Archive for June, 2012

In Defense of Science Fiction: Interstellar Travel

Today we’re going to look at interstellar travel. A few years ago, someone science-y looked at interstellar travel, declared it impossible, and inadvertently killed interstellar travel in science fiction.

(By the by, by interstellar travel, we’re talking about jetting off from solar system to solar system, discovering new life and new civilizations, boldly going where no one has gone before sort of travel.)

This goes back to the “science fiction’s science must be correct” argument that occasionally breaks out.

Even if we ignore that for the moment, like time travel, there’s competing arguments that say that interstellar travel IS possible. Some people think it’ll take us a couple hundred years, some people think if we can just warp spacetime enough, it’ll be sooner. And then there’s the idea that we could harness dark energy which is lovely and is my going favorite.

And, realistically, we probably could do it today, if we wanted. You’d just find yourself in one of those situations where one generation builds the spaceship and blasts off, and then, 15 generations later, we reach wherever we were going and no one knows how anything works anymore or why they’re doing what they’re doing. (Which is, admittedly, kind of awesome.)

Now, going back to the “science must be correct or it’s not science fiction” argument – I’m going to go ahead and say it doesn’t, not really, not as long as everything makes sense and is entertaining. And we, as humans, love to go places we’ve never been before. Allowing interstellar travel opens the entire universe up to us, full of strange creatures and planets and anything we can think of.

And I do believe we’ll get there, unless we blow ourselves up first.

(And heck, I read something once that said warp travel – the type Star Trek uses – might actually be possible, considering our current understanding of spacetime. So that’s awesome too.)

In Defense of Science Fiction: Time Travel

For the next two weeks, I’m going to look at typical aspects of science fiction that seem to have fallen out of favor for whatever reason. First up: time travel.

Why has this fallen into disrepute? Well, according to modern science, the amount of energy necessary to go back in time is infinite. And, of course, you can’t draw infinite energy because you’ll destroy the universe (personally, I think there’s a story there anyway). So, say the naysayers, time travel is out.

It’s impossible.

Now, if we want to get really science-y, we can talk about spacetime and how you can move forward in both time and space since they’re essentially the same thing, and blah blah blah.

My point is this: sure, maybe modern science says no. But here’s the thing – science, especially physics, changes all the time. Sure, back a hundred years ago when it was a less-developed field and we hadn’t figured out how to split atoms or that the universe was expanding, it was easy to justify time travel. Why couldn’t you go forward or backwards in time? There was nothing that said we couldn’t!

But even now, I don’t think you can rule it out. The universe is too fluid, our understanding constantly changing. There’s tons of fun theories right now that could be used to explain time travel. Sure, maybe the ol’ warp around the sun to go faster than the speed of light theory is bunk, but with a little twisting, the sky (the universe?) is the limit.

Besides, I don’t think you can knock it if you haven’t tried it.

And science fiction is about possibilities. What if this? What if that? To look at a classic aspect and write it off just because modern mentality says it ain’t so – that’s anti-scifi. A hundred years ago, no one thought we could make it to the moon either.

Science Fiction Needs Heart

(Just a note for anyone who’s confused – we’ve gone to a T/Th posting schedule for the summer. Don’t cry – it’ll be okay.)

We’re going to be looking at science fiction in depth for the next few weeks, so I thought I’d get things started a bit early.

Science fiction. The “science” is the important part, right? That’s what separates it from the other genres. That’s what makes it important and different.

Is it?

Yes, science fiction gets its genre name from the fact the many of the original stories involved science and technologies that had yet to be explored – space travel, time travel, robots, smart houses, hoverboards (you LIED to us, Back to the Future. And the Jetsons). But what science fiction does, even more than that, is put society into the future, where things have been extrapolated from the present (both technology and culturally), and see how we, as a species, react to these changes.

Science fiction is, and always has been, a commentary on the human psyche.

And that’s why, perhaps more than any other genre, science fiction needs heart. Because the human reaction is such a necessary part of most science fiction, we need to be able to identify with the characters. We need to care about them, understand their reactions to the new and the weird, and wonder if we would react the same way in the same circumstances.

Science fiction writers/producers/whatever don’t necessarily need to be rocket scientists, but they do need to understand people.

Think about your favorite scifi book, movie, TV show. What drew you most to it? Was it the strange new worlds? The weird alien species? The mind-boggling physics?

Or was it the characters?

Did you tune in each week to see the science, or to see how people reacted to the science?

And perhaps some of the most interesting aspects of true character-based science fiction is how even the aliens can have human characteristics.

What’s your favorite science fiction whatever, Squiders? Is it the science that drew you in? Why or why not?

The Evil Lure of the Jigsaw Puzzle

Imagine, if you will, the following picture. You’re at someone’s house. It could be your own, it could be someone else’s. Maybe you have a glass of wine in one hand. You step into the dining room to discover a partially complete jigsaw puzzle. Maybe part of the edges have been done, or maybe someone has completed a house or a boat and then wandered off.

“Oh, I’ll just do a couple of pieces,” you think to yourself.

Is there anything more devious than a half-done jigsaw puzzle? You’re minding your own business. You have better things to do. Yet, hours later, you’re still attempting to fit pieces together, wondering where the heck that last edge has gotten to, because you swear you’ve touched every piece in the box at least twice.

It’s maddening, really.

Is this a writer thing? We just can’t leave something unfinished? We have to see where the thing goes, even if we can look at the picture at the front of the box?

No, really, those are all questions. My family is notoriously easy to distract with puzzles, but we’re all of the writerly bent, so I don’t know if it’s genetics or a personality thing.

Are you a writer and can you resist the call of the jigsaw puzzle? For how long? Do you have to leave the house?

