About Writers, editing, Stories, writing technique

Show Me

While screening stories submitted to Sci-Fi Lampoon magazine, it occurred to me that editing means the opportunity to find new stories to share with others. What does that mean? It can’t mean only stories that the editor personally likes. Good stories appeal to a wider variety of readers than any one person can imagine.

So what makes a story appeal to a wide variety of readers? Common themes help, of course, because more readers will identify with the story. But I suspect the real key is participation. Think of it this way: Would you rather sit in an audience and listen to a comedian or a lecturer? The lecturer may tell you interesting things but the comedian will draw you in and make you participate. Would you rather laugh or be lectured?

Yup. I’m talking “Show don’t tell,” my favorite explanation of which remains the quote by Russian novelist Anton Chekhov.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
“Show don’t tell” entices the imagination. That lets the reader participate in the story.

Writers have used many creative ways to draw readers into their stories and the ‘Net is full of examples. Chekhov’s is an immersive description.
Some are half-thoughts that invite the reader to complete the image.

“She said only, ‘He spent the night rocking my world.'”

Or juxtaposed images that show something of the character’s character.

“I drive way too fast to worry about cholesterol.”
-Steven Wright.

What is your favorite way to show the reader your characters, to draw then into your world?

Me, I favor dialogue. It can allow the reader to imagine the details.

“You had a vibrator?”
She nodded. “I pulled a lot of guard duty. You know how boring that is?”

It’s not enough to tell a reader anything. You have to show them something.

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About Writers, Freedom of Writing, inspiration, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

JK Rowling Loves Minecraft

Novelist, screenwriter and film director Alex Garland is a big fan of BioShock, loosely based on Ayn Rand’ self-interest-championing philosophy of objectivism as outlined in her novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

Harlan Ellison collaborated with Cyberdreams and game writer David Sears to create “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, “a PC horror game based on his short story of the same name.

Tom Clancy is well-known in the gaming industry, especially for his Rainbow Six military and espionage games.

Authors play video games for the same fun & relaxation reasons others do and they sometimes pick up tips on world building, scene progression, and character differentation.

I play video games to push thoughts of what I’m writing aside, to someplace in my mind where they’re free to evolve without me consciously picking at them. For me, much of life is like swinging through trees. You have to regularly let go to make any progress.

Do you play video games? Which ones do you prefer? And, do they in any way contribute to your writing?

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Literary critique, Uncategorized, Welcome, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Musing Upon Three Quotes

“To write something you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” 
― Anne Rice 

“My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.” 
― Joyce Carol Oates 

The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.  

— Ursula K. Le Guin 

_________________________________

Is there a through-line connecting these quotes from three great writers? (I refuse to use the condescending first-part phrasal adjective “female” or “woman” in this instance. If we don’t routinely wall off male writers into a genitalia-defined ghetto when referring to their words and/or works, why would I perpetrate such a wince-inducing, overt-labelling job here re: “women writers”? Anne Rice, Joyce Carol Oates and Ursula K. Le Guin: great writers all. Period, the end. So why remark on their gender in this extended parenthetical thought? To address head-on the cynical, tiresome suspicion from some quarters that I chose three women writers to comment on in order to demonstrate how feminist/woke I am. :::sigh::: What a time to be alive and posting on “teh internets”. Well, that’s the kind of post this is going to be: one part stream-of-consciousness, one part thoughtful musing, one part—hopefully—synthesis of disparate elements into a unified whole. Tell me if I’ve failed, won’t you?) 

Let’s take Anne Rice’s quote first: ““To write something you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” Notice that she doesn’t insist the writer must make a fool of themselves; merely that one risks making a fool of themselves when they write. What could Rice possibly mean by this? 

