For the long time readers of this blog it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I’ve been watching Star Trek since I was a child and to this day still watch the reruns. In fact, in the last couple of years I’ve been watching the H&I “All Star Trek” block every day. As a result, though I don’t actually pay attention to every episode (I’ve seen all of them several times before), reruns of Star Trek have been running as the background track to my daily activities for quite a while. It’s habit, mostly, and every once in a while I’ll look up from whatever I’m doing to either watch one of my old favorites or come to recognize some of the flaws that I overlooked as a kid. The franchise taught me a lot about speculative fiction, for better or worse, and to this day I appreciate it for what it is – flaws and all.
One of the flaws that Trekkies debate constantly is just how consistent some aspects of the world actually are. Continuity is a big deal to the average nerd, and continuity tends to get stepped over often for the sake of an individual episode’s plot. As I’ve said in the past, while the little details may not necessarily matter to the plot, they’ll usually matter a lot more to your audience than you expect them to. And one of the greatest inconsistencies in Star Trek over the decades lies in the distances they travel and how fast they actually do it. Everyone is familiar with the idea of “Warp Speed” and has an understanding that it’s faster than light, but only Trekkies are aware that there are times when Warp Speed is sometimes less about the speed of light and more about the speed of plot.
“Oh god,” I can hear you saying, “a Trekkie is about to complain about numbers, just like mom warned me would happen.”
But when I bring this up I don’t bring it up as some jackass with no life who obsesses over the details of fictional worlds. No, I bring this up as a writer with no life who obsesses over the details of fictional worlds. You see, there’s something to be learned not only from the inconsistencies but the reaction those inconsistencies get. It’s been long known that Star Trek’s technobabble can be a barrier for entry for some audiences, but something often overlooked is that there are times when decisions are made, for the sake of technobabble, that actually run counter to their intention.
Over the last few years there’s been something of a shift in the culture around us. In a day and age where nostalgia properties reign supreme, it’s hard to imagine that the same properties no more than a few years ago were often considered deeply “niche”. Superheroes were considered low brow entertainment meant only for children and basement dwellers before suddenly becoming the dominant movie genre for the last several years. The Lord Of The Rings was once thought to be in the same category, familiar to children and to nerds who spent too much time playing Dungeons & Dragons. Then it became a phenomenon that a studio drove into the ground with an attempt to turn the “prequel” into a franchise unto itself.
Despite this, when you look at the entertainment industry you’ll often find that speculative fiction works still feel like they’re not allowed to sit at the adult table. There is a rush to get some works out even when they shouldn’t because that’s generally what the industry does when they don’t understand a current trend. But if you look at what gets the awards, the recognition, and the respect it becomes clear that we’re still kind of the oddballs. A few years ago I saw several entertainment industry insiders, particularly literary agents, say that sci-fi needed to minimize the “science” aspects to succeed – something they defined as a “new sci-fi”. You’d think the attitude is gone, but on multiple occasions I’ve encountered it again. For all intents and purposes, the current successes of speculative fiction are considered a temporary trend.
Yet, if put on the spot and asked to name a worldwide success in the last 20 years in any form of media, the first thing to spring to mind would probably be in one of those “niche genres”. That’s not true for everyone, and you may certainly associate “critical acclaim” with “worldwide success”, but when you think of a true phenomenon it will almost always be something that is marginalized by the same critics. Sometimes it’s argued to be a matter of “depth”, but some of the deepest stories that spring to mind are also within those genres. It’s a disconnect that sometimes makes you wonder:
There’s something I don’t talk about very often but is well worth mentioning right now: I am a fan of Shark Tank. Yes, for some weird ass reason I really like watching startups and entrepreneurs try to get money. It started during one of my trips to Canada when I realized how amused I was by their version, Dragon’s Den, and I’ve been watching it ever since. And it’s not just Shark Tank, I’m into similar shows about getting an investor on board too because I like to see people come up with ideas, business models, and strategies and see if they can get someone to buy in. I’ve long mentally registered it as a form of research because someday, theoretically, I hope to leverage my work into a more complex business and, as an independent, I’m basically a business unto myself. But the reason why I bring it up is because of one of the things that often gets cited as a reason why this guy decides not to invest in certain businesses.
