Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ten Laws of Good Science Fiction?


No, I have not fallen into a hyperspatial rift, such as jollyreaper has proposed as a story setting. Presumably this is good news to readers of this blog. Minor but multiple intrusions of Real Life have merely delayed my posting a bit more than usual.

Even this post is something of a placeholder, in that I intended to discuss the topic more thoroughly. But one advantage of a great commenter community is that I can count on you to do most of the work of making this blog read-worthy.

So: I invite your attention to this item on Laws of SF that turned up in my Google+ stream a week or two ago. My first reaction is that ten laws is at least seven too many. Yes, the Abrahamic God promulgated a set of ten, but those were to govern human behavior. For world building, both Kepler and Newton got by with three. We don't provide a list of Einstein's laws at all; my distinct impression is that E=MC^2 provides all the information needed to reconstruct special and general relativity.

At least if you can do tensor calculus backwards and in your sleep.

My original intention was to provide full edification and entertainment value by discussing each of the ten laws in turn, with links to relevant previous posts. That is the part I am instead leaving to my able commenters.

Instead I will merely point to Laws #7 and #3, in particular, and ask: Where does FTL (and its pervasive use in the genre) fit in here?


Discuss:

(I do promise not to make quasi-posts like this one the rule here!)




The image, from Astronomy Picture of the Day, really has nothing to do with the topic. Except, perhaps that vistas like this are a big reason why SF emerged in the first place as a distinct subgenre of Romance.

348 comments:

1 – 200 of 348   Newer›   Newest»
mithril said...

for rules 3 and 7 i'd repeat what i said over at Atomic Rockets:

"Ultimately, the goal in writing good fiction isn't "accuracy", it's believability. The goal is to take the more fantastical elements and give them a sense of verisimilitude. For science fiction, scientific accuracy in anything not hand waved for the good of the story is a good start. If you want to preserve the sense of being real, you have to diverge as little as possible in your hand waving."

anything that does break known science needs to at least feel like it doesn't. it's one thing ot handwave in a "hyperspace" alternature reality/dimension to do FTL for example, it's another to throw relativity out of the window entirely.

it's mainly about thinking through your handwaves and making sure you manage your ripple effects.

kedamono@mac.com said...

As Mithril points out, if you can write believably, a multitude of sins can be forgiven.

As for FTL, there are several real world methods that could be considered "Hard SF" such as wormhole networks, and the Alcubierre warp drive. (Though the latter may have a problem with accumulated debris in the front of the warp bubble.)

Telepathy could be given a SF sheen by extrapolating that it operates over the electromagnetic spectrum and the reason why it doesn't work in a lab is the amount of EM interference from equipment and other electromagnetic emitters.

It may be that almost all humans have low levels of "empathic" ESP at the subconscious level, a few can control it, and a few don't have it at all. (Sociopaths for instance.)

Good science fiction should use the scientific principle. Not as the main thrust of the story, but more as a sanity check to make sure that your story isn't going into fantasy.

Sabersonic said...

I would also like to agree with Mithril's sentiments on Rules 3 and 7 and I think that little video segment this also adds not only his sentiments but also Rule Zero. Anyway, I might as well put in my own two cents on the other laws.

Number 4: Yeah....that's gonna be a problem in my space opera setting with at least one faction....

Number 3: See again not only Mithril's comment, but also the youtube link I provided.

Number 0: Support whole heartedly! A good idea that needs to be repeated twice, if not moreso. Only problem on my part is getting the word "fun" and the words "story telling" in the same sentence....

And before I leave there is a shameless plug I need to do. Inspired by Jollyreaper's own little forray into the blogsphere, I set out to publish my own ideas for my Space Opera Setting. However, it's lacking in comments from the more intelligent, scientifically well versed audience *hint, hint*

- Hotmail Address
Gmail Address

Damien Sullivan said...

"A writer who includes World War II Nazis in his story has given up trying to make a real character and has opted for taking the cheap and easy path."

While I know what he's trying to say, the Nazis were in fact real, so the phrasing of "given up trying to make a real character" is rather odd.

Cemendur said...

This seems like a good post to dive into and post my first comment on.

Ten laws does seem too many, and could easily be squashed down into a few. The points that post is trying to get across can be summed up as:

1. Make it believable: it's science fiction, FTL and handwavium such as artifical gravity are common throughout the genre. They are great aides to story telling, but the key is to have them make sense. Poorly thought out FTL drives just leave readers thinking "why didn't they do X rather than Y in this situation?".

2. Make it real: we know tons about demographics, how economies work, loads about planets and how current space travel works. Use the real world to inform your story and universe so that it feels real. Ignoring how things are at the moment just leads to readers not buying into the story you are trying to get across. We know what humans are like, we know the diversity of our species. Pay attention to the real and it will make the story better.

3. Make it fun: pages and pages of techno babble are no fun to read in good stories, and kill bad stories. Make sure your book is a good read and is fun to read. The setting you create and science should inform how you write and describe things. It should not be what your story is.

Early morning ramblings and thoughts, been reading this blog for a while. Do love it, and very thought provoking at all times.

Eth said...

Believability is indeed very important. Not just in Science-Fiction, mind you. A poorly thought fantasy world may also break down because of it.
For example, if in Harry Potter, someone can instantly teleport around the world, or (illegally) build flying invisible auto-piloted (and possibly semi-sentient) car out of scraps in his backyard, what would do a group of ruthless, determined people in the middle of a war? Teleporting nukes and orbital strikes come to mind...
It is even true for any kind of fiction. If a mafia organisation is so easy to infiltrate, the reader may wonder how they stayed so powerful for so long. And so on...

Now, it's still possible to write stories without the 'believable' part. But the important is then to 'say' it at the beginning, so the reader/spectator knows what to expect from the beginning. Star Wars, for example, isn't even trying to be realistic, but the fact that they are fighting WWII In Space! or that the Death Star isn't remotely believable doesn't mean that the spectator won't enjoy it. But then, they know it from the beginning.
On the other hand, if you saw a X-Wing fight in the middle of 2001 Space Odyssey, then it would have broken things, because 2001 is expected to be scientifically accurate, with the realistic-looking ships and trajectories and such.