Your interpretation may vary, but mine is as follows: There are a million, myriad ways a writer may face-plant in public. Errors of fact; mistranslations/misuse of foreign words and phrases; a question of style: writing that strikes one reader as “too flowery”, another as “too minimalist”; a theme that resonates with the writer and not the reader; vocabulary that is deemed either too high- or low-brow; metaphors that misfire and/or characters that seem eminently plausible, relatable and realistic to one set of readers, whilst striking another set of readers as wildly implausible, unrelatable and unrealistic. One simply cannot satisfy all readers all the time; not all art appeals to all people—for all time. (It might, but oftentimes—let us face hard facts here without flinching—oftentimes doesn’t.) As an artist we must accept this discomfiting fact and therefore write with our “ideal reader” in mind—whoever we imagine they might be. But if we push boundaries with our art—if we dare to question certain perceived “eternal verities” of politics (political thought that falls outside the Overton window), sex (outside the heteronormative) and/or religion (especially as regards atheistic or agnostic thought—though this is rapidly changing: “unaffiliated” or “unbelieving/unchurched” constitutes a growing body of the American electorate) then we embark upon a steep uphill climb re: widespread acclaim and/or acceptance of our work. Or as Joyce Carol Oates has put it: “Art by its nature is a transgressive act, and artists must accept being punished for it. The more original and unsettling their art, the more devastating the punishment.” 

Which brings us to another quote of Joyce Carol Oates’: the second one referenced at the beginning of this piece: “My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.” This echoes Kafka: “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

Now, the quibble with such assertions is this: We’re not always in the mood for a paradigm-shattering, psychologically transformative piece of art, are we? Sometimes (most of the time?) we want our reading to be the equivalent of comfort food: nourishing, tasty, familiar, filling. (We’re being honest with one another, yes?) However— I think we can agree that the best interpretive literature (to use Prof. Laurence Perrine’s term) expands our storehouse of life-lived experience and thus has the knock-on secondary effect—if the writing is psychologically astute, richly drawn and compelling—of working to increase both our understanding of the internal and external worlds. Fiction is not a lie that tells the truth: It is the concretized (black letters) fossil record (captured on paper or electronic storage device) of transfixing hypnogogic visions (author’s imagination/subconscious) that allows others, upon reading (a remarkable, semi-mystical experience in which both hemispheres of the brain fire in tandem) to embody alternate lives (viewpoint characters) and thus witness at one remove (sensory impressions received, albeit not from phenomena in the real world) the result of various played-out stratagems and the consequences of certain thoughts, impulses and actions (plot). What we make of all the aforementioned constitutes theme + meaning.

Lies? Truth? Irrelevant, as regards evaluating the efficacy and impact of well-wrought fiction (unless you’re a Victorian moralist). Nabokov had it right: What makes a writer great is the spell-binding quality of their prose: that ability to enrapture, enchant, seduce. A critic once remarked of Anne Rice: “You surrender to her, as if in a voluptuous dream.” Exactly right. Interview with the Vampire, Servant of the Bones, Pandora, Vittorio the Vampire, the Sleeping Beauty trilogy. Story after story from Joyce Carol Oates has found me perched on the edge of my chair: terrified to discover what might happen next to her characters if I continue reading; too breathless and engrossed to stop. Her writing raises my pulse rate—while I marvel at the assured confidence and deftness of her prose, and the probing intelligence behind it. Ursula K. Le Guin: a national treasure (now deceased; alas!): the kind of writer whose seemingly effortless prose and command of narrative compels reading of her fiction; whose formidable intellectual gifts of analysis, insight and plain speaking glossed by a lifetime of lightly worn learning (her essays) elicit wolf-whistles of awe and appreciation. God, I wish I’d written that! Thought that. Felt that. (But you didn’t—till you’d first read Le Guin.)

And now we arrive at Ursula K. Le Guin’s quote: “The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.” 

In a single pithy observation this quote of Le Guin’s (with its attendant subtext) encapsulates the terror and the glory of fictioneering—to say nothing of the alternating cycles of hyperbolic mania and melancholic despair a psychologically unmoored writer might fall prey to.  

I was going to write another thousand words unpacking what I meant to convey in the paragraph above, but for brevity and concision Le Guin’s quote really cannot be improved upon. The challenge facing the writer is to provide the telling details of their story in expertly paced and vividly concretized fashion so that the reader may—insofar as is psychically possible—inhabit a close facsimile of the world the author envisaged; moreover, the writer should have a tale worth telling (almost all do), to have something to say about it beyond the mere fashioning of plot (many don’t), and the hard-won mastery of craft acquired through a lifetime of practice in order to tell their story well (the difference—oftentimes but not always—between the professional and the amateur). The challenge of the reader is to have read as widely and deeply as possible in order to engage with story on its own terms: neither willfully misreading, nor misconstruing, a text into what it is not. If this process fails what are we left with? Miscommunication or hopeless muddle, mere “black marks on wood pulp” signifying nothing.