Keven O’Leary is the designated asshole of the series in two countries, both as a Shark and as a Dragon. And generally the reason why is because he’s the most brass tax of anyone in the show. It doesn’t matter how good your life story is, it doesn’t matter if you cry, it doesn’t matter if you’re helping hungry children in a third world country – Kevin wants money, Kevin is going to get money, and Kevin will shit on you if he doesn’t think you can make money. It’s really kind of ironic that he’s basically the public representative of a mentality that drives most financial markets and yet we only hate him because they set up a production and cameras. Mitt Romney basically did the same thing through most of his life and he was a successful politician right up until he got caught calling half the country worthless. But one thing that Kevin has said about certain businesses really rings in my head today.
You see, Kevin doesn’t invest in things that center on a single person’s talent. He doesn’t put money behind the efforts of one person. If it’s not something that can be replicated without that person, he doesn’t give a shit. And, he explains it in the typical fashion of a reality TV villain: “You could be hit by a bus tomorrow and I would lose my investment.”
After spending much of the last several years regularly updating this blog, it has been some time since I went a month with anything fewer than 5 entries. I love to ramble to the masses, after all, and make sure to post at least once a week whenever possible. So it would make sense, after this August came and went, that some people who have visited this blog would have one very important question to ask me:
Fair question, my imaginary audience, but no. And, while I didn’t die, I can see why you would wonder. It is true, for several weeks now I have been effectively dead to the world. In fact, after frequently making jokes I was a zombie fueled only by caffeine and calypso music, I finally found myself for the first time completely unable to raise my corpse to the challenge. Having resolved to use the month of August to get ahead of several projects so that I could enter 2018 with a fresh start and renewed drive, I ended up with one of the greatest pains I had ever felt in my arm and found it difficult to do much of anything with it. Had I broken it in some freak accident? Was I suffering some sort of traumatic disease which was stripping the use of my arm from me? Did I tear the muscles in some dramatic fashion?
Over the years I’ve often been a proponent of making sure that your story comes before your message. Though you should always include part of yourself, you should do your best to actually avoid ever putting your own opinions ahead of the quality of your work. Emphasizing your opinions too much can overwhelm the material and make it difficult for people to really get invested in the narrative – serving to diminish both. After all, if people don’t care about your story they certainly won’t care about the themes behind it.
So I’ve often talked about the need to present the discussion as a natural part of the narrative. Reeling back your message to allow the discussion to be had on its own will generally present a better result with a more invested audience. And, as a natural result of putting yourself into your work, the message you intended to put out there will usually shine through on its own. By being fair, not forcing the audience to see it your way, and giving them a view into the topic of discussion that lets them get there on their own, you’ll have people who not only receive your message but feel good about getting there. Essentially, if you present an issue in a fair manner and demonstrate why you feel the way you do, either people will agree with your assessment or you’ll have given them something to think about.
But there’s a risk in approaching subjects a little too neutral. While you always want to avoid “soap boxing”, both to ensure the audience is receptive and to ensure a stronger narrative, you don’t want to remove yourself entirely. It’s a tricky balancing act, one that many people stumble on, but an important one none the less. Because when you do remove yourself from the equation and try to approach a subject completely neutral you’ll rarely get the result you desire…. Continue reading Passionate Discussion→
After months of delays, backstage rumors, sudden loss of its show-runner and so many unnerving little announcements coming out of the production of Star Trek: Discovery, the people finally got to see something better than that awful half-rendered ship from the comic con footage. And, though the recent trailer appeared months after the show was supposed to air, we finally have something about the production that looks promising. Showing slick visuals, a somewhat interesting set up, and a ship that didn’t look like ass – it was decent. Though the involvement of the Klingons seems to confirm some theories that people were bandying about nearly a year ago, at least now there was something to discuss.
In an effort to fight back what they call the “white genocide”, a thankfully small but vocal minority (ironic) jumped at the chance to decry the cast of characters. There were too many women, too many minorities, and not nearly enough straight white men for them. Clearly, by their assessment, social justice was out to ruin Star Trek by forcing diversity onto its cast and crew. And the rest of us only had one question to ask:
For years I’ve had a bit of a running joke that I tell even if people aren’t in on it. It’s often rumored that talking about your goals will actually give you an inflated sense of accomplishment. So, as a writer who hasn’t really had a huge amount of success (yet), I tend to rely on self-deprecation to avoid actually stating my goals out loud. Don’t get me wrong, I remind myself every day that I’m a writer and that’s what I want to be, but when I talk to other people I try to make sure I don’t get a big ego about it. We’ve all met that guy who says he’s writing a screenplay or novel and thinks that means the world should kiss his ass. I never want to be that guy, so I make sure to label myself appropriately.