About rule #9:
It is possible to have supermen in your story. In fact, if we ever meet aliens, there may probably be supermen (the angels in the 'apes or angels' theory).
But then, they must not be treated as characters or even a faction in the story, but as cosmic forces. You don't speak with a tidal wave, a cyclone or a supernova; you just try to cope with it. Same thing here. You may see Dyson sphere builders, and if they come in your system, you have no choice than to flee. On the other hand, their previous Dyson spheres may be inhabitable, and they may ignore the vast majority of the galaxy's systems. You just can't interact with them.

Rules #7 and #6 are quite important to keep in mind.

I agree with rule #5, but IMO they tend to not go far enough. The probability of finding humanoid aliens is quite slim. Even on Earth, with common ancestry and same environment, humanoids are very rare.
Aliens will probably not even be remotely like us.
On the other hand, there is a handwave to have human(-like) aliens : you have to give everyone a common origin. It can be that an ancient human civilisation went to the stars and settled here and there. Or it can be that a precursor race fiddled on varied worlds to create sentient races with all more or less the same characteristics.
But as it's the only believable handwave around for that, be careful using it as a hidden plot point, readers may expect it if they are genre-savvy enough.

Eth said...

Damien Sullivan:
"While I know what he's trying to say, the Nazis were in fact real, so the phrasing of "given up trying to make a real character" is rather odd."

I think the problem is that Space Nazis are not realistic, because they are just a copy-cut from the stereotypical historical Nazi, but without all the story (and history) who brought them.
If you are telling a story about a former decadent empire who just lost a massive war in infamy, a nation with high cultural, scientific and philosophical standards but who now have to cope with economic disaster, international humiliation and growing extremisms, where the failure of the democratic government let a militaristic and supremacist extremist group to come into power, then you can have a great and tragic SF story.
But when people put Nazis in their stories, they tend to just put archetypes of dark-uniformed supremacists who are evil because lulz. Which doesn't work.

I find rules #2 and #1 too restrictive. You can write stories to warn about the risks of X or Y derives. 1984 is utterly pessimistic and gives a sense of dread and despair instead of wonder, and yet it's a very valid SF story, about what the future may have become from 1948.

About rule #0, 'compelling' may be a better term than 'fun'. Again, 1984 is hardly fun, and yet it's a great book.
And as Cemendur says, pages and pages of technobabble are definitively not compelling.

Michael W said...

"Rule Three: Good Science Fiction is Good Science."

So "Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire" takes the 2001 Hugo for Best Novel . . . how?

Anonymous said...

I think he's left out what I would consider the most important rule: "Obey your own rules".

That is, your universe doesn't necessarily have to mirror reality, but it must at least be internally consistent. If you've chosen to bypass some inconvenient laws of physics, then consider the consequences, and work around them.

For every piece of future technology you create, consider how it might actually work, and what limitations that might put on it, and most importantly, how you characters might feel about it.

For a silly example: If you've decided to introduce a technology that can teleport any bit of matter from any location to any other location, then that probably solves every problem that occurs in your plot, so maybe it better have some severe limitations. Having the characters just forget about it is lazy. Chances are the reader hasn't forgotten.
Also... depending on how it works, your characters may be reluctant to use it, on account of it killing them as part of the process.

Cambias said...

Not a very useful or wise set of rules. Consider:

#10 would have been noteworthy thirty years ago. Now it's a "duh." Where are all these SF works full of crewcut white guys, anyway? What are some books written since 1975 which don't have characters as painstakingly diverse as a UN subcommittee on women's issues?

#9 is simply wrong. It would rule out the work of "Doc" Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, Alastair Reynolds, Fred Saberhagen, Gregory Benford, Iain Banks, and many more. Confrontation with the immensity and indifference of the Universe is a key theme in SF.

#8 is almost filler. Yes, don't plagiarize. True for all writing, not just SF.

#7 is simplistic. No unicorns or elves -- but what about faster-than-light travel? An elf doesn't violate any laws of nature but the starship Enterprise does. Science fiction can and should allow us to examine what is real in the universe and what isn't.

#6 is solid, useful advice.

#5 repeats #6.

#4 is moderately good advice, but seems unduly proscriptive. Instead of "no Nazis" it should probably be "no cardboard cut-out Nazis based on stuff you saw on Hogan's Heroes."

#3 repeats #7.

#2 directly contradicts 9, 7, and 3.

#1 is wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. Stories are entertainment, not social engineering. As Samuel Goldwyn said, "If you want to send a message, use Western Union." Nothing kills a story deader than the sound of the author grinding his axe behind the scenery.

So the list includes 1 piece of useful advice and 2 partials. The rest is platitudes or simply wrong.

Byron said...

I view FTL as a necessary evil. It's hard to live without, but at the same time it's tricky to get right.
And for the science content, I'd have to say that the biggest concern is to avoid flagrantly violating the laws of physics. The Honorverse is a good example of this. Reactionless drives are just as hard on conservation of momentum as a spacecraft moving like a naval vessel. However, it's far easier for the engineer in me to accept. Consistency is also vital. If it works this way one time, it should work the same way the second time, unless there's a really good reason.
Though I would add my own rule:
11. Space is different
No matter what, space is not the same thing as somewhere else. It's different in every aspect: physical environment, warfare (ghost of Tony shrieking here), and technological application. In other words, space is not an ocean.
Actually, that brings up one more thing. I'm not sure how to phrase it, but the best I can do is that your technology should lead to your tactics. The same applies to everything. If you have ships that flash around at thousands of kilometers a second, but there's not a kinetic in sight, something is wrong. Unless you have a really good explanation, then you violated this principle.

Brett said...

I've been mostly beaten to the punch, but on each law:

10. This is obviously a "duh" thing, and more of a fantasy genre problem than SF problem these days (although I can't vouch for ethnicity in military SF, since I don't read much of it). That doesn't mean you need to go out of your way to describe your characters in modern day ethnic terms - a dark-skinned person in the year 3104 C.E. might have a different conception of themselves.

9. Precluding the use of "supermen" removes a lot of interesting potential for fatalistic or tragic stories. Not to mention that "powerful, incomprehensible beings" are part of SFF's heritage, as in the case of Lovecraft's work.

8. Describing Star Wars or Star Trek as "beyond judgment" is completely laughable. They're entertaining and occasionally enlightening, but I wouldn't describe either of them as being so good that "the worst Star Trek episode is better than anything else on television." Most Star Trek fans recognize that the various shows had their ups and downs, with some shows being much worse than others (Enterprise).

