literal sense, once you get to a certain point of fandom, you’re going to be wearing that fandom on your sleeve.
Once you hit a certain level, once you’re mingling with those people, it’s impossible to deny that it has become part of your world. It’s because of this that you’ll find corners of the fan community where people are willing to argue vehemently about every little detail found in their chosen universes. Trekkies will argue who the best Captain was. Star Wars fans will argue over whether or not Han was bullshitting when he used the term “parsec” wrong. And, of course, fans of Lord of the Rings will constantly bicker over those damned eagles.
But, as a writer, I think it’s time we fess up about something to the fans. Most details that get added to our stories are for three reasons – cool factor, flavor, and pragmatism. And the details we don’t add?
As someone who puts what I think online as an occupation, I’ve been insulted a lot. This isn’t new to me, but it has been a bit more common since I started a blog and opened a twitter account. I’ve been called many things, from “fraud” to “Californistan Idiot”, and most of them are just knee-jerk reactions from knee-jerk people. But the one that I’ve often heard throughout my life is a common impression that I “think too much”.
I try to laugh and not get sad about the fact that’s apparently an insult in today’s society.
It’s taken many variations over the years, but the common thread is that if I stop to think and really analyze something rather than get swept up in the emotion of it – I’m an asshole. It’s not just random people on the internet either, I’ve been informed of this by friends a few times. I often joke that I’m just a robot who is trying to understand what humans call “love” – and a couple people have implied that I really am just a machine.
However, one insult of this variety recently came in the form of someone calling me “cynical”. Ironically, this man then proceeded to show he didn’t know what cynicism was as he went on basing his entire argument against me in his own personal cynicism. But it was the same old argument that I’ve had with almost everyone I’ve ever known: “why can’t you just let me be angry/sad/happy about this thing without making me think about it?!”
The simple reason? Because I’m not cynical, I have a lot of hope for where we’re going. I expect better of us, and more importantly, I expect…
It’s 2015 and the internet is full of jokes about how this is the year Back to the Future II was set. Everyone was giddy about the fact someone actually built a semi-functional hoverboard late last year with plans to put together a skate park for it in the coming couple years. Because, of course, when people think about the future, they get most excited about a flying plank than something like, say, fusion reactions powered by garbage.
However, recent stories in the news and the internet’s echo chamber have me realizing just how silly we’ve been about the whole future thing as of late. As sci-fi writers, the goal is to try to envision the little problems of today being fixed tomorrow and see if we can manage to get it close enough that people believe it could happen. But one of the oddities of the last few decades has been just how often we try to credit sci-fi with “inspiring” good ideas. Problem being: good ideas tend to inspire themselves, while good sci-fi is making an educated guess.
A great example of this would be the fact cellphones temporarily looked an awful lot like early Star Trek communicators. During the time when flip-phones were the dominant life-form of the electronic landscape, everyone liked to pass around the image of Kirk holding the old flip open communicator and going, “See? It’s all true!”
But it wasn’t, because we’ve already moved past the flip phone and onto a superior and completely different beast in the form of PDA inspired smartphones. Basically, if Kirk’s communicator were thegood idea, rather than a good guess at what would eventually come, then we wouldn’t have moved past it to better ideas that were never really shown to exist in that universe.
Lately, though, we’ve been trying to force our pop culture into becoming “real”. Sometimes that can lead to good things, other times it leads to wasting time or skipping past better ideas so we can scratch the itch. Which, leads to the question…
Haha, the news media is talking about there being a new novel from the “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” brood. Stupid media, they did that years ago, polishing up their lives with “interesting” bits and releasing it as a novel called Dollhouse. Yet you guys are acting like it just happened. We all know the Kardashians haven’t gone back to reading and writing since disagreeing with the dietary advice they got from “Green Eggs And Ham“. Man you guys are slo-
Oh crap, there’s more of them?
Who the hell is that? Jenner? What the hell is a Jenner?! And what do you mean they have a publishing deal for a book that releases next year? They look like they’re still in high-school!
Apparently, if you’re in that bloodline it doesn’t matter if your manuscript is written in crayon. Though it wouldn’t be the first time a member of the family managed to make a lot of money with only a 9thgrade reading level.
The future of humanity is going to see a lot of changes as to what it means to be human. We’re going to create new versions of ourselves that we didn’t previously believe to be possible. But more than that, we’re going to create new things that look like us which may eventually even begin to think like us.