Are you the sort who can work on it for a certain amount of time and then go do something else without the puzzle lurking in the back of your mind?

How long can you leave a puzzle on the table before your significant other tries to throttle you? (My husband – not as attracted to puzzles. There may be hope for our offspring, if it is a genetic thing.)

Do you sometimes seek out jigsaw puzzles like an addict?

Let me know I’m not alone, Squiders.

Gardening (An Analogy)

So, I have a vegetable garden in my backyard. This is year two – last year we had potatoes, onions, spinach, and broccoli, and it was lovely. Everything was very good and we reaped a plentiful harvest.

This year we have potatoes, carrots, peas, and then some broccoli, spinach, and two onions that regrew from last year, though I’m not sure how. Especially the onions. I apparently have no idea how onions actually reproduce.

The spinach and broccoli that regrew never really reached a harvestable stage. Instead, they grew in very odd places and went to seed almost immediately. What leaves the spinach grew looked diseased, and I’m not sure the broccoli ever actually broccolied.

The onions are flowering and ginormous. My husband keeps saying I should pull them out, but I kind of want to see what the do next.

The potatoes and peas are happy as pie. The carrots, despite being planted in an equidistant, straight row, are growing in strange little carrot clumps.

My vegetable garden this year reminds me of the writing process. Last year, when everything was new, everything was where it was supposed to be, laid out perfectly, and everything was easy. Like when you first start a story. Or when you’ve outlined and know exactly when each element is supposed to come into play and where it’s supposed to go.

This year, I’ve got random remnants that I thought I’d gotten rid of, weeds seeping in, some surprises, and I’m interested to see how it all goes. We’ve all had stories like that, haven’t we? We pull a plot element out halfway through, then forget we’ve done so and later find sickly elements that need to be removed.  Or elements that are choking what we do want. And there are characters and plots that come out of nowhere and yet, work so perfectly. Or when you write just to see where the story’s going.

Both are creative processes, if you think about it. Both require planning and creativity to accomplish. And in the end, you hope to reap a bountiful harvest.

(Also, just a reminder that we’re starting the summer T/Th schedule next week, so the next post shall be on Tuesday, June 19th.)

Handwriting for Fun and Profit

If you’re anything like me, Squiders, you mostly write by typing. Word processor, blank page, type type type. It’s faster, it tells you when you misspell a word (though not when you put the wrong word in), it’s easy to transfer in between devices, and it’s faster to get to your readers/betas/critique group.

So why ever go back to handwriting, with its wrist cramping? You have to be able to read your handwriting (increasingly difficult in this digital age). It takes much longer, and it wastes paper and ink. (Or graphite. Or crayon, if you’re really desperate.)

Well, here are a few reasons you might consider switching to handwriting, if only for a little bit.

1) Portability
There may be times when you can’t take your laptop with you, or you just simply don’t (like you’ve run to the dentist for an appointment, only to find your dentist is running 45 minutes late). You can waste time by reading expired magazines. You can try to type on your phone. (It’s possible that people – probably people who text waaaay more than I do – can actually type at a reasonable speed on their phones. If you are one of these, you are a crazy mutant.)

It’s much easier to just carry a notebook around with you. I usually try to have one with me. I can start stories, continue ones from earlier, or plot out a new idea. You can doodle characters and freewrite around plot issues. Sure, it may be slow, and your wrist may hurt after a while, but it’s better than just wasting time playing Angry Birds. (I am terrible at Angry Birds.)

2) Writer’s Block
Have you ever been stuck? Days spent staring at a blank page with little to no words to show for it?

I find, when the story gets stuck, that a change of technique can help. Trying to write by hand can sometimes free up something in your head and get the story flowing. And then you can switch back to your general writing manners, and usually the block will stay gone, though you may have to handwrite a few days in a row to get there.

3) Stealthiness
For those of you who work in an office, have you ever had a period of time where you have nothing to do? You’re waiting on three people to get back to you, or your program needs to compile, or the lab said they’d get your stuff back to you on Friday.

Sure, you can hang out on Facebook, but sometimes it’s too obvious. Admittedly, depending on your work, you might be able to type in a word document without raising too many questions, but writing in a notebook adds another level of security. You look busy. It’s hard for other people to see exactly what you’re doing. And, at the end of the day, you can take the pages home with you, leaving no evidence, bwhahaha.

Any additional thoughts to add?

Looking Again at Genre (A Rebuttal to Root Beer)

Early on in this blog’s life, I wrote a post about how genre is like root beer. Long story short, it seems like every story has some element that stuffs it into a genre, no matter what else is included in the story. (For example, if there’s aliens, no matter how small a part, it’s science fiction.)

I’m starting to rethink this a bit.

I’m currently reading The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. (Yes, I know I’m a few years behind on this. It’s what I do.) If you are unfamiliar with the story, it is an extremely long, very well researched story, essentially about Dracula and what he’s doing in the modern (if by modern, you mean the 1970s, and I do) day. It’s told mostly from the viewpoint of a teenager, though there are stories within stories – her father’s, and her father’s advisor.

It has vampires. Should it should be fantasy, right? Or at least paranormal, according to the root beer theory.

But I don’t think it is – and neither, apparently, do the people who have reviewed it on Amazon. The top tags for the book are: historical fiction, vampire, mystery. (Both “adventure” and “literature” show up before either fantasy or paranormal do.)

Between examples like this, which could, I suppose, be called “literary fantasy” or “fantastic literature,” if I felt like making up subgenres, and the work I did on the Subgenre Studies last year, I’m beginning to change my opinion. Maybe there doesn’t have to be a root beer in a story. Maybe the author’s intent, and the themes and style of the story, are what determine genre, and not what’s in it.

What do you think, Squiders?