Considering that the author makes a big deal out of "realism", you'd think he'd recognize that Star Trek isn't particularly realistic either. It has tons of the stereotypical Space Opera tropes, and frequent consistency issues (like how they would use time travel in an episode and then conveniently forget how to do it later on).

7. The whole point here is consistency and versimillitude, which I agree with. You can have all kinds of outlandish "black box" technologies, but they need to be consistent. I disagree that you can't create versions of vampires, etc that fit in a SF story, although you'll clearly be reaching a bit (with some tweaks to the premise and a better plot, Daybreakers could be a good SF vampire story).

6. There's always an implicit "translation convention" when you have a SF story set hundreds or thousands of years in the future (or a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away). Obviously, the characters aren't speaking in 21st century english, but since it's a story written for a 21st century audience, that's what we get. Calling familiar things by exotic names is just pointless.

5. The author doesn't appear to be willing to take this all the way, since humanoid aliens of any kind are unlikely in a realistic setting without some weird ulterior explanation (like some unknown alien agent seeding primitive human beings on a whole bunch of different worlds). I tend to give authors a little slack on this, because writing genuinely alien aliens is very difficult.

What bothers me more is that SF shows with humanoid aliens don't tend to exploit how vastly different such beings could be in outlook and culture. Instead, they tend to be either "X human culture in space", or one-note caricatures as all too frequently in Star Trek.

4. Nazis are definitely over-used, but I wouldn't entirely rule out a story using them.

3. This is a semantics game that is all too familiar.

2. I don't think wonder is a mandatory component of SF. In fact, there is a huge tradition of Dystopian SF out there, such as Blade Runner, many of the works of Philip Dick, and so forth.

1. See above.

0. For sure.

jollyreaper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jollyreaper said...

Good writing pretty much boils down two rules:

1. Be interesting. Conversely, don't be boring.
2. Follow the rules until you have a great reason for breaking them. This includes rules of writing in general and rules of your genre in particular.
The rest is commentary.
3. No matter what kind of story you're writing, if nobody gives a damn about your characters nobody will give a damn about your story. See Rule 1.

The rest is commentary.

10. Earth Men aren't White Men
Well, that goes without saying. I don't think anyone is really committing this sin these days. Why not do this? Because it's boring.

9. No Supermen
Not really a sin at all. You can do plenty of great stories where humans are tip-toeing through the backyards of Clarkian alien gods or Lovecraftian Cosmic Horrors. Godlike aliens are difficult from a storytelling perspective simply because it's hard to work through the implications of their psychology. Someone on the run from a superior threat is still doing something even if he can't fight. If he's cornered in a blind alley and can't do anything, the crime is that the story has become boring.

8. Trek and Wars has done everything already. Rehashing the same material brings nothing new to the table. There's room for deconstruction and meta-commentary by playing with the tropes.

7. Scifi is real. Stick to the genre's guns. You don't write a romance without a love story. You don't write a horror story where nothing scary happens. But I do think he's missing the point about strictly sticking to hard SF. I've read some great stories where one impossible thing is inserted into the otherwise mundane world and the fun is in watching things flow logically from there. What would tomorrow be like if an immortality vaccine is announced? What would tomorrow be like if we invented a time periscope to view the past? What would tomorrow be like if God announced himself and all of the major religions got more than half of their doctrines wrong? A purist might split things with Speculative Fiction, Science Fantasy (vampires and ray guns), science fiction (FTL drives and ray guns), and hard SF (no FTL, no ray guns).

jollyreaper said...

I would say the really big sin is genre-hopping. If you're telling a scifi story, don't go and insert magic when it's never been part of the premise in the first place. Nobody objects to magic being in Lord of the Rings but they're going to be pissed when the main character dies in a scifi movie like the Matrix and he's resurrected with a kiss by his true love.

6. An Alien Name Doesn't Make It Alien. Only give a foreign name to something that's sufficiently unlike the closest English word that something would be lost in the translation. If your alien culture has sex rites as part of the religion and there are temple prostitutes, calling them such might not convey the appropriate flavor since prostitution has a pejorative connotation.
http://xkcd.com/483/ XKCD fiction rule of thumb: probability book is good versus number of words made up by author.
Don't be tedious.

5. Aliens should be alien. Agreed. Don't be boring, be interesting.

4. No Nazis. They certainly existed but there's not much more you can do with them. The sin of being cliche and boring.

3. Good SF is good Science. Can be broadly true but you can get away with a lot by being interesting. By his rule, Dune isn't scifi since there's precognition and genetic memory. Personally, I would have liked to see Herbert explain what the scientific underpinnings of that sort of thing would be. I do agree that if we're talking about a science fiction story, anything clearly supernatural and paranormal is simply real stuff we haven't discovered the science for yet. If there's telepathy and we can't explain it, there still must be some mechanism at work that we will eventually be able to deduce in a scientific fashion. Being inconsistent or crapping out with a deus ex machina or "god did it" handwave is just cheap and frustrating.

2. Sense of wonder. Don't be boring.

1. Makes the world better. Perhaps. But don't be boring.

jollyreaper said...

whoops, I just realized my two rules grew to three. No edit feature. Shame on me.

jollyreaper said...

One other bit of meta-commentary: edit for clarity and length!

While the thought started from Game of Thrones, it's generic enough that you need no particular knowledge of it, just a healthy contempt for overly large political stories that go a thousand directions at once.

Haven't read the books, have been watching the show. Read up on the spoilers for what has happened to date in later novels to see where the characters are going.

While I like the idea of meaty fantasy novels, I've been leery of getting into those series that go on for a number of doorstop-sized tomes with no end in sight. Something struck me about the whole thing. These authors really must give more thought to editing.

Consider a historian approaching a time of tumult. There's so much detail to go into and he'll become so immersed in it that the task of distilling it down into broad strokes and only including details that clarify rather than overwhelm is incredibly challenging. To someone interested in the minutia every detail is interesting and deciding what to keep and what to cut can be harder than the writing of the original draft.

Take any given war and there are as many stories to tell as people who lived through it. You could spend your entire life reading histories of WWII, personal accounts, memoirs, and never see the end of it. But after a certain point the broad strokes have been laid out and each subsequent story is just filling in more details.

The honest historian tries to report the facts without shaving and shaping them to fit a preconceived narrative. There are few things more disgusting in the field than watching historians try to shape and shave the facts to fit politically convenient narratives. But a dry accounting of the facts usually isn't enough to explain exactly what happened and why. There does need to be context and explanation. How were mistakes made? How were opportunities spotted? What placed the right person in the right place at the right time to take momentous action?