In sum: The writer indeed risks making a fool of themselves when he or she sits down to write—especially if the chosen subject matter, characters described and/or over-all theme is decidedly iconoclastic or otherwise at variance with received wisdom and popular attitudes. And what a pity that oftentimes proves to be!—that great work, from great artists, oftentimes goes misremarked [sic], undervalued and genre-ghettoized until such time as an artist’s ideal reader rises up with the passion and critical acumen necessary to articulate the areté (ancient Greek: excellence in kind) of a given writer and their works. 

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About Writers, book promotion, Uncategorized, writing technique

A Heroine’s Journey

  • by Mike Van Horn

I just started reading “The Heroine’s Journey” by Gail Carriger. I opened to the Intro and read this:

Here is the Hero’s Journey in one pithy sentence: Increasingly isolated protagonist stomps around prodding evil with pointy bits, eventually fatally prods baddie, gains glory and honor.

Here is the Heroine’s Journey in one pithy sentence: Increasingly networked protagonist strides around with good friends, prodding them and others on to victory, together.

This brought tears to my eyes; then I laughed out loud. The heroine’s journey is the way I write my stories. Her second sentence could be a blurb for my trilogy.

Hey, I even have a heroine—singer Selena M, who sings real songs. My stories are told from her perspective.

I’ve been so frustrated trying to cram my stories into the framework of the hero’s journey, and they just don’t fit.

I write science fiction. The standard sci fi trope is to fight the nasty evil aliens who are out to invade Earth and destroy humankind. Ray guns and blasters and dogfights in space using World War II tactics. Stories like this no longer grab my attention.

My heroine Selena is a renowned singer who’s reluctant to sing her most meaningful songs because they make her feel vulnerable. She rescues an injured alien whose spaceship crashed on her hillside. The alien is also a singer, who ran away from home because she wasn’t allowed to sing her heartfelt songs, and set out with friends to explore the galaxy. The two help each other recapture their passion for singing.

A theme of my trilogy is Selena’s efforts to come to terms with her singing. How to honor it as the passion of her life. How to balance performing with flying off into space. How to perform her music on other worlds.

On this journey she forms multiple partnerships. With the alien that crashed. With two other women; they become the Three Spaceketeers. With several powerful men, including one modeled after Elon Musk. With a raunchy country singer and a brash New York agent. With two aliens who rescue her when she’s marooned in deep space. She trains a small AI device to develop a personality so it can be her companion when she’s alone in space. All of these help her on her adventures, help her when she’s in a jam, and saves her life multiple times.

Her antagonists are not bloodthirsty alien monsters but officious government bureaucrats who want to grab the alien technology for themselves. She doesn’t kill them; she outsmarts them.

She strides around with good friends, and they prod each other to victory. Yes, I like that! Heroine’s journey.

*   *   *

I explore several ideas in my stories that I may share with you in future posts:

— Why are aliens friendly? What happened to the hostile aliens?

— If aliens come to Earth, what do they want?

— What do aliens look like? Not too humanoid, not too weird. Why? How does convergent evolution play out?

— Why haven’t alien races spread throughout the galaxy, including Earth?

— Do the aliens evolve higher and higher intelligence?

— How does one plausibly leap between stars?

*   *   *

Mike’s trilogy includes:

— Aliens Crashed in My Back Yard

— My Spaceship Calls Out to Me

— Spacegirl Yearning

He’s now working on “book 4 of the trilogy”:

— Alien Invasion: There Goes the Neighborhood

Check these out on galaxytalltales.com. Available as ebooks and paperbacks.

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About Writers, inspiration, Writers Co-op

Hobby Anyone?

That’s a photo of Vladimir Nabokov chasing butterflies.
Ayn Rand collected stamps, Emily Dickinson baked, Dostoyevsky gambled, Tolkien was a conlang* wizard, Tolstoy played chess, and Franz Kafka amassed an extensive collection of pornography.

Mark Twain, friends with Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, obsessed over science and technology. He even patented three inventions of his own.

Why? Flannery O’Connor suggested, “Fiction writing is very seldom a matter of saying things; it is a matter of showing things. Any discipline can help your writing. Anything that helps you to see, anything that makes you look.” I couldn’t agree more.