And we know this, we can’t escape it. Every time we successfully produce a robot that can walk on two legs or even fake an awkward smile, we’re stepping closer to that day when we may have to redefine humanity. And so, it makes sense that we have a lot of stories in science fiction that explore these things. We need to write them to explore the possibilities and address the issues we have with the ideas of a new, unfamiliar world that may be come.
One of the best examples of these sorts of stories is the film Robocop. Alex Murphy, killed in the line of duty, is brought back from the dead in a Cyborg shell, stripped of his memories and his sense of identity. The people who created his new body, OCP, don’t want him to have that humanity intact because it would get in the way of making him a cold, calculated law enforcement machine. But in the end, isn’t that free will and sense of compassion part of what makes a good police officer? It’s a fascinating question to explore and seeing Robocop’s new life unfold is both inspiring at points and incredibly tragic at others.
But when looking at the remake, it becomes clear that the new take on Alex Murphy’s life is going to go in a very different direction. The new Alex is aware of who he is and how he has been changed. The new Alex remembers his family and he remembers what they mean to him. There are decisions clearly made in the production of this new film to try to make Robocop more human than he was before. But does it really help make him more human? Wasn’t the tragedy of the original Alex Murphy already human enough?
As I mentioned last time, L Ron Hubbard was a science fiction author in what a lot of people refer to as the “Golden Age of Sci-Fi”. The thing that I made a note of then, which made his accomplishments in cult-building hard to fathom, was the fact that he is also one of the least remembered writers of the era. I don’t mean people have forgotten him when I say that, I mean they’ve forgotten his work. Why? The man never wrote a true sci-fi classic in a time when people were creating sci-fi classics left and right.
During the “Golden Age”, writers like Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke were writing books such as I, Robot, Starship Troopers and 2001: A SpaceOdyssey. There were dozens of other award winning authors throughout those years. But among them, the one I found the least real recognition for was L Ron Hubbard (besides the countless awards he’s been given for unrelated things, likely by his followers). He won a single Saturn Award throughout his career that I can find any record of. And considering the man wrote for five decades, that’s saying something.
So I scoured the internet, my memory of the guy and what culture I could find on him and realized that a Scientologist happened to point me to just the story I needed to decipher why L Ron Hubbard had to make a cult to make a living.
In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, I’ve begun sharing what I’ve learned while tackling my first two novels. And, while you may not be reading this back in November, I figure it’ll still be helpful whenever you are looking this way. Last week I addressed Mystery. But the fact is that Mystery isn’t the only genre present in those two novels. Anyone who has read my novels will know that they’re something of a genre mash-up. Though they’re primarily crime novels centering on murders and conspiracies, they’re also very focused on Fantasy and Science Fiction.
To me, the combination is natural. As Arthur C Clarke once said, any sufficiently advanced science will appear to be magic. So the reverse would be true as well, any magical thing could probably be explained via science. It’s because of this that I felt it was easy to take creatures such as werewolves and vampires and use the odd quirks of biology to explain some of their traits. In my eyes this makes them more fantastic because it makes it plausible that they could exist in the same world we do.
So when I once heard from agents and publishers that the weakest link of Science Fiction was the “science” part I started a series of posts devoted to the genre. But I’m not so blindly devoted to Sci-fi that I believe it can do no wrong. Science Fiction has produced some incredibly bad works for a variety of reasons. In the end, I think it has more to do with how writers approach the genre than it has to do with the genre itself. And so, in an effort to improve the future of Sci-Fi, I now lay down some helpful advice for those of you just starting to step into that world of endless possibilities.
A while ago I came across an article about science fiction that caught my attention. The article was a decent argument that I felt had at least some validity, so of course I shared “Our Science Fiction Movies Hate Science Fiction” on Twitter and mentioned I didn’t agree with everything in it. Sadly, 140 characters isn’t nearly enough to start talking about the failings of a fairly long article. So like any opinionated guy on the internet I decided to blog about it to those of you silly enough to give me the page views.
A couple entries ago I spoke of how Hunger Games was, in fact, a bit derivative. But, as I stated then, that’s a good thing. Holding onto conventions and rooting your works in the timeless aspects of the human experience is not only a benefit to your works but a necessity. And, because of this continual line that you can trace through works throughout time, you can follow this and see that old genres never really go away but rather evolve into something new. And evolution, regardless of context, can often be a strange force that can be hard for people to understand.