Tag Archives: fantasy

Cory Doctorow on why science fiction is crap at predicting the future

Predicting the future isn’t what science fiction is for, says Cory. Science fiction reflects the aspirations and anxieties that people have about technology at the moment it was written.

It’s not just technology. It’s also politics and social change. And it applies to fantasy. H.P. Lovecraft in real life was a full-throated bigot who feared invading hordes of filthy mongrel immigrants; he turned that into some of the most powerful horror and fantasy written (enjoyed by legions, including the descendants of those same filthy mongrel immigrants). Star Trek has always been a reflection of whatever was going on in the news at the time the shows and movies aired.

Cory covers a lot of ground in this lively interview with Utah Public Radio’s Access Utah:

In a recent column, Doctorow says that “all the data collected in giant databases today will breach someday, and when it does, it will ruin peoples’ lives. They will have their houses stolen from under them by identity thieves who forge their deeds (this is already happening); they will end up with criminal records because identity thieves will use their personal information to commit crimes (this is already happening); … they will have their devices compromised using passwords and personal data that leaked from old accounts, and the hackers will spy on them through their baby monitors, cars, set-top boxes, and medical implants (this is already hap­pening)…” We’ll talk with Cory Doctorow about technology, privacy, and intellectual property.

Cory Doctorow is the co-editor of popular weblog Boing Boing and a contributor to The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, Wired, and many other newspapers, magazines and websites. He is a special consultant to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit civil liberties group that defends freedom in technology law, policy, standards and treaties. Doctorow is also an award-winning author of numerous novels, including “Little Brother,” “Homeland,” and “In Real Life.”

Today’s creative writing: 596 words, 6,997 words total, on “The Reluctant Magician”

I decided to set a target of 70,000 words for this novel. It’s an arbitrary number — I don’t care if it goes significantly longer or shorter. 70,000 words seems like a good length for an urban fantasy caper novel.

The outline is still working well for me. I know where I need to go. And it does not preclude improvisation — I came up with an ending for the scene I’m working on that fits quite nicely. It isn’t in the outline, and it doesn’t throw the outline off either.

“Stranger Things,” “love letter to the VCR era,” taps into older, darker American myths

The 80s influences of “Stranger Things” are obvious — Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, the “Goonies” and other 80s movies that appealed to preadolescents of that decade. But Joshua Rothman at The New Yorker finds an older, darker influence: H.P. Lovecraft

The scientific worldview says that the universe is neutral. It doesn’t care if you live or die. But Lovecraft had a different view: The universe is evil. It hates us. And it’s supremely powerful, inhabited by entities who are to us as we are to insects, and are eager to torment us just for giggles. In Lovecraft’s view, the Earth is a tiny little island of relative safety that could open to that wider, hostile universe with a single pinprick of reality. In Lovecraft’s view, the pinprick came from miscegenation — racial contamination — Lovecraft was a full-throated bigot who hated and feared brown-skinned people and Eastern and Southern Europeans.

But Lovecraft has many heirs and imitators today, and they substitute other forces for racial impurity. In the case of “Stranger Things,” the horror is unleashed by US government scientific bureaucracy, as it often is in King’s novels.

Rothman identifies two target audiences for “Stranger Things:” Adults who were children in the 80s and view the series as a big ol’ nostalgia wallow, and children who look back on that era as a golden age before they were born, sort of like the 50s were viewed when I was a teen-ager in the 70s.

I’m from an older generation; I turned 20 in 1981. I enjoyed the nostalgia of “Stranger Things” because the period portrayed on the show was not all that different from the early 70s, when I was the same age as the show’s child heroes. As kids in the early 70s, we roamed freely around the neighborhoods on our bikes and engaged in nerdy pursuits without parental supervision. We didn’t have Dungeons & Dragons; that hadn’t been invented yet. But we played marathon games of Risk.

This idea of the universe being actively hateful and evil is a new one for me. I’m a rationalist, I don’t believe that the real universe is evil. An indifferent universe can be hostile enough at times.

But the idea of an actively hostile and evil universe certainly opens possibilities for fantastic fiction.