That may be why E. E. Cummings painted daily, creating 1,600+ drawings, oil paintings, sketches, and watercolors. Other writers who used art to better visualize included Henry Miller, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, and Sylvia Plath. And of course, our own Mimi Speike comes to mind.

What about you? I use photography to “see” things I might otherwise not glance at twice.
What’s your hobby?

~

*conlang is a word used here in an attempt to pay back Carl E. Reed for constantly making me look up words.

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About Writers, Freedom of Writing, Uncategorized, Welcome

Welcome To My Coffice

by Scott D. Vander Ploeg

As I write this, piped in music is playing in the background. On some occasions, live music happens here. I look up and see some of the art works of my friend, Carl Berges. Around me there are people reading—books or newspapers or magazines or online feeds. Kids sometimes open up board games and play them with gleeful abandon. Politicians sometimes arrive to ask for voters’ opinions. In one corner, a small group of people are planning a business venture. The staff’s culinary efforts have made available a variety of breakfast items, and made-to-order lunch sandwiches. On one wall, people have created a multicolor inked communal graffito. A little over three years ago, a history professor and a literature professor lectured here, about solar eclipses. Poetry has been aired here.

I’m an advocate for the humanities, the subjects that involve the celebration of our most human activities: music, art, literature, philosophy, languages, drama, sculpture, architecture, and more. Often, a person who wants to experience one of these will go to a particular venue or event and experience that one kind of humanities subject: drama in a theatre, music at an auditorium, etc. Where, though, might people go if they want a mix of these wonderous arts?

The savvy reader will already know that I am at a coffee house, in particular: Madisonville Kentucky’s Big City Market Café. If in Owensboro, I might be ensconced in an egg-shaped chair (channeling Mork) at The Crème Coffee House. If I was in East Lansing, MI, I might be admiring the tattoos of the baristas at the Espresso Royal. Back in my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, in my youth, I sat for hours at Atz’s Ice Cream Shoppe, guzzling cup after cup while reading the Riverside edition of the complete works of Bill Shakespeare. The downtown coffee shop adorned its walls with used burlap coffee sacks.

While wintering in Florida this year, I spent time at Cocoa Beach’s Juice and Java Café, and the Osario’s in Cocoa Village. I prefer independent coffee houses, but am pleased that Panera and Starbucks provide alternative locations. In the environs of Vernon Hills suburban Chicago Illinois, I rotate between four different Panera’s Bread Co. shops. According to the anniversary email they sent this Spring, my Unlimited Coffee Subscription saved me $338.52 over 138 cups.

Currently, I have succeeded in getting a dozen of my writings published since I began this effort last September, nine months ago. I have another twenty under consideration at various journals. All of these, and more, were written at coffee houses. I know many prefer to write at home, but I think there is an argument for not doing this work there. It hasn’t become popular yet, but I offer the word “coffice” for those like me who rely on the coffee house to conduct business.

At the coffice I am not distracted by laundry, food preparation, and having to straighten up after myself. At the coffice I can focus on my writing. There is just the right amount of activity to keep me awake. And then yes, I like coffee.

Coffee was discovered in Africa in the 9th century AD. Its use became common in the Middle East in the late 1400s. Turkey and Morocco became deeply invested in it. It arrived in Europe in the 1600s, and the English coffee house became a fad in the 1700s. Turkish and/or Greek coffee is a particularly strong drink made from a powdered coffee, found like a muddy estuary at the bottom of the cup. I like mine “orto”—slightly sweet. One of my favorite memories is of ordering an espresso at an outdoor café in the 14th Arrondissement of Paris, France, under the shadow of the Tour Montparnasse. In homage to Hemmingway, I sipped a cup at the Café du Dôme, which was just around the corner from the apartment where I crashed for a few months at my cousin’s apartment in the early 1980s.

While the tavern had an earlier history of drawing people together for discussion and predictable argument, the coffee house encouraged more serious and sustained discussion, as the patrons there were stimulated by caffeine rather than depressed by alcohol. Today’s version of the coffee house is augmented by technology—so that wireless internet access is mandatory, and people are commonly found staring at laptops and using their smartphones while slurping down a cappuccino or frothy latte.