The best history books I've read manage to show you the war from all levels, from the war room to the home front to the soldiers in the mud.

Speaking a someone who's been watching the show and only reading the wiki but experienced other long, convoluted, multi-doorstop works, it seems like GRRM can get caught up in all the minutia and not cut to the chase. If we were to compare ASOIAF to WWII (and this is the loosest of comparisons), we get comfy with the British government and important players with the understanding that war could be coming with the Hun and then we end up getting a whole slew of characters introduced at a similar level of influence in Germany and then we have sons of the British characters in the RAF and then we get American characters thrown in when they enter the war and of course we have intimate point of view characters going through the Battle of the Atlantic, rolling with Rommel, now we're in cabinet meetings with Stalin, Mussolini shows up to say hi, and then we have to go and throw in a whole goddamn Pacific theater when all we really want to know is what the hell is happening with our original set of Brits we started the whole thing with. For Chrissakes, you can tell one entire epic story about WWII sticking strictly within the confines of the British Isles. While every other part of the war is also interesting, could we finish one goddamn story first?

I think it all comes down to editing. Stephen King talks about murdering your darlings, removing stuff that may be good on its own but ultimately robs the story of momentum. Of course, the difference between, say, a historical novelist trying to do WWII and a fantasy writer is he doesn't know precisely what happens until he's written it. And most of these guys seem to avoid doing any serious outlining. That's the only explanation for GRRM having to rewrite that one whole book.

Tony said...

Asking forebearance for my earlier blowup -- for which: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, specifically to Rick, jollyreaper, and anybody else who I can't think of but offened...totally my fault for thinking myself bigger and smarter than others.

--------------------

10. This boils down to write towards your expected audience. The biggest problem is not to pander. Another big problem is not to play to stereotypes of your audience.

9. Supermen are valid characters -- or, really, plot devices -- if your intent is to investigate how one deals with such entities. Also, Iain Banks has made a healthy bit of coin out of his CUlture universe, which sets up AIs as little less than supermen, with humans as their de facto pets. Stories with supermen are like writing stories from the POV of a dog or cat. Anybody who's read The Art of Racing in the Rain knows it can be done, and done well.

8. Don't borrow from established magisteriua, unless you're formally invited to join the club, or are writing fan fic.

7. Errrnh..."real" is relative in narrative fiction. Magical realism and fantasy are as real as anything else, within their own contexts, if kept internally consistent. If one means to say that science fiction involves plausible extrapolations into our future reality, okay, fair enough. But exceptions still need to be made for FTL or stupendo-powered, relativistic STL.

6 & 5. As expectations of alienness in the alien are heightened, one has to keep up. I wouldn't consider this a rule so much as a self-evident fact.

4. The problem here is that we're elevating a matter of good taste and common sense into a rule. The Nazis are a "were", not an "are" (neonatzis and other white supremacists notwithstanding). But they were nonetheless very real. If you want to get into how bad totalitarian states can be, You can crib from the Nazis, with the serial numbers suitably filed off. If you add in a little bit of Stalinism, Kmehr Rougeism, and the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution, all the better. The point is to make truly bad people bad because they are that way for plausible reason, not because they are cardboard cutouts.

But, by the same token, one should not go too far the other way. I have no sympathy for the Devil, and neither should anyone else. If your baddies are really bad, it doesn't matter that their dog likes them or they have a gaggle of children who love them. Just make it obvious that the baddy has a logical reason for being the way he is, even if it's rooted in madness.

3. Science should be consistent and -- as much as possible -- realistic. But it doesn't need to be a character in a story any more than the motorcycles and body armor are characters in Rollerball. It should be good enough to keep the reader from stopping reading and saying to himself, "Wait...what!?"

2. A lot of science fiction does have a sense of wonder. But a lot of bad science fiction presents wonderful pictures, while a lot of good science fiction is just about people in the future, and how they deal with their problems.

1. Fatuous nonsense. Science fiction is a literary genre, nothing more. It has no power in and of itself. Also, for everything it has (mostly in outline) predicted, it missed big time on most things that actually exist in our world today. How many kids of the 21st Century are going to look at Star Trek TOS and asked why communicators are only used for phones?

0. Directly contradicts Rule 1, in that cautionary tales are hardly ever "fun", even if imaginative and interesting enough to sit through.

I can't really think of any rules to SF that aren't rules to good writing in general. Even keeping realistic and consistent science in mind has parallels in almost any technological story: a good Western has to have realistic cowboys, indians, cavalry, settlers, trains, steamboats, guns (and gunplay); a sea story has to have realistic seas and ships.

Anthony said...

Hm. I don't think I agree with many of those rules.
10) This depends on what you're writing for. In general I agree, but there are situations where the characters you'd actually run across are very uniform.
9) Disagree. Unstoppable forces have their place.
8) 'Be subtle with your thievery' is a good general purpose rule of fiction.
7) Disagree. Science fiction is a way of framing a story, the science is not the story.
6) True but not necessarily relevant. There's nothing wrong with something that isn't really particularly alien.
5) Don't go overboard on this. Alien motivations may be perfectly recognizable.
4) Meh. Depends on what you're up to.
3) Disagree. Good science fiction is good fiction.
2) Disagree. Sure, it can have a sense of wonder, but dystopic fiction is SF too.
1) Good science fiction is fiction, not propaganda.
0) A rule zero is no excuse for bad rules.

Anonymous said...

Byron,

I view FTL as a necessary evil. It's hard to live without, but at the same time it's tricky to get right.

===========

This is basically it in a nutshell. You either have ..

*FTL
*A contrived setting allowing for similar stories(Ie Firefly)
*A Sci Fi setting within the Solar System.

While you can make great Sci-Fi stories with very little spaceflight "action"--say Blade Runner or Outland.

You cant do a Hard Sci Fi Demi-Space Opera without something.

(SA Phil)

Anonymous said...

Brett,

8. Describing Star Wars or Star Trek as "beyond judgment" is completely laughable. They're entertaining and occasionally enlightening, but I wouldn't describe either of them as being so good that "the worst Star Trek episode is better than anything else on television." Most Star Trek fans recognize that the various shows had their ups and downs, with some shows being much worse than others (Enterprise).

I think I liked "Enterprise" the best out of the various Trek Incarnations.

Anonymous said...

(SA Phil)

Opps that last comment was me.

