Tag Archives: Science Fiction

@#$% yeah I’m going to post about Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison, a writer with a more than active imagination and an activist for writers, died peacefully in his sleep yesterday. he was 84.

You can see write-ups in Variety and the Los Angeles Times.

A brief, but excellent remembrance is from Mark Evanier, who knew him for almost 50 years. I think he put it best when he said:

Harlan was a writer who made other writers proud to be writers.

He goes on to… not go into how Harlan Ellison turned “cranky” into an art form. Indeed, in the past decade or so, I’ve read numerous anecdotes lauding Ellison’s influence, but noting that he could switch from congenial to cantankerous depending on when you approached him.

But time and again in those anecdotes you will see how Harlan Ellison stood up for himself and other writers. He was not about to let writers be disrespected, dismissed, and above all, be unpaid. And he backed up this attitude in word and deed: do not underestimate the writer.

Seriously, in D&D terms, Harlan Ellison is the person you bring up when someone muses whether bards could ever be dangerous.

Dungeon Master (DM): You see a bard standing in your way. He has pulled out his lute.
Player One: A bard?!?
Player Two: I unsheathe my sword
Player Three: Seriously, DM? We’re ready for a Tiamat-level monster and you–
DM: The bard starts playing his lute. He steps into the light. It’s Harlan Ellison.
Player One: @#$%!
Player Two: I lower my sword and back away slowly
Player Three: I toss him a couple gold coins and say, “Semper reddere scriptor.”

If you’ve only known Ellison for his excellent work in television (Star Trek, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits), I urge you to seek out some of his other works. The short stories ” “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman” and “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.”

I also have a certain fondness for his 1987 graphic novel anthology with Ken Steacy, Night and the Enemy.

 

I’ll leave with the author in his own, not-safe-for-work words, regarding paying the writer:

R.I.P. Harlan Ellison. I mean, I don’t think it’s your style, but R.I.P.

All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by… and maybe some deflector shields

Rockets and starships and especially naval ships getting spacefaring analogues occupy my thoughts from time to time. Okay, a lot of the time. I know I’m not alone in this gentle obsession, so it was nice to come across this lengthy article by Jeff “Hageshii01” Venancio all about military ship types in actual naval history and how they’ve been applied in science fiction settings.

This is probably a good time to mention that, if you want to scratch your sci-fi itch and you’ll be in the DC area around Memorial Day, you should check out Escape Velocity. I will be there as part of the Jabberwocky Audio Theater performance of War of the Worlds, but there’s a lot of other fun stuff that weekend, including a panel about Aircraft Carriers in Space and also one about Honor Harrington.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the original poem alluded to in the title above, that’s “Sea Fever” by John Masfield. You may remember a certain captain referencing it:

The Clarke Centennial

100 years ago today, in a small town in England, Arthur Clarke was born.

Perhaps he’ll always be best known by the public at large for 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is certainly how I was first introduced to his work. Later, when I had a chance to delve deeper into my Dad’s collection of 50s paperbacks, I came across Childhood’s End and later still, “The Star” — a very short story that nevertheless haunts me every time I read it (spoiler alert: I’ve linked to the actual story, so you should avoid reading it if you want a holly, jolly Christmas).

Clarke’s work is endless inventive and, at times, as distant as some of the objects in space he describes with ease. But as cold as he might seem to his individual characters, his work often shows a warmth and optimism about the human spirit. I suppose this conflict comes because while we see his characters such as Heywood Floyd or Robert Singh struggle mightily to do good, Clarke makes sure we never forget they are mortal with finite, mortal lifespans. Nevertheless, I always find myself drawn into his work.

I will plan to update this posts with remembrances that will surely come today. You can also hear what he had to say 10 years ago in celebration of his 90th birthday.

UPDATE (later that same centennial):

 

Going Faster than the Speed of Light with Imaginary Numbers

For many of us writing science fiction, a common decision point is how hard or soft we should make the world(s) we’re building. A perennial area is whether we allow faster-than-light travel or not (i.e., warping, folding space, entering stargates, traveling through hyperspace, etc.).

Scientist and science fiction author Catherine Asaro explains her own journey in coming up with a way to have interstellar ships that can move at the speed of narrative without  willfully ignoring Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Space Opera Tropes

Speculative fiction writer Charles Stross has written a blog post about space opera clichés which has been brought to my attention by one of the denizens of MOSF.

I haven’t read too much of Charles Stross, though I like his imaginative and subtly disturbing short story, “Rogue Farm.” It sounds like he enjoys being a bit harder with his sci-fi and space opera than some, which comes through in this list. For that reason, I can see how some writers might not be as concerned with some of entries on this list, but reading it in total, I think it’s a good reality-check/world-building check. Because frankly, if you ignore the majority of these points, your sci-fi world is going to seem incomplete and not well thought out. And any clever plots or characterizations will ring hollow as you haven’t successfully suspended disbelief.

This is very timely as I’m working on a short story involving a space elevator, something so geeky that, on one level, I must make the world-building believable — otherwise what’s the point? At the same time, the aspect of the story that’s really taken it out of mothballs has been the arc I’ve figured out for the main character. Ah, the joy of balance!

Recommended Reading: The Hugo Awards and the Pop Culture Zeitgeist

Amy Wallace expands and updates her look at this year’s Hugo Awards and the people involved that she first reported on in August. I found the first version very illuminating and this latest version is just that or more so: really going into some of the personalities and passions on the different sides.

It’s certainly true that you should write from your own perspective. Chasing trends is generally not an ingredient in a unique voice. At the same time, I count the denizens of speculative fiction as my tribe, so I think it’s good to know some of the conversations the tribe is having (in this case, it appears there’s some discussion of who gets to be in the tribe).

P.S. Here’s a closer look at the Alfie Awards mentioned in the article.