Blasting off with Sci-Fi!

stargate

I’ve loved science fiction my entire life. The idea of blasting off into space and landing on a distant planet, or maybe slipping into an alternative dimension where all the apes are purple and all the barnacles are made of gold? Yes please! I was two years old when Star Wars came into theaters, I grew up watching Star Trek re-runs, and even went to see the Black Hole in theaters (quite possibly the first time at a theater where I didn’t fall asleep during the movie).I love Sci-Fi so much that I almost feel like I can claim a deep love for the genre is in my genetics……and while I’m on the subject, I’ve got to say – I’ve never understood the stereotype of only nerds liking Sci-Fi. But then again, I am a nerd, so there’s that. Hell, I’m even wearing a t-shirt referencing Stargate (there’s no place like ). But I digress – there’s a war in science fiction – there’s those who care more about the fiction and less about the science, and there’s those who care more about the science and less about the fiction. Whose right? In my opinion, it depends on the piece of Science Fiction. There’s some simple rules one must follow when writing science fiction.

1) One must know their audience:
This is such a 101ism that it hurts to include this in this list. I know my readers enough to know that they know this already – but yet for the sake of completionism I feel I must say this. Knowing one’s audience is a basic part of writing, but this is especially important in this discussion, as science fiction fans are a diverse group of individuals. There’s physicists who study things that, quite frankly, I’ll never be able to understand. There’s people who can barely grasp the concept of warp speed. There’s the ten year old kid who saw Anakin Skywalker in the Phantom Menace as character they can relate to, there’s the disgruntled gen Xers who scoff at the prequels and swear by the original three. One has to know what kind of science fiction fan one is writing for, or else you’ll get something that no one likes. To add to this, knowing which audience you’re writing for means knowing which opinions can (and should) be ignored, and which opinions should be taken seriously. Are you writing the next 2001? Then don’t listen to the ten year old kids when they say it’s boring. Don’t listen to those who prefer Micheal Bay explosion type movies. Listen to someone you might find as a character on the Big Bang theory, because they’re the ones who are more likely to understand your creation. Likewise, don’t listen to the hard science crowd if you’re trying to write the next Skyline – though I will say that if you’re trying to do this, maybe you should just chop off your hands because Skyline was the worst movie ever.

Skyline's brain removal was a perfect metaphor for what the movie did to the audience.
Skyline’s brain removal was a perfect metaphor for what the movie did to the audience.
2) One must have likable characters: I just said that Skyline was the worse movie ever written. That was not just a cheap jab – Skyline is seriously the worse movie I’ve ever seen. I hold it as the bottom measure of how bad a movie can be. There’s two things that made it bad: a) it felt like it was written by a board of directors and b) I just didn’t give a damn about the characters. Seriously – the main guy didn’t give a damn about his girlfriend until her life was threatened. He was going to leave because he knocked her up, but then he decided he needed her I guess. It was such a badly written character that I expected him to die pretty quickly, but he didn’t. He was harder to wipe out than a piece of crap stuck to a strand of butt hair and twice as disgusting. Now, maybe there was a small percentage of people who really liked him, but considering that movie was hated by so many people, I highly doubt it. I could go on, and on, and on….about how bad of a movie Skyline is – because seriously, I’ve found things more pleasant in my kitty’s litter box, but my point is if the audience doesn’t like your characters, you’ve failed! Look at Walking Dead. Look at Lost. Look at Star Trek (TOS and TNG). Heck, look at pretty much all of the Marvel Movies! Why are they so loved? Because you don’t want the main characters to get swallowed by black alien goo or zombified or just die. When they do, be it Tasha Yar or Lori Grimes or John Locke or (spoilers) Quicksilver, it’s a tragic thing. You’ve invested yourself into those characters, and even though they’re fictional people, you feel a sense of loss. This is how it always should be. You should be wanting your audience to care about your people enough that if you do choose to go all George RR Martin on them, your audience is going to be a bit pissed off.

