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for Writing Speculative Fiction: A Nerd's Guide

5/18/2006 c29 Justin Tim
Streamline it a bit and you have a bonefide guide to 'NOT' screwing up a take-over.

Seriously, do invading aliens suffer the same delusions of granduer as our meglomaniac human leaders? ...
5/5/2006 c14 The Mumbling Sage
Single scarriest idea I've ever had (though I know it's not unique): bioterrorism in space. Or on Earth, too, which is what can really worry me. A single tube of Ebola dropped in the right place could probably wipe out a substancial part of the U.S.- or anywhere else, for that matter. And the technology behind it is frighteningly simple. Even someone with stone-age technology could do it, provided they had space-age smarts. Which, unfortunatly, many terrorists do.
5/5/2006 c13 The Mumbling Sage
One exception to the 'No Jews in Space' (Besides my English teacher): The last Dune novel by Frank Herbert. I forget the majority of the plot, but there is a small colony of Jews on one planet (an ethnic pocket, yes, but at least a Jewish one).
5/3/2006 c28 25The Mumbling Sage
I found a great way to mix cultures: use a globe or at atlas. Spin the globe, or randomly open the atlas to two different pages. Then, combine the culture, environment and/or inhabitants of the nations you picked. I've got some interesting ones out of that, though I haven't used any yet- there was a Gold Rush town with apartheid, for one thing...
4/21/2006 c24 10K. Hopkins
No, sorry but i didn't get the email, could you try again? thanks
4/20/2006 c28 7Skyrunner
You know, this thing has really showed me how much stuff in science-fiction one can write about. Anyways, I'd like to ask for some advice about cultures in sci-fi. Lets say one develops a specifc culture for a specific society, but the story they have in mind for this setting does not allow a lot of room for the culture to be fleshed out for the reader. How can one overcome that obstactle? I kind of ran into that problem with Battle of Paradise, developing a whole culture but rarely getting a chance to show it without detracting from the main story.

Keep on keeping on-Skyrunner out
4/20/2006 c28 7Lorendiac
First, let's get the obligatory nitpick out of the way! (I have a reputation to maintain in that department.)

You said: "THIS point I cannot empathize enough."

I think you meant "emphasize." Empathize would be to share someones feelings.

But your comments about people's views of possible utopian cultures (or cultures that seem utopian but have some nasty aspects they try to sweep under the rug) reminded me of a brilliant look at such issues that I've read with admiration.

Have you read "Kirinyaga: A Fable of Utopia," a collection of science fiction stories in a common setting, written by Mike Resnick?

In an essay at the back of the book, he talks about how it started. A friend (a fellow SF writer, whose name I forget) called him up and said he was trying to round up contributors for an anthology of SF stories that would each be set in a different "utopian society." The friend had already developed a few ground rules as basic guidance for his contributors, if and when he got them, in order to rule out some of the more obvious and easy ways of attacking the problem.

As near as I can reconstruct from memory, the basic ideas went like this:

1. It is hundreds of years in the future, and space travel has become cheap enough that just about any sizable group (a religious cult, an ethnic tribe, a group of zealous believers in a radical economic system, whatever) can afford to make arrangements to set up their own little world in some obscure corner of the galaxy and organize a new society from scratch to suit themselves.

2. You can quit at any time! A group of colonists can set up its own "local government" along any lines it pleases - democracy, monarchy, socialism, whatever - but representatives of the larger government based on Earth will be watching you from a space station in orbit. A basic, universal "civil right" is that any local citizen has the option of travelling to the local spaceport and saying into a microphone, "Help! I want to emigrate! I hate it here!" and a ship will come down and offer to fly him off to some other world where he might be happier. Dictatorial efforts to prevent people from physically reaching the spaceport and calling for a ride out of here will be violently suppressed by the observers in orbit.

Hence, the local society cannot JUST be a "utopia" in the eyes of a small, aristocratic upper class that treats everybody else like slave labor. (There may be an "upper" class, all right - but even the lower classes must sincerely believe they live in a utopia - or else they'd all emigrate and leave the aristocrats to grow their own food for a change, right?)

3. The Main Viewpoint Character in each story has to be a True Believer in the ideals of the local utopia. He lives there by choice and intends to live there for the rest of his life. He knows other societies exist, but he honestly believes that his society is organized along "perfect" principles, or a lot closer to "perfect" than any other society he ever saw or heard of. He may have some problems with other individuals from time to time, but nothing that successfully shakes his faith in the underlying perfection of local society in general.