So the coffee house is the bastion and bulwark of the humanities, to an extent. I note that the addition of coffee shops in some places indicates a gentrification effect, suggesting a kind of cultural invasion, or an economic upsurge—good or bad as that may be, depending on who is losing or gaining as a result. I have been to the original Starbucks, in Seattle, WA, and have my obligatory memento: a Pike’s Place coffee mug. It’s huge! While I’m pleased at this, I know that some believe that the Starbucking of America is a kind of blight—and that “baristas don’t let friends drink Starbucks.” I would bet cold cash money that more people recognize the Starbucks logo/image than they do the Presidential Seal.  

After a hectic day, there is nothing better than sitting back with a cup of coffee at my local coffee house. This is when I can reflect on a variety of subjects, such as coffee houses, and write about them! I soak in the ambience—art, music, whatever I’m reading—and the caffeine—and walk away refreshed, ready to take on the rest of the day’s challenges.

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About Writers, world-building, writing technique

How much world?

Alex’s Sci-Fi World by Matt Schaefer

I don’t write, or even read, much sci-fi, but I do have a trilogy planned that takes place on another planet. I don’t know if it qualifies as sci-fi since the inhabitants are as human-like as hobbits and face very human problems. Really it’s just an excuse for me to give free rein to my imagination by writing a story about humans without the constraint of respecting earthly reality.

But of course they inhabit a world which has other constraints, so I’ll have to decide how much of that world to describe. In other words, the world-building issue. We always have it, but a story set on earth can rely on shared assumptions about how the world operates. Not so on another planet, where we can make the world as we want, but then we have to replace those unwritten assumptions with explicit information. What will my inhabitants eat? How will they dress? Travel? Communicate? What are their towns and cities like? The list is almost endless.

Here are a few thoughts on the matter from some proper sci-fi writers:

Alastair Reynolds. My approach to world-building is a bit smoke and mirrors – there’s only as much as you need to carry the story. I think of it as one of those sets they used to have for cowboy films: the facades look good, but if you walk around the back, it’s all props and plywood. I don’t want to sound lazy, but I want to do as little as possible. I don’t need to know how the sewage system works to tell a story about someone on another planet.

Nnedi Okorafor. My stories tend to start with the characters. Then I look through their eyes (or however they “see”), minds, perspectives to observe the world. Typically this happens the moment the character exists. So I know the world not long after I know the characters. I walk through it, I smell the air, listen to the gossip, observe its insect world, hear its history through various perspectives, and so on … I experience it.

AnnLeckie. I try to choose details that are real – the whole of human history and culture is fantastically varied – and that seem to fit together. In real life, cultures and histories are full of things that contradict each other. There will be one common narrative of how things happen, how people live and eat and so on, but people won’t actually always do things that way. I try to include such moments, because it makes my world more three-dimensional. I also leave some things unexplained or just referred to, as though the world is much bigger than just this one story and won’t all fit in the pages.

Kim Stanley Robinson. I don’t like the term world-building. I’d say there’s no such thing – it’s a term out of a vocabulary that grew in writing workshops to help writers talk about the craft of fiction. But the writer should remember that these diagnostic terms are not what the reader feels while reading: the reader reads in a kind of dreamlike state in which the events of a story really happen. So the writer should focus on somehow forwarding the story. That’s the only imperative: make that “willing suspension of disbelief” go into action, and take the reader away.

These are just excerpts – the full article is here. It’s given me some useful pointers on how to set about it. But I’m sure you have others – whether you write sci-fi or not, how do you build your worlds?

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About Writers

It’s fun, right?

Sarah Waters: When you approach your desk in the morning, do you ever find yourself wanting to run screaming in the opposite direction? If so, how do you get yourself to sit down and start writing? (I’m asking for a friend.)
Hilary Mantel: I haven’t the energy for running and screaming but often I want to lie and groan under a tarpaulin.

Many years ago I went to a writers’ round table conference at the Edinburgh Literary Festival. I only recall two of the participants now: Gore Vidal (because he was Gore Vidal), and the late, great Beryl Bainbridge, on account of her reply to a question from a member of the audience.

‘How,’ she was asked, ‘do you overcome the urge to stay away from your desk and do all the other things that need to be done, such as the housework?’ For a moment, Bainbridge was flummoxed, as if trying to get her head round such a bizarre question. Then she explained that she’d never had that urge; her urge was to write, which was what she did while the house descended into chaos and grime around her.