Also,
I agree with Jollyreaper that there is a lot of potnetial there in deconstructing the various Star Trek / Star Wars tropes

I just wonder who will manage to do it skillfully enough to fend off the Ire of the mega-fans.

Tony said...

More commentary on Rule 6...

Don't forget that there can be perfectly human aliens, in the sense that we're as likely to take multiple cultures into the future as we have imported them from the past. James Blish's Okies and Earth cops are a perfect example of philosophically alien cultures coexisting and even (sometimes) cooperating. Even when they had the same words for a thing (like a contract) they often had different ideas about their meaning and uses.

Or one can be even more simplistic than that. A colony established by the Chinese are going to have different words for everything than one established by Americans, even if they live just across the river from each other. And they will probably have different opinions on a lot of things, like the community/individual ballance, the relative value of boys and girls in society, etc.

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"I agree with Jollyreaper that there is a lot of potnetial there in deconstructing the various Star Trek / Star Wars tropes

I just wonder who will manage to do it skillfully enough to fend off the Ire of the mega-fans."


Two ways to look at that:

1. You don't GAS what the ST/SW fans think. They're not the audience you're trying to please. In fact, the more they howl, the more sales you get to people who think that fanbase gives SF a bad name.

2. You do an honest treatment of the trope and let the cards fall where they may. Haldeman did just that with Forever War. He was going for Heinlein's throat WRT Starship Troopers, informing his writings with his own Vietnam experience. Problem was, to be true to that experience, he had to admit that whatever the justice or injustice of the war, the soldiers on the front lines were just trying to do their jobs, and that the officers hated it as much as the enlisted grunts, even if they couldn't show it in public. And that's how the story came out.

Anonymous said...

Tony,

Two ways to look at that:

1. You don't GAS what the ST/SW fans think. They're not the audience you're trying to please. In fact, the more they howl, the more sales you get to people who think that fanbase gives SF a bad name.

=====================

I suppose so. I was thinking more along the lines of how "Watchmen" deconstructed comic books. They did it in such a way that even the comic book fans cheered them on.

There is an additional hurdle in deconstructing something like Trek ... there are a lot of even casual fans that look at Trek and consider it "realistic" -- unable to distinguish technobabble from any actual science.

Although perhaps that is only a problem if the author were to come from the Hard SF angle.

(SA Phil)

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"I suppose so. I was thinking more along the lines of how 'Watchmen' deconstructed comic books. They did it in such a way that even the comic book fans cheered them on.

There is an additional hurdle in deconstructing something like Trek ... there are a lot of even casual fans that look at Trek and consider it 'realistic' -- unable to distinguish technobabble from any actual science.

Although perhaps that is only a problem if the author were to come from the Hard SF angle."


Not a reader of comics or a patron of comics-based movies, so I couldn't independently verify how good a job Watchmen did. Sending up a trope using trope-based conventions tends to go one of two ways -- absolute farce, relying on preposterously overrought caricatures of the tropes. Think Bill the Galactic Hero here. Or such close attention to trope conventions is maintained that the criticism just becomes another message that the trope can already countenance. I think, from reading the Wiki, that that is essentially what Watchmen does. It's not like all of the problems of superheroes in society haven't already been explored to death throughout the Marvel and DC universes.

WRT to Trek, I think the franchise did a good enough job of deconstructing itself. Each new series effectively deconstructed the preious. TNG's utopian socialism deconstructed TOS's gritty frontier and political clashes with the Klingons/Romulans. Then DS9's more pragmatic milieu was effectively deconstructing TNG's utopian socialism. Then STV and STE meandered back and forth, as each episode demanded.

Anonymous said...

(SA Phil)

I don't know that Star Trek actually deconstructed itself. It definitely evolved/changed as time went on. Maybe on some material it did.

But no where did they really take apart its core tropes/ or Trek "Tech"

... The Wagontrain to the Stars meets planet of hats premise.

..The Strange New World and New Civilizations full of Rubber Forehead aliens that aren't all that Strange. Nor do they get so far out there they cant zip home.

... the Space Opera applied phlebotinium / Pulling a rabbit out of a hat approach to technology.

In TNG for example I expect that small crew advanced every aspect of their technology by decades with their seat of the pants solutions... except they really didn't.


The list goes on and I suppose for several they did revise their take. But Trek has become an institution of tropedom. So strong more average people are more likely to believe in the Trek future than the Plausible Mid-future.

Anonymous said...

(SA Phil)

I am not really referring to Farce, Trek and SW Farce has been done to death.

Damien Sullivan said...

Moving from typewriters to computers is blamed for a lot of the growth in books, for obvious reasons. But it's the editor's job to edit, not the authors. Fact is, most readers seem to like "more bang for their buck", supersized books and all. The market has spoken.

"It's not like all of the problems of superheroes in society haven't already been explored to death throughout the Marvel and DC universes."

Alan Moore wrote Watchmen in 1986. A lot of the exploration has happened since then, and in response.

Anonymous said...

(SA Phil)

I think you are right Damien -- Watchmen probably had a big role in changing how comics worked.

Especially as some of the better authors who were Watchman fans have come along.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if they had really let Moore destroy an entire comic book company's worth of established characters to make a point.


And that is what I mean. Space Opera, Especially the established status quo could use being turned on its ear.
--------

I had had a similar conversation on book lengths recently with a friend of mine. I wonder if perhaps many have become too long.

When "John Carter" came out and I looked over the original prose of that one (probably hand written manuscript) it seemed spartan and utilitarian in the extreme.

jollyreaper said...

The problem I have with Trek and Wars at this point is that they've fallen into franchise territory like superhero comic books. it's really difficult to tell a story worth a damn with mandatory character immortality, management meddling, and the understanding that you don't endanger the business just because the plot calls for it.

Tony said...

Damien Sullivan:

"Alan Moore wrote Watchmen in 1986. A lot of the exploration has happened since then, and in response."

Now here is where age gives you perspective. Peter Parker's, Bruce Banner's, Bruce Wayne's, and even Clark Kent's personal and professional problems were all pretty deeply explored long before Watchmen -- long before I even graduated high school (1982). It might not have been in as comprehensive a fashion, but many story lines explored many problems caused by superheroes and their existence. And even I was aware of it, though I never read comic books.

jollyreaper said...

@SA i think the really telling thing about lengths is when people complain nothing happened in most of the book.