In other words, there would be no room for stories that were all from the perspective of a tourist from a culture very much like the late 20th Century USA, who was only visiting for a month or two, and who spent the entire story studying the quaint customs of the natives and saying to himself, "Hey, these poor fools THINK they live in a Utopia! Isn't that crazy? Good thing I get to go home next week!" :)

Mike Resnick says that these rules raised some interesting challenges, and made him approach the problem of setting up an "allegedly utopian society" in a different way than he probably would have ever done otherwise. The anthology project by his friend never actually got finished, but Resnick did develop some ideas and wrote a story that fit within the rules his friend had laid out, on a planetoid that had been terraformed to make it suitable for a group of Kenyans who wanted to go back to the basics of their ancestral culture. The basics, in this case, being Stone Age technology. (I have to admit, that's about as back-to-the-basics as any human culture can possibly get!) No gunpowder, no electricity (except for a few bits of communications equipment), no metalworking, no steam engines, no horses, no antibiotics, no X-rays, no literacy for the children, basically no machinery . . . and most importantly, no Caucasians and no Christianity!

The story was successful enough that Resnick wrote another with the same narrator, same setting. And then another. And another. And another . . . you get the idea. They were frequently nominated for various awards in the SF field, and often they won.

I think the book collection is some of the best stuff I've ever seen Resnick do. Very thought-provoking, to see the narrator's stubborn insistence upon doing things that will probably strike Western readers as cruel, unnecessary, barbaric, etc., but which the narrator (a very intelligent and well-educated man) nonetheless views as absolutely necessary for the greater good of the local "utopia," in strict adherence to ancient laws of the Kikuyu tribe of Kenya and their traditional religion. A great example of how a writer can really spice up his work by exploring a radically different culture, instead of just writing about a culture that's "almost exactly like ours, except everybody has laser pistols and spaceships and some of them have foreign-sounding names." :)

(Not that I'm thinking of any popular movies or TV series, or any of the "authorized" novels and amateur fanfics derived from them, of course.)
4/15/2006 c28 11invaderoperaghost
I think it would be particularly fun to write a sci-fi based on Rome in Latin.
4/15/2006 c25 invaderoperaghost
This is very informative and helpful, but I need more advice.I wrote a sci-fi/horror story a while back for English class. I want to post it here, but I really hope that it's not cliche.I know that I don't take my story too seriously, because I laugh whenever I read it, but my friends seem to be disturbed by my villains to the point where they say that they say that thwy will have nightmares, so I guess that's probably a good thing for a horror story.My monsters include mutated manatees and zombies with their heads on fire. When I post it in a day or two, (I just joined this site, so I have to wait) would you mind reading it and giving me some advice?Is a fire extinguisher too cliche for a weapon? Is it cliche for the good guys to lose and meet horrible fates at the end of the story?This has really helped me understand how to write better sci-fi. Thank you, and I'm sorry that this is so long.
4/15/2006 c28 7Alankria
Hey, interesting chapter here. I'll be sure to consider some of the lesser-used cultures when I want some inspiration (with, of course, wikipedia at my side). You know, I still haven't quite figured out what culture the Krak'vi people resemble in Painted Angels - they're a dark skinned amalgamation of many things, which I suppose is what would happen in the future. At least they're not Russian or German *grins* And I have been trying to give poeple different skin colours (Kaori, Panthen...). But I'll definitely take all your tips here on board.
4/8/2006 c2 10K. Hopkins
thank you for the reviews, i'd be interested in conversing further about your thoughts on msn. feel free to send me your send me your email address so i we can get it touch. im sure there'll be many interesting conversations to be had.
4/7/2006 c1 K. Hopkins
i agree with nearly all of your points,and its a very good insightful essay. your right about all the same predictable uncreative crap thats on here... i dunno if mines some of it too. there are some good ones out there like mbwun. have a read at what ive done so far to my attempt at writting a 'different' story, called 'Twilight of the Heralds' and tell me what you think.
4/5/2006 c27 1rrmehta364
Yes, as a denizen primarily of the fantasy side, i must say the cliches can get trite real quick.
4/5/2006 c27 Sharpes
I must say, I'm glad I found this invaluable resource on writing science fiction. I'll certainly refer to it from time to time in my own writing and make amends.

I completely agree with you on the fantasy aspect. There's far too much emphasis on what has already been done and not enough lateral engagement with this genre; to think 'outside the box' if you will. One certainly doesn't have to focus on magic and elves when they can write something alternative, something that challenges the general notion of what fantasy entails. I have to admit in my own attempts at fantasy I've been guilty of using cliche material. =/

That Aztec idea is rather neat though and I have considered working on a fantasy based on Maori culture but alas I haven't got round to it yet.
3/31/2006 c27 25The Mumbling Sage
WoW...someone actually DOES spend his time writing about how to write Sci Fi. I'm so happy...Maybe this is a sign that all is not lost...
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