So here’s another list ranking tropes via Ross Johnson for Barnes & Noble. I might quibble with the ranking of the top 5 (dystopian governments and time travel would be my 2 and 1 respectively), but everything on the list should give you a knowing nod or a smile.
I finished up my rewatch of seasons 1-3 of The Expanse this past weekend and it was just as good the second time.
If you don’t know this hard sci-fi series, the original trailer isn’t a bad way to gauge whether you’re interested or not:
There is a running theory that SyFy will cancel any series you love, like Lucy pulling away the football from Charlie Brown. SyFy did not disappoint, even as The Expanse got to be bigger and bolder and beloved by audiences, so they canceled it at the end of the third season. I mean, in fairness, it can’t have been cheap to produce, but perhaps Syfy resents spending more on something than Sharknado.
I loved the show since its slow-burning first season and continue to enjoy how they’ve layered in more complexity and world-building. That a big chunk of the show is the small-crew-in-lone-ship-encountering-adventure sub-genre certainly doesn’t hurt (as regular readers may recall, I like that sci-fi sub-genre so much, that’s the basis of my own not-nearly-as-hard-sci-fi show).
The Expanse is frequently compared to Game of Thrones for its multi-character storytelling and far-reaching world-building. I’d also point out that many of the characters and situations can feel very, very real even as they deal with fantastical occurrences. This is hard sci-fi, but with some of the Arthur C. Clarke-style sufficiently-advanced-technology-indistinguishable-from-magic.
In any case, even though vast distances can be crossed in three days or three weeks “at maximum warp” based the needs of the episode, official unofficial definitions of how faster than the speed of light Star Trek‘s warp speeds have been documented. So, Warp 9.9 –basically the point where Scotty would presumably tell Kirk in no uncertain terms that the Enterprise is about to fly apart– is 2,083 times the speed of light. That’s fast.
So I don’t agree with the headline that warp speed is “achingly slow” –I mean I’d like to get to the next star system in the same time it take us to get to the other side of the planet– it only goes so far, so fast.
As an inveterate geek who can pass as a “muggle,” I’m well acquainted with the concept of downplaying any connections to nerd/geek culture. My reluctance to unfurl my own weird flag has waned greatly over the past 15 years or so, but I understand that reticence.
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.”
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.
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.
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!