Joe Haldeman said that in science fiction, the universe is neutral and knowable through reason and science; in fantasy, the universe is unknowable; and in horror the universe is hostile. (I think he said that — he said something along those lines but I may be misremembering the specifics.) While science fiction and fantasy are usually paired together as “fantastic fiction,” science fiction’s actual closest sibling is the police procedural, Haldeman notes.

Today’s creative writing: 778 words on “The Reluctant Magician”

866 words total. I’m just getting started.

Rather, I’m just getting started for the third time. I made a couple of false starts.

Then I read this essay from Michael Moorcock on how to write an adventure novel in three days.

I do not plan to write this novel in three days. If I can finish it in a year, I’ll be satisfied. But the essay got me thinking about outlining.

Moorcock doesn’t outline exactly. But he does have situations and locations worked out in advance, at the ready, like a metaphorical briefcase into which he can dip and pull out whatever he needs to keep the writing going.

I’ve never tried creative writing with an outline. I always thought outlining was the opposite of creative, and looked down on it. But after reading the Moorcock essay I realized that’s just a silly prejudice. Some excellent writers work from outlines. Others work freestyle. It’s just a matter of what works best; outliners are no better than non-outliners. Maybe outlining would work for me?

I did some research on outlines and came across the snowflake method. You’re outlining your novel by starting from the center and working outward. Like a snowflake — get it?

You start with a one-sentence summary, build that to a paragraph, expand further to studies of your secondary characters, and so on. I started with the snowflake method but abandoned it immediately after the one-sentence-summary stage, because it wasn’t working for me. But outlining was working for me.

I don’t mean a formal outline, with roman numerals and all that. I mean I just started writing down notes about the novel, in sequence. Who were my main characters, what was their problem, how were they going to solve it?

I also remembered a tip from Cory Doctorow on how to structure a novel: A character gets in trouble, does something intelligent to solve the problem but that only makes the problem worse. Repeat that several times until all is very nearly lost, and then the character does one more intelligent thing to solve the problem, and this time it works

Or something like that. I can’t find where Cory said that; the closest I can find is this article on InformationWeek that I wrote nine years ago but have no memory of writing. (That happens sometimes. I write a lot of articles.)

I worked on my outline for a couple of weeks and ended up writing 3,178 words, which I think covers the whole novel.

I think an outline is great for me for a couple of reasons: First, it allows me to forget about the big picture for a little while. I don’t have to hold the whole novel in my head every day, just whatever bit I’m working on at the moment.

The outline is also helpful because the novel I’m working on is a cross between a caper story and urban fantasy, in a fantasy city resembling 1970s-80s America in some ways, and drastically different in other ways, with a lot of background that needs to be explained in a lively fashion and moving parts to keep track of.

I’m not going to claim “aha! I’ve solved the problem of creative writing and will just keep plugging along and producing one novel after another!” I’ve thought that was the case many times before.

Wikipedia entry for Sunnydale, the fictional location for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” 

Sunnydale’s size and surroundings are implausible but justified given its origins — to sustain a human population for supernatural evils to prey upon. The town’s founder spared no expense to attract a populace, and Sunnydale thus contains many elements of a large city — which the show’s writers utilized fully for comic effect and narrative convenience. During the first three seasons, Sunnydale is shown to have 38,500 inhabitants,[2] very few high schools,[3] forty-three churches,[4] a small private college,[5] a zoo,[6] a museum,[7] and one modest main street. Even so, it has twelve gothic cemeteries.[8] These cemeteries are so heavily used that services are sometimes held at night.[9] Sunnydale is divided into five neighborhoods. The first is the entertainment district which contains Bronze. The second is the alleys directly behind Bronze which contain the town’s excess supply of pallets and cardboard. The high school makes the third neighborhood. The fourth neighborhood is filled in its entirety by the large graveyard, and lastly the suburban residential sprawl is the final neighborhood. The abundance of very nice homes is made possible by low property values caused by frequent murder.[10]

George R.R. Martin’s annual Losers Party returns to Kansas City this year

George R.R. Martin started an annual tradition at the 1976 World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City. The “Game of Thrones” author hosts a Losers Party for people who’d lost the Hugo Awards, which are awarded at WorldCon every year.