3) One must define what Science fiction is to them: In the last section, I mentioned The Walking Dead, Lost, Star Trek (TOS and TNG), and the marvel universe as examples of Science fiction. I chose these examples, because in a broad sense, they’re all science fiction. In truth however, I see The Walking Dead as horror, Lost as mystical fantasy, and the Marvel Movie Universe is mostly superheros. Again, they all have something involving science fiction, but if I’m writing Sci-Fi, I’m thinking about traveling to other worlds, or the implications of technology in the future or maybe life in an alternative universe. It should deal with issues, though it doesn’t have to be dystopic. It should be a world which we don’t live in now, though this world could be part of it’s history. This is by far no ironclad definition of science fiction, as I am only one voice amongst many – but if you write science fiction you better have at least some definition and focus. Again, The Walking Dead clearly has some science fiction involved – the virus is man made. However, the focus on the series isn’t really how to cure the virus – the focus is surviving a zombie apocalypse, which therefore puts it into a more horror category. The island on Lost has many mysteries, however they’re not scientific in nature. They’re mystical. The Marvel Universe? Well, science has been a huge part of creating most of those guys, but really the focus is a super hero focus. Star Trek however – that’s about exploring the galaxy. That’s about “boldy going where no one has gone before!” That to me is the heart of Science Fiction.

4) Be it science or fiction, a sense of wonder and imagination is key: This almost needs no explanation but it still needs to be said. I tend to lean towards the fiction part of science, and therefore a sense of wonder and imagination really is key as I don’t really have the science to back up my writings. Sure, I’ll BS my way through some rudimentary physics or what have you, but the science part of the equation really is nothing more to me than a plot device. Honestly, my audience is not the physicist – but that means that I have to work extra hard to present the reader of anything I write with a sense of “wow! I wish that would really happen!” But while it’s not as important for a “hard science” piece to rely on a sense of wonder and imagination, it is important to provide a little. Hard science is, to be frank, boring as hell. It’s fascinating what it can do, but it’s still science fiction – not science. It’s taking a concept and theorizing (and I use the literary definition, not the scientific definition) what it’s implications might be in, say, 100 years. It’s about exploration of things beyond this world, and how it will effect humanity. Most hard science buffs I know really like Stargate, and I do too. I like it because they really do put me in a different place. I like it because it explores the morality scientific endeavors. It’s got action and adventure and big explosions, it’s got relationships and people being people (be it good or bad), it asks the basic “we can, but should we” questions when it comes to some technology (Asgardians singularity anyone?). It really is the balance between the two universes – and that’s why it was such a great series(s) and movie.

In an alternative Universe, Han Solo is related to Mickey Mouse.
In an alternative Universe, Han Solo is related to Mickey Mouse.
5) Don’t be afraid to use an alternative universe: Look, not everything in sci-fi can be explained with modern science. The sooner you learn to accept this, the happier you will be. This concept is not just limited to science fiction by the way – pick a discipline, fictionalized it, and I guarantee they’ll get things wrong. Be it construction, be it medicine, be it the police, be it computer programming. I work in television – this is something TV shows should get right because they know how things work – but Television shows about television get things sooo wrong on so many levels. The reason being is that most things are boring without a little fictionalization added. They don’t make sense, or maybe they just look stale. This is why hard science fans gripe about movies such as independence day or Pacific Rim. But guess what? Science fiction, be it soft or hard or any firmness in between, likes to use Alternative dimensions. This is a great tool to explain why maybe your physics don’t work in this world, because maybe they’re not supposed to work in this world – they work in a different universe that has a different set of rules. I know hard science fans are going to hate this – but like I said, I’m not a hard science person.

6) Your universe should be consistent
: Don’t take that last point as an excuse to make your universe a place where any random thing might happen (unless there’s maybe an infinite improbability drive or something). Set your rules and use them. Do not stray too far. If they don’t work for you, then change them – but make the changes consistent or at least find a way to explain why all of a sudden you can travel three times the speed of light, when in chapter 4 you couldn’t even travel half that speed. It is fiction – but it’s science fiction. And even if it’s a different genre of fiction, any fiction worth their salt cares about consistency and continuity.


May the Force be with you. May the Klingons and the Borg not attack on this day. May the Cylons leave you be. And may there be no Volgan Poetry in your future. Have fun, and write like the wind. Oh wait – that’s not Sci-Fi!

May Everything you right be as awesome as this,
May Everything you write be as awesome as this,
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