I’m fully with Bainbridge here. (Not, I hasten to add, because Mrs B does the housework – she’s kept busy by her own projects, so it’s only when a certain threshold is reached that we tackle the chaos and grime.) It might even be said that searching for an excuse not to write means that you’re not really a writer. Significantly, in her question to Mantel, Sarah Waters added that she was asking for a friend; I’m sure that she, indubitably a writer, approaches her desk very differently.

Up to a point, though, I can see where Mantel is coming from when she says that being a novelist is no fun. The frustration when a paragraph won’t come right, the anxiety when the plot won’t hold together, the dreadful uncertainty about where the whole thing is heading. John Banville puts it more strikingly: ‘Writing a novel is like wading through wet sand, at night, in a storm, with no lantern to guide one’s steps and no lighthouse to warn of the submerged reefs and wrecks that lie ahead.’

But none of this deters me enough to keep me away from my desk. I love the challenge of solving the problems as I go, I love seeing each draft get successively richer, more detailed, and I love the satisfaction that comes with knowing when I’ve got something right. Sure, the end result always falls short of the vision, but that’s what spurs me on to write the next one. No one’s denying it’s an effort, there’s always a struggle involved. But surely that’s where the pleasure lies, isn’t it? A vaccuum cleaner? What’s that?

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About Writers, inspiration, marketing, Welcome, Writers Co-op

I Find the Covid To Be…

Finish that statement as you like. Me, I find the Covid to be rife with story fodder. It provides common references for readers that benefit any genre.

Horror, obviously. The Covid is acidic and round, with spikes that bind to your cell’s outer membrane. As it sits against the cell, more spikes come out, like grappling hooks and soon, its acid burns a hole through the membrane and the virus slips inside. At this point, your body’s defenses cannot find and kill the virus. Your cell is now doomed.
The membrane of the virus dissolves, the genes of the virus spill into the cell, penetrate to the cell nucleus, insert themselves into the cell’s genome, and begin producing copies of the virus. Meanwhile, those spikes have been disintegrating the cell’s outer membrane.
The time it takes for a virus to burst a cell varies, but about 10 hours is not uncommon. Then, a swarm of 100,000 to one million new viruses explode your cell.
That’s real horror.

Or the Thriller genres. No one alive has ever experienced this strong a pandemic, so conspiracy theories abound. Don’t ignore that market of paranoid readers who fear and hate other readers.

And of course, that most popular of genres, Romance: “She could never forget the man she loved because she carried his Covid.”

But, maybe I’m feeling cynical? Six months of quarantine will do that. How about you? How is the Covid affecting your writing life?

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About Writers, blogging, Research

Pushing the Sci Envelope

Science fiction authors used to push the envelope of knowledge. Rocket ships dropped out of space to land on their tails. GORT, the robot, walked among us in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Arthur C. Clarke submitted a manuscript to Wireless World magazine proposing global communication through geostationary satellites in 1945. These concepts are major industries, today, of course. In fact, today’s science seems to have sprinted ahead of fiction.

I stumbled upon an article about “working memory.” That’s cognitive scientists’ speak for how many potentially conflicting bits of information we can hold in out head. If a point requires more working memory than I have, I just won’t “get it.” Take the example of face masks during a pandemic. There is conflicting information in the media about the usefulness of face masks. The article correlated working memory with face mask use and found that people with less working memory tended to not wear masks. When it comes to complex situations, not everyone “gets it.”

The working memory article gave me a simple idea for a story, that the world is becoming more complex and as it does so, more and more people just won’t “get it.” What happens, I wondered, when the world reaches a point where not enough people understand the complexity of it to keep it running? Does it all break down? Chaos? Lost in my own thoughts, I Googled “complexity and chaos.” And, whoops! I stepped in it.

Turns out, there is a body of scientific study called “complexity science.” Most of it is baffling mathematics. I’m a writer, not a mathematician. But I write hard science fiction, so I have to get the science right and present it in a way to make the fiction entertaining. Luckily, I found A simple guide to chaos and complexity. It’s a scholarly paper written in (mostly) plain English for the health services and I have (some) background in medical care. I now have an inkling of how little I know.

Maybe we should stick to writing stories about things we know? A simple idea is turning into a year or more of research and writing. I used to approach science through fiction and now, I have to approach fiction through science? But enough complaining. Curiosity is addictive. What if people really are limited in how complex a life they can handle? What if our civilization does continue becoming more complex? Will chaos result? What-if is how sci-fi pushes the envelope of knowledge.

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