The way I like to outline is the origin of the conflict, the turning point, and the outcome. Figure out the human events that made those things happen, and this explains what your characters had to do to make it happen.

Lord of the Rings is still essentially one book and some critics maintain there was entirely too much padding in there. Of course, one man's padding is another man's detail.

Anonymous said...

"Alan Moore wrote Watchmen in 1986. A lot of the exploration has happened since then, and in response."

Now here is where age gives you perspective. Peter Parker's, Bruce Banner's, Bruce Wayne's, and even Clark Kent's personal and professional problems were all pretty deeply explored long before Watchmen -- long before I even graduated high school (1982). It might not have been in as comprehensive a fashion, but many story lines explored many problems caused by superheroes and their existence. And even I was aware of it, though I never read comic books.

=========

There is quite a large difference between what you are describing and what happened in Watchmen.

I am guessing the wiki doesn't do it justice.

Plus there is a probably a difference in understanding between a active and a much more casual (30 years removed) reader. I am probably not referring to the same things you are.

And you really aren't that much older than all of us. I was class of 89 myself.

Also, I am not entirely sure you mean the same thing I do by "deconstruction"

(SA Phil)

Thucydides said...

In order to really get an out of the box solution, you need to either stand a trope on its head or tease a fine line of detail out of the larger trope and follow it where it may lead.

Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" is one example of that; what happens when Batman/Bruce Wayne gives up fighting crime? What could bring them back, and which one is the "real" person, and which one is the disguise? (this territory has been plowed over quite well now, but "The Dark Knight Returns" was written in 1986).

While I'm certainly not talented enough to do this, I suspect that there are lots of tropes, cliches, etc. that can be mined for these gems.

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"There is quite a large difference between what you are describing and what happened in Watchmen.

I am guessing the wiki doesn't do it justice."


Or maybe people ascribe to it more than it really deserves?

Or let's take Moore's own words:

"'not anti-Americanism, [but] anti-Reaganism,' specifically believing that 'at the moment a certain part of Reagan's America isn't scared. They think they're invulnerable.'"

You want to send a message? Call Western Union.

"Plus there is a probably a difference in understanding between a active and a much more casual (30 years removed) reader. I am probably not referring to the same things you are."

Now that's entirely possible...but see above. Political allegory doesn't last outside of its context. That's especially true when its crafters focus on personalities and not on large scale, long term trends.

"And you really aren't that much older than all of us. I was class of 89 myself."

I wasn't referring to you in particular. It seems at times like I come from an entirely different continuum. I suspect it has to do with growing up close to the defense industry, highway and subway tunneling, and three generations of military service. I'm not sure what that adds up to, but the answers I get don't seem to match anything that people in the 20-30 something world take for granted. Take it FWIW.

"Also, I am not entirely sure you mean the same thing I do by 'deconstruction'"

What do you mean? Seriously.

Anonymous said...

(SA Phil)

RE: Tony

I doubt its any of that.

I wont go into the personal story stuff - it is irrelevant, really.

I used Watchmen and comic books as an example of deconstructing a genre many feel was done well. Since you admittedly don't follow either .. you simply aren't getting it.

I am not saying its the be all and end all of deconstructions, just that it is the sort of thing I have thought would be interesting to be done to Trek.

Trek being very similar to Comics in how it is basically a institutional narrative, as Jollyreaper mentioned.

I'll try to think of a better way to describe what I mean .. or some example that is easier for a non-comic book fan to relate to.

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"I wont go into the personal story stuff - it is irrelevant, really. "

Hmmm...not so much. You see, I think that there is more to comics in many instances than a matter of taste. There is also a matter of culture -- deeply ingrained culture at that.

I come from a family of readers. Yes, there's a lot of blue collar in there, but there is also a long line of educators, mostly at the primary level. When I was a kid, I would have been told -- and by the time it mattered, I would have wholeheartedly agreed -- that I was wasting my time with comics. I would not have been told that I was wasting my time with books, even science fiction books. (Though I doubt my one-room school mistress grandmother ever saw the intellectual attraction; her generation's contemporary writers were Kipling, Service, Frost, and London.)

But, to bring things back on topic, that upbringing also taught me that good writing is good writing, whatever the genre. The rules for good science fiction, by those lights, are the same as the rules for any good narrative fiction: clear and purposeful character development, environmental consistency, and verisimilitude.

Tony said...

So, Phil, in my case at least, you're not just asserting a matter of taste when you try to use comics as an example. You're facing a cultural impedence mismatch of considerable proportion.

jollyreaper said...

I find it interesting that it's so difficult to get a proper definition of deconstruction. A lot of it is tied up in academic wank.

The way I've always thought of it was when you approach a genre with a proper understanding of all the parts and pieces that go into making it so and explore the why's and wherefore's. With Watchmen in particular all you need to know is that funny books tended to exist in their own superficial, shallow worlds. The heroes were cardboard and plastic with no private lives. Watchmen put them in a real world and linked golden age and silver age characters together in ways that made things seem real even as you had comic book villains with zany doomsday plans.

You have to have a genre that's grown popular for a whole and have a lot of tropes that are required but people lack an understanding of or even a memory of why they're there. Stock characters, stock plots, lots of tradition, and it all works or else the genre wouldn't be popular anymore. By why do they work? The hero is a dude with a square jaw. The reporter or scientist or rich person or whatever who will be thrust into the story with him with be female, a dish, and hot for his monkey love. Why? The hero's family is killed so he puts on a skull shirt and arms up like Ted Nudgent or dressed like a bat. Are those his only choices? Could something else have happened?

I think the biggest impetus for a deconstruction of a genre is because what has proven successful is very boring for creative people and the deconstruction comes from trying to find a way to make it interesting. There is plenty of room for this with the new round of young adult action romances aimed at girls with some crossover appeal for boys. Hunger Games, Twilight, etc.

Imagine Twilight where the female lead finds the proposed love interests intolerable and never comes around to accepting either one. A genre-savvy approach like this could go from showing you where the bathrooms are on the Enterprise to explaining how the preoccupation with fashion and being brooding gits is encouraged to keep vampires from becoming too organized and outstripping the food supply.

Byron said...

Literary criticism? Here?
I think the world is ending (again). Other then that, I'd have to agree with Tony at Tony's level (about four levels more abstract then where the rest of us are operating).

Byron said...

