Mar 9, 2015

Soft, Pulpy, Action-Adventure Sci-Fi

Some science fiction is more akin to epic fantasy, but the most popular of these swashbuckling space novels are a generation old. Are we overdue for a Renaissance in soft, pulpy, epic adventure space fantasy stories?



Hi! My last two episodes were about hard versus soft magic systems. Now I'd like to take this time to talk about my favorite subject, or my favorite genre, which would be Soft Science Fiction. I'll cover Hard Science Fiction in a future episode.

Soft Sci-Fi is pretty much what I write. People might call it Space Fantasy or Space Opera. When most people think of what this is, they think of "Star Wars."

There seems to be a lot of it missing in books, as far as recognizable titles go. I'm aware that the "Vorkosigan Saga" is very popular, and I have read that. There are a lot of popular Space Opera books, but none of them have really hit, like, the mega mega masses of the world, like, in a way that Stephen King's books and J.K. Rowling's books have become household brand names.

So, there does seem to be a lot more of it in TV and film--and in comic books, of course. There are Techno Thrillers that sort of blur the line, and I would say there's some Hard Science Fiction that kind of goes to the fun and pulpy side of things.

One might say that books like "Wool" and "Ready Player One" fall into that category. Or "Snow Crash," even where it's a crazy virtual reality world, and there's fast-paced action. The same thing with a lot of Michael Crichton's work, such as "Jurassic Park."

It's still based on hard scientific concepts, though.

So, the way I see it, the main difference, really, is that in Hard Sci-Fi, in all those Techno Thrillers and so forth, they're built around an idea; a scientific premise, such as: What if there was crazy nanotechnology or bioengineering? What if we could bioengineer dinosaurs? The story is built around that 'what if' premise.

Whereas with Soft Science Fiction, it's a little bit more like Epic Fantasy and that sort of thing, where the story is built around a sociological issue. What if you had magic powers and you could take over the world? So it's a little bit more of a personal or sociological issue. The science falls around it, and it's part of it, the advanced technology is in there, but science or tech is not the main premise of the story.

So that's what I'm writing. It's more like an Epic Fantasy premise. The scientific research involved is ... well, there's different ways you can approach scientific research. Like, I think, "Okay, my characters need high-tech weapons to shoot each other." If I was writing Hard Sci-Fi, I would think, "Well, let's see. What's the best kind of futuristic weapon?" I'd build the weapon from there. But because I'm writing a different type of story, I think, "What kind of weapon would be really wearable and easy to use for the bad guys and the good guys?"

So I come up with a good weapon design, and the armor that might counteract that, and then, once I have that in my head; I've imagined how it's going to look, how it's going to feel, how it's going to be used in the story what the victims look like when they're shot, and so forth ... at that point that's when I started debating, "Okay, well, how can I accomplish this? Would it be laser guns or ray guns or rail guns?"

And then I start researching the science or technology. But all that research? I would say that 5% of my science research goes into my stories. It's not the main thing.

The characters don't sit around listening to lectures about how the faster-than-light technology works, or anything like that. They don't usually know how it works. It's part of their universe, in the same way that moving staircases are part of the "Harry Potter" universe. It's just there. The rules never change, and there is science behind it but it's not necessarily talked about in the story.

Now, I would say that pulp sci-fi is alive and well in books, but it's usually categorized elsewhere. For instance, Stephen King's books? "It" and "The Tommyknockers" both involve aliens coming to Earth and wreaking havoc, with one alien or aliens or alien ghosts. So it's a pulpy premise, but those are categorized under Horror. They're never really talked about as being Soft Sci-Fi. And I see that a lot.

So Military Sci-Fi and Hard Sci-Fi are definitely alive and well in books, but I believe that Soft Science Fiction is overdue for a Renaissance. I think that it needs to be its own sort of thing, in the same way that Stephen King revitalized Horror, and in the same way that J.K. Rowling sort of revitalized the Young Adult genre.

I think that there's a lot of room for Space Fantasy with sweeping battles, epic scope, high-stakes, romance, and so forth. We just haven't seen a lot of yet that's hit big-time, that's really hit the public consciousness. But I think that that's going to happen. I hear that a lot of writers are writing stories along those lines, and I can't wait to read more of it!

If you or anyone you know is writing Soft Science Fiction or Space Fantasy that you think has best-seller potential, and it's just really something you rave about, and tell all your friends.... Please let me know about it!

And don't forget to hit "Subscribe!" See you next week.

Feb 11, 2015

Commonalities with Magic in Fiction

Since it's hard to write a story where everyone in the world has awesome magic powers—isn't that like having ubiquitous technology?—authors write about individuals who become wizards or superheroes. They're special people who inherited their specialness. But if it's inherited, doesn't that imply superiority over everyone else? Even if the hero is nice and only uses magic for good deeds, well, their descendants might choose a different path. A world where less than 1% have inherited superpowers has dark implications. I'd like to see more stories that address this, and thoroughly explore the implications.


Manna, the One Source, allomancy ... a lot of fictional heroes require a specific fuel to power their magic. This defines the limit of their power. But aren't there are other ways to define limits to magical powers? Focus, for instance. One can only keep track of so many bolts of lightning or knives flying through the air.

Do you define limits of magical power for your character that's not tied to a fuel source? 


Magic ... at puberty. Or because of trauma. It's a common theme in fiction with supernatural, superhero, psionic, or magical powers. But why should this be the case? We all want to avoid magical babies, since those are dangerous, but I'd like to see magical manifesting that's more thought-through, and more creative, than "I got magic along with with my period."

Jan 25, 2015

Why is Breaking Bad so Good?


After marathon-watching all five seasons of "Breaking Bad," Abby Goldsmith analyzes why the show is so addictive, and why so many viewers respect the characters. It's all about good storytelling. That, and clever problem-solving, and ironic contrast.

How can meth cooks be so fascinating? Abby delves into the world of Walter White (aka Heisenberg) and Skyler, Jesse Pinkman, Saul Goodman. Note that their names all have socially benign connotations--white, sky, pink, good. And they're not so different from the right side of the law, aka Hank Shrader.