Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Science Fiction Tropes, Ranked (Barnes & Noble Edition)

I’ve posted about science fiction tropes before, but as we’re now deep into the Era of Social Distancing, at least some writing has got to happen, right?

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.

And who doesn’t like space pirates?

A drop of water for your thoughts…

Get Ready for Flip & Burn: Expanse Season 4 this Friday!

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.

Anyway, Amazon picked up the show and are about to drop season four this Friday. In fact, you can begin your binge watching with a modicum of solace as they’ve already renewed it for season five. Early looks at the series are positive and I have to agree with Alicia Lutes over at Vulture who urges you to check it out.

And if that’s not enough, there’s the season four trailer:

Space is big. Really, really big.

I saw Ad Astra this past weekend, which is doing its part to make sci-fi hard like vibranium not squishy like flubber

NASA is very clear on the whole “Space is big” thing.

Scientist James O’Donoghue decided to make an animation to demonstrate how “warp speeds” worked in Star Trek, its various incarnations known for loving science… while certainly not being beholden to rigidly adhering to known norms because writers.

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.

But space is big. Really, really big. So fast is, wait for it, relative.

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.

Science Fiction still Alien to Some Authors

I mentioned on Tuesday that my office is geeky enough to spontaneously start talking about constructed languages.

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.

Sarah Ditum, writing in the Guardian, details how authors have historically, and even today are averse to their work being labeled “science fiction” even as “nerd culture” has never been more dominant.

Worldcons and World Conquest (by way of Pop Culture)

I’ve never been to a Worldcon, but I’m thinking I ought to for when it’s in my backyard.

George R. R. Martin, however, has been to just about every Worldcon he could for several decades running.

This year’s WorldCon is in Dublin, so the Irish Times caught up with him and he mused on WorldCons and fandom and all sorts of things.

If you want more of Martin musing on his career and art, you can also catch an interview of him on Maltin on Movies.

@#$% 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!