I really should clarify my last comment. That was not meant as an insult. I've just learned that Tony tends to work a few levels of abstraction above the rest of us. And on that level, I agree with him. On lower levels, I'm not sure.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



I don't have anything to say about the immediate topic of discussion, but here's some earlier topics I picked up during the thread:

Re: alien aliens. Personally I believe that it is more realistic to have aliens with human-like personalities than with human-like looks. Any species is going to need to have certain similarities to us in mindset (through convergent evolution) to be able to become a scientifically-advanced tool-using civilization. Or even, to some degree, to survive as a species at all. Meanwhile the only anatomical trait they really need to have in common with us is some sort of grasping organ.

Re: science fiction without space travel. It's possible to set a story on a single colony planet with the action staying on that one planet, however, such stories still entail the existance of interstellar (or at least interplanetary, if the colony is Mars or the like - and we only have so many places in our solar system) travel behind the scenes, with varying levels of (in)convenience. In fact, in my experience, a common theme in such stories is a newcomer arriving on the planet and learning to fit in with the locals. (Another common theme, though that may be a matter of perception bias, is to have the planet be a new colony that is in the partial stages of terraforming. This makes the logistics of space colonization even more relevant, even if the characters aren't going anywhere.) You could write a science fiction story with more advanced technology than us in some ways but no significant space travel at all, but then you'd just be stuck on Earth and it wouldn't be rocketpunk anymore. I'd call that cyberpunk. (Stories also don't have to be set in highly populated places. Exploration-based stories, either interstellar or interplanetary, can be set in the middle of nowhere, but then space travel is still central to the plot.)

jollyreaper said...

One other thought -- you can have a space war story without FTL if all the actors are in the same system. Postulate at least two habitable worlds, lots of space infrastructure for manufacturing, orbital habs, etc. (need a set of assumptions to justify all of that.)

The baddie-bad-bads are a faction long-established on one of the worlds and they end up trying to take the whole place over. So then the other polities in the system are trying to stop the baddie-bad-bads because the assumption is that they won't be satisfied with one planet -- they'll try to take over the rest of the system.

If this conflict came after long periods of peace or at least low-intensity bush wars, then ramping up into interstellar war mode might take some time. But there's also the civilian population to liberate on the planet below which precludes just dropping a ton of rocks.

While there's STL travel and humans elsewhere in the universe, the system is pretty much a bottle.

Tony said...

Byron:

"Literary criticism? Here?
I think the world is ending (again). Other then that, I'd have to agree with Tony at Tony's level (about four levels more abstract then where the rest of us are operating).

I really should clarify my last comment. That was not meant as an insult. I've just learned that Tony tends to work a few levels of abstraction above the rest of us. And on that level, I agree with him. On lower levels, I'm not sure."


Don't worry, B. I got it the first time. (So I may not be as far into abstract-land as all that.)

WRT literary criticism, I don't have much time for it at the highly abstract level. I pretty much stop at this:

Does it work as a story?

Does it work within it's medium? (More on this in a sec...)

If there's some kind of point to be made -- and it isn't necessary that there be any real point at all -- is it made properly within the context of the story, so that it seems to organically grow out of the plot, rather than have to be grafted on? (IMO, the perfect point would be absolutely burried in the situation and characters, to the degree that the reader sees no other way.)

WRT comic books -- not ths short newspaper form, even when it follows a story line -- I appreciate the medium as an expression of commercial art skills. I even used to buy Heavy Metal magazine for its art. (And no, not just the girls with the big bosoms and big butts, though they were welcome, both aesthetically and viscerally.)

Where the comic book tropes come from have a lot to do with their existence as a visual art form. Heroes and villains both have distinctive costumes precisely because it exploits the visual art form to the fullest. In that sense there's really nothing to deconstruct. It was inevitable in the medium. The very existence of heroes, villains, and babelicious female associates has everything to do with the target audience: young, idealistic men -- even if they don't understand the why and how of their own ideals.

The medium actually plays heavily on the non-examination of ideals, because it is visual and its communicative capacity is in fact based on the existence and recognition of ideals-rooted tropes. The majority of the bandwidth is visual, so the medium must take advantage of iconography.

So I get what Watchmen was purported to be doing -- attack the medium's underlying ideals, using the medium's very own iconography. Cute, as a philosophical and artistic exercise. Yet I think that misses the point entirely -- comic books were never meant to be anything other than what they are. And the self-admitted political agenda of the creators just makes it all that more anviliciously meaningless.

So I guess that makes another couple of good rules for good literature that I think any professional author (meaning one who does it for money, rather than as a cause) would agree with:

Don't forget the medium; use all of its tools and tropes to your advantage.

Don't rebel against the medium; if you can't or don't want to work in it, find some other space, or give up writing entirely.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"One other thought -- you can have a space war story without FTL if all the actors are in the same system."

Been done, numerous times, either as a piece of background or as the main plot. See:

Mote in God's Eye (background, New Caledonia system civil war, post First Empire collapse; Mote system, due to their unique situation WRT where their one jump point exits (inside a red giant star))

The Gripping Hand (Mote system again, though this time the Moties at war within their own system is a major plot complication)

The Outcasts of Heaven Belt (background, in the form of the heaven system civil war; major plot complication, in the form of competing military expeditions to secure control over a visiting ramship)

Dickson's Dorsai books, in which many planets have competing nations at war with each other on the ground

Anonymous said...

Tony,

So I get what Watchmen was purported to be doing -- attack the medium's underlying ideals, using the medium's very own iconography. Cute, as a philosophical and artistic exercise. Yet I think that misses the point entirely -- comic books were never meant to be anything other than what they are. And the self-admitted political agenda of the creators just makes it all that more anviliciously meaningless.

-------

Except that you admittedly did not read either the work in question nor the material the work was deconstructing.

You are like the kid who went to English Lit class without reading the material and tried to BS his way through it by reading the dust cover.

That is why I suggested we move on from that example.

Another one many cite lately is how "Game of Thrones" deconstructs the Tolkien/Jordan/Fiest/etc etc Fantasy stuff.

I suppose that example could work but its not quite what I mean.

I would like to see a deconstruction of Trek that includes Trek Tech and how totally implausible it is both within its own world and in terms of Hard sci-fi.

Watchmen did that for superhero comics because Watchman had no superheroes. It had one super being. "God exists and he is American"

(SA Phil)

Tony said...

(SA Phil)

"Except that you admittedly did not read either the work in question nor the material the work was deconstructing.

You are like the kid who went to English Lit class without reading the material and tried to BS his way through it by reading the dust cover.