I’m a professional bullshit artist.
Because that’s what you have to be if you’re going to be working in fiction. You have to be able to craft the most unbelievable bullshit into something people become invested in. You have to sell people on notions that you just pulled from the aether (or straight from your ass), and make them want to pay you money for it. It’s a skill that’s easy to learn but hard to master – a field where everyone feels they should be able to do it but only so many can actually pull it off. And that perceived ease of entry is part of the problem for guys like me.
See, writers, by and large, have to sell themselves as much as possible to get people to look their way. But, since there are so many of us out there, it’s hard to make that happen in short order. Most famous authors and screenwriters didn’t really have a major break until their 30s when many of those started trying earnestly somewhere around high school. There are always a few modest writing gigs here or there, you’ll make some headway as an intern if you have the right connections, but for the most part you’re just hoping you manage to out-shine someone else’s bullshit. Unfortunately, recent events with some politicians derailed my efforts for a bit and I was a little upset.
(To ensure there’s no confusion here: I am not a lawyer, I am a writer who has an interest in this subject because I would like to not be sued or ripped off. Noble motivations, I assure you.)
Copyright, it’s a funny thing. Most people have a basic understanding of it, but that understanding tends to be fairly black and white. Some people assume that it should be mostly common sense, but that’s not always true. Things that everyone tends to “know” about the system are usually pretty subjective and can be swayed by a good legal team. And other things that people “know” may be flat out wrong in some cases.
When I wrote the post that eventually got this discussion rolling, one of those things people “knew” is that a copyright holder is obligated to sue to defend their copyright. This is an opinion that a lot of people had based on a misunderstanding and outdated information. Once upon a time, it would have been totally true (and still is in some circumstances and locales). But one of the few things about modern US copyright law that I really like is that we currently don’t require a copyright holder to do anything to maintain their copyright. You can register, but that registration is mostly meant for your future legal cases if you want to draw damages. The minute you publish original content in the US, you own it, no questions asked. A failure to register doesn’t lose you the copyright, it just makes your lawsuits a little trickier.
Instead, lawsuits are generally used to either stop an action, punish a violation, or to ensure that the right people are being paid for a work. These are entirely voluntary. That’s not to say that filing the lawsuit makes you a dick, not at all, you should have the right to defend your work. Rather, when someone says that the lawsuit was an obligation, they’re working under a false assumption. Corporations aren’t “obligated” to protect their copyright from fear of losing it since it’s nearly impossible to lose a copyright. Their lawsuits on copyright are entirely about ensuring that no one else profits from their work or prevents them from profiting on it themselves.
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.
Every year, as this time comes around, I sit back and think a lot about what exactly scares people. So many things that we deal with in our everyday lives can be so unassuming to most but absolutely terrifying to a few. But as I once pointed out, I’m not particularly afraid of things that require a lot of abstract thinking. Stick me in a situation where my entire biology is telling me to get out and I will be fairly afraid, but if I have to imagine something hurting me, I generally also imagine being able to fight back. Masked men with a machete? I wonder why no one’s grabbed the farm tools they just ran by. Animatronics in a pizza shop? I’m familiar with how fragile animatronics actually are. And, as much as people are caught up in some sort of clown hysteria right now, there’s really only ever been one clown outside of fiction that anyone had any real reason to be worried about.
Well, maybe two if you count the threat of obesity.
This doesn’t just hold for the small personal horrors either. As I pointed out once about the apocalypse, a lot of the allure for these scenarios is the feeling that we could somehow plan or prepare to handle them. Every apocalyptic story involves the survivor who finds their way out of it and deals with the horrors in front of them despite the odds. Aliens have invaded? You’ll join the resistance. Zombie hordes marching across the landscape attacking everyone they come across? There are entire websites devoted to planning your survival strategy. And nuclear winter? I know it sounds absolutely terrifying but we’ve actually survived something like that once before. So, despite how horrible they may seem to a lot of people, they’re never something I really sit back and worry about. As I once told my friend, the things that actually have kept me up at night are the things you could never prepare for.