The con returns to KC this year.

David Frese, the Kansas City Star:

Sometimes, legends turn out to be true.

The stories go that back in 1976, when the world science fiction convention Worldcon came to town, Kansas Citians were among the very first to glimpse a little cinematic space opera called “Star Wars.”

Not only that, but at the same convention, author George R.R. Martin threw a party so epic that it continues as an annual event some 40 years later.

Claire North unmasked! Why one life isn’t enough for “Harry August” author

Charlie Jane Anders interviews the pseudonymous author of “The First First Fifteen Lives of Harry August,” which Julie and I both loved.

The author’s real name is Catherine Webb, who write her first book when she was 14, and who wrote seven more successful young-adult novels and a series of fantasy novels for adults using the pseudonym Kate Griffin. Pseudonyms keep a writer from being pigeonholed, but they have their own pitfalls.

Webb made the protagonist of “Harry August” male because a female protagonist would have inevitably made gender more of a focus of the novel than Webb wanted it to be.

The biggest reason for writing a male protagonist was the history of the 20thcentury itself. When Harry August is born, women still don’t have the vote; by the time he dies, the women’s rights movement is a loud voice fighting battles across the world. The change in society in that century is massive, but women were – and are still – discriminated against. Knowing what I do of my own politics, it seemed unlikely that I’d get through the book without being drawn massively into the world of gender politics and the changing battle for women’s rights throughout the century, and while this is vitally important and a story that must be told, the story of the kalachakra didn’t feel like the right way in which to tell it. Writing a male protagonist, therefore, allowed me to focus on the story of the Cronus Club that seemed most appropriate to the narrative.

Webb has training as a historian, and says writing a historical novel requires a mind-trick:

 A great deal of the history wasn’t about big events – Harry August spends a lot of time dodging World War Two, for example – but about zooming in on little things that made the time come alive. Thus, 1936 would not be described by someone living in it as ‘a year when war became inevitable’ since in 1936, war wasn’t inevitable and no one without the burden of retrospect would think of it in terms of war, whatever history has to say on the subject now. Rather, it is a year of jazz, economic recovery and the rise of ‘talkie’ movies. A generic knowledge might point to Charlie Chaplin as being active in this era; a quick internet search reveals the movies he made; a look at the movie of the year (Modern Times) shows that by then talkies were well underway; another click through gives the names of rival ‘talkie’ movies and fairly quickly, from just a general sense of what was happening in a decade, you have the kind of details of leading actors and popular musicians that can bring a year to life.

Wonder Woman Comic-Con trailer. Looks great!

Great dialogue sequence at the end. Is that Lucy “The Office” Davis?

Overall, the clip reminds me of “Captain America,” in that it looks like a realistic historical movie cross-pollinated with a superhero fantasy. That worked quite well in “Captain America.”

Chris Pine is Steve Trevor. He reminds me of Matt Damon here.

Gal Gadot plays WW. She is not difficult to look at.

The movie is in theaters in June.

I’ve been off superhero movies for years, just because none of them look appealing and we don’t really watch many movies anymore. But recently we saw “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and liked it. So now I guess I’m back into superhero movies. Got some catching up to do.

Elvira is thinking about hanging up the wig and slinky gown

 

Actress Cassandra Peterson might keep coming to Comic-Con, but not as the character she’s best known for: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark:

 “I said it was going to be my last year when I was 40, when I was 50, when I was 60,” she says. “It’s not really my last Comic-Con, but it’s probably my last Comic-Con in Elvira drag, because really, how long do people want to see that?” she asks, half-joking.

“I do have to draw the line. I’m turning 65 this September, I’m trying to keep it together, I’m not sure how many years I can keep this working out,” she says, gesturing to her body. She’s worried about how she’s perceived — she doesn’t want to wear out her welcome.

“I don’t think women should have an expiration date, [but] unfortunately, some things don’t hold up as well as others, so there is a thing about playing a particular character — my character is based very much on the sexy, so continuing to try to be really sexy until you’re really old might not work,” she says. “Humor definitely takes the edge off of it, because if you’re self-deprecating, you can still be sexy, and it’s sort of OK, as long as it resonates that way with the fans.”

My $0.02: Mae West never retired, and neither should Elvira.

Why This Might be Elvira’s Last Comic-Con (as Elvira) [Katie Buenneke/LA Weekly]

Via Boing Boing/Jason Weisberger. Thanks!

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Jess Hendel praises grrl power on Game of Thrones for Bustle:

Most obviously, almost of the rulers are now women (or are poised to be women in future seasons). Outside of Jon Snow, it’s hard to even imagine a male ruler in the GoT universe anymore—or at least one who doesn’t totally make a mess of his reign. Daenerys decisively quelled the Masters’ rebellion in Mereen and is headed across the Narrow Sea to conquer Westeros. Yara Greyjoy sails out with her, aiming to capture the throne of the Iron Islands and reclaim their sovereignty. Ellaria and the Sand Snakes rule over Dorne, conspiring with Oleanna Tyrell — the Queen of Thorns — now the sole proprietor of her house. I even got a morbid sense of pleasure (actually, “morbid sense of pleasure” could describe most GoT viewing experiences) at watching Cersei literally annihilate an oppressive religion in one fell swoop and be subsequently crowned Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.

Not to mention the ferocious Lady Mormont (can you imagine how hard it would be to babysit that kid?), and the queenly aspirations Sansa is no doubt mulling over in that shared look with Littlefinger during the “King of the North” scene in the finale. Overall, the Women of Westeros (book club name, anyone?) have maneuvered, manipulated, and all-out fought their way into the throne room — and already seem better equipped to handle the burdens of ruling than their weak, sociopathic, or blatantly incompetent male predecessors.” …

One of my favorite peripheral jokes of this season was Tormund Giantsbane’s blatant crush on Brienne. It would appear to be an empty gag, were it not for the fact that Brienne also seems to be the only woman besides Cersei who is capable of [piquing] Jamie Lannister’s interest. And why shouldn’t a male character desire Brienne? She can have typically “masculine” qualities and still be desirable as a woman.

There’s no mystery to Cersei’s appeal. She’s the Hannibal Lector of GoT — the villain you cheer for.

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Not as good as the original, but “charming.”

I’m failing to understand the controversy behind this movie. The original was very entertaining. It’s still just as entertaining even if the new one stinks.

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Great advice from Heather Havrilesky to a woman who gets obsessive crushes about unattainable men.

Then about halfway through I realized abruptly that Heather’s advice is relevant to more than just people in that woman’s particular situation. Heather isn’t just talking about romantic crushes. She’s talking about fantasizing about a better life and living in that fantasy world, rather than appreciating what you have and working to make your life better.

Heather gives great advice on her correspondent’s major problem. But she neglects a relatively minor point: The correspondent’s roommate needs to chill on the PDAs in the living room. Nobody wants to sit in the same room as that.

Ask Polly: Why Do I Always Want Unavailable Men? – Heather Havrilesky, New York Magazine

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The excellent Charlie Jane Anders – whom I just learned is leaving io9 – oh noes! – asks and answers the question:

io9 Was Founded on the Idea That Science Fiction Belongs to Everyone

Or, more precisely, she says, science fiction belongs to everybody who loves it:

When we started out, the notion that science fiction is for everybody was mostly about not wanting to see our favorite stories wasting their time pandering to the minority of fans who had memorized every old episode or movie. We hadn’t yet seen Star Trek Into Darkness twist itself into knots trying to copy as much of Wrath of Khan as possible—but that kind of self-referential bullshit was what we set out to critique.

But over time, I feel like the question of who “owns” science fiction has only gotten more fraught and toxic, in ways that we couldn’t have predicted back in 2007. Back then, there was no “Fake Geek Girl” meme. Women weren’t getting death threats and rape threats on the internet for expressing an opinion about comics or movies. The Hugo Award nominations were still reflecting the tastes of individual readers, rather than voting slates. There weren’t endless think pieces about whether geek culture had gone too mainstream. Geek pantomime The Big Bang Theoryaired its first episode while we were planning io9.

There’s a lot more silly gatekeeping in science fiction than there used to be. A lot of people are deeply invested in keeping other people from loving the things that they love. No, I don’t get it, either.

I’m baffled by the gatekeeping in science fiction as well. And it’s frustrating to me because much of the stuff that’s gone mainstream is stuff that I personally don’t care for:

Superheroes? Not for me. I like Iron Man and Captain America, but I think Julie and I are a movie or two behind on those. There’s an explosion of superhero movies now, and they frankly look silly to me. Bunch of grown people running around in long underwear.

We did love Jessica Jones, though.

Star Trek? The J.J. Abrams movies were fine, but they weren’t real Trek. We’re now rediscovering Deep Space Nine and TNG, which I barely remember.

Star Wars? I liked the first three movies just fine but I would not say they were the life-changing experience for me that they were for many fans. I skipped about 1.5 of the prequels. We haven’t gotten around to seeing the latest movie yet.

As for TV: Don’t watch Walking Dead because we think zombies are gross. We already talked about superhero shows. Julie likes the The Arrow but I got tired of it partway through the first season. The reverse is true for The Flash – I was enjoying it but Julie wasn’t and I didn’t like it enough to want to watch it alone.

I have a love-hate relationship with Game of Thrones. I’m liking it now. Last year I was ready to stop watching, because it had gotten tedious and depressing.

I don’t read comics or play video games.

So while young men – and I do get the impression that they are young men – are playing gatekeeper and deciding who’s a true fan, I’m wishing that more people like the stuff I like. Or maybe I should say that I wish more stuff that I like was being produced for the mainstream.

And I’m also remembering being a teen-age fan in the 70s, when being a science fiction fan still had a slight patina of geekiness. It was going mainstream fast – Star Wars was 1977, all the kids watched Star Trek in reruns, and Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke were regularly hitting the bestseller lists, or on the verge of doing so. But science fiction was still something that cool people didn’t really enjoy. So I still think it’s kind of neat that science fiction is now mainstream, and ironic that now that it is mainstream there’s so much of it I don’t participate in.

Also, as a heterosexual teenager with the usual heterosexual teen levels of libido combined with frustration of that libido: I would have been delighted to have encountered attractive young women who were also interested in science fiction.  (They probably did exist back then. I was just unaware of them.)

Assuming I worked up the nerve to talk with them – I was, alas, the kind of male teen geek who was too intimidated to speak with attractive girls unless we’d already been safely friendzoned (to use vernacular that popped up 30 years later).

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Megan Willett and Peter Jacobs tally them in a 2013 Business Insider article.

I’ve read 19 of these. I haven’t heard of two, or their authors.

I couldn’t finish “Pandora’s Star,” by Peter F. Hamilton; or “Red Mars,” by Kim Stanley Robinson.

I read “Ender’s Game,” by Orson Scott Card, and don’t see why people love it so much. I liked it fine, but didn’t love it. I was already an adult when it came out. I suspect I was too old for it to hit me as hard as it hit so many people 10 years or more younger than I am.

Also, it’s a novel that gets creepier the more you think about it. It’s a love letter to the strong man theory of history. Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin would love it.

And there’s also the whole Orson Scott Card thing.

Too bad how Card turned out. I loved many of his books and stories in the 70s and 80s. I won’t read anything else by him until and unless he recants his position on LGBTQ rights.

If you enjoy Card despite his odious views, that’s fine. I’m not judging you. My position on Card costs me nothing, and therefore I don’t claim moral high ground for it. Plenty of books for me to read by people who aren’t raging homophobic psychos.

I found Neal Stephenson’s big historical trilogy unreadable. I pushed through the first volume, got 100 pages into the second volume, and said OK, that’s enough. And I’ve been afraid to read any Stephenson since. On the other hand, I loved “Snow Crash,” “Cryptonomicon,” and “The Diamond Age.” I really need to give his later books another try.