[a little out of order:]

Watchmen did that for superhero comics because Watchman had no superheroes. It had one super being. "God exists and he is American"
"


You're missing my point.

I do understand comic books as a medium. They are primarily visual and essentially ideals-rooted. I've consumed enough of them to know that. I don't have to read any specific one.

And on those grounds I question the philosophical aim of Watchmen on first principles -- it's an internal rebellion against the foundations of the medium. It's Sampson pulling down the infidels' temple on top of them. Except we somehow seem to hold in our mind the heroic image of Sampson initiating the toppling. All of art shows it that way. We forget that the temple, falling in, exterminated Sampson along with the infidels.

We also forget that Sampson was acting on an agenda foreign to the that of the infidels. It was also an agenda that wasn't succeptible to analysis, much like the political agenda behind Watchmen. Just like Sampson's act had no meaning outside of his religious agenda, the political agenda of Watchemn had no meaning outside of its contemporary political context and a certain point of view about that context.

"Another one many cite lately is how "Game of Thrones" deconstructs the Tolkien/Jordan/Fiest/etc etc Fantasy stuff."

A medium I'm more familiar with. But I have almost as little interest in it as entertainment as I do comic books. What interests me about fantasy -- and any literary genre or storytelling medium -- is its properties as a genre and medium that describe it, and enable analysis.

"I would like to see a deconstruction of Trek that includes Trek Tech and how totally implausible it is both within its own world and in terms of Hard sci-fi."

But there's absolutely no point, just as there's no point in deconstructing comic books. Star Trek is science fantasy, not hard science fiction. It's also television and movies much more than it is literature (though literature is an important component of it). It's instructive to analyze it from an outside perspective, in order to define what it is and isn't. But tear it down from inside? That seems like a much more visceral, personal thing than it is a valuable artistic or education exercise.

jollyreaper said...

Watchmen also had a lot of meta-commentary that would be lost upon people who didn't know the broad outlines of how things went in the publishing world at the time.

Game of Thrones basically takes high fantasy, strips out pretty much all of the humanoid races like dwarves, elves, trolls and the like (except for whatever the white walkers are), keeps the magic (except it's all supposed to be gone now, all we see are the ruins of the mighty works done in the past) and put all of the motivations squarely within the realm of human politics. No dark lords, no magic mcguffins, just the struggle for political power in the palace and on the battlefield.

That being said, it's in danger of falling into self-parody with those very ideas. Make a world too crapsack and either it's too convincingly awful to enjoy and you stop reading/watching OR it becomes so doomful that you start laughing at how predictably awful everything will get. Going back to the sin of being boring I talk about, predictability is another kind of boring.

Your mileage may vary but I felt BSG went overboard on the crapsack world bit. Yes, it's difficult to have an uplifting apocalypse story but the crappy things that kept happening became cheap melodrama.

Anonymous said...

(SA Phil)

Except that Watchmen was not rebelling against the medium.

There is a Strawman, and he is your argument.

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"Except that Watchmen was not rebelling against the medium.

There is a Strawman, and he is your argument."


Uhhh...no. You don't perceive (or don't wish to perceive) the rebellion against the medium. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist for an observer outside of the fanbase. The motive was apparently to nuke the superhero as superpowerful. That is a rebellion against the underlying idealism and wish fulfillment of the medium.

And, to return to the Sampson metaphor, it wasn't an inherrently necessary development. Nor did it change comic books except to force characters to lead a more examined life. (Which I'm sure the surviving infidels did as well, in the wake of Sampson's rebellion.) But in rebelling against the medium, Watchmen helped create the graphic novel, which ain't a comic book.

Anonymous said...

Tony,

Uhhh...no. You don't perceive (or don't wish to perceive) the rebellion against the medium. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist for an observer outside of the fanbase. The motive was apparently to nuke the superhero as superpowerful. That is a rebellion against the underlying idealism and wish fulfillment of the medium.

---------

You still haven't even read the bloody thing.

How about we debate "The Epic of Gilgamesh" in the original dead language it was written in. That way at least neither of us will have read it.

(SA Phil)

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"There is a Strawman, and he is your argument."

This is very much like Colin Cowherd on ESPN radio and his relationship with serious sports fans. He's constantly pointing out that just because they don't see a feature or relationship, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. He doesn't have to be immersed in a particular team's fandom or lore. He just has to understand the psychology of the fan.

What do you think I've been going on here? The psychology of the fan. What you say about Watchmen, combined with what can be found out on the internet, indicates to me that you're so close to the work and so invested in its mythology that you'll never see it with the perspective that I see it.

And that's manifestly not to say that you're wrong or that I'm right. It's saying that we're looking at different things. You want (and possibly in some way emotionally need) Watchmen to be an Earth-shattering -- or at least genre-shattering -- tour-de-force. I don't see it that way or need it to be that way. It was an exercise in pulling aprt some genre conventions using the tools and iconography of the genre. I can appreciate that as an artistic exercise. I just don't see it as that big a deal, because comic books are not ultimately all that important to me personally.

Tony said...

the SA Phil quotei n the previous post was meant to be:

"You still haven't even read the bloody thing."

Anonymous said...

Tony,

I think perhaps you are having an arguement with yourself and are just using the name "SA Phil" as a convienent stand in.

Let me know who won.

In the meantime let me suggest for the third time that it was simply a bad example in your case.

Seems some other people have read it though and may or may not agree with the example.

(SA Phil)

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"I think perhaps you are having an arguement with yourself and are just using the name 'SA Phil' as a convienent stand in.

Let me know who won."


The conversation is with you, but with the wider audience (as always) in mind.

"In the meantime let me suggest for the third time that it was simply a bad example in your case."

I think the idea of deconstruction from within is a ill-founded -- except maybe as an exercise in art, which I've already conceded WRT Watchmen -- whatever example one chooses. Characterization and analysis from without is sufficient to make any points that need to be made. See The Evil Site for a more than adequate working example.

"Seems some other people have read it though and may or may not agree with the example."

I've never disputed that it's a valid example of what you want done to Trek. As I think I've made clear enough, I'm skeptical of the exercise -- definitely in principle and mostly in practice, with the sole exception being "for teh artz".

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Tony:

"You want (and possibly in some way emotionally need) Watchmen to be an Earth-shattering -- or at least genre-shattering -- tour-de-force. [...] I just don't see it as that big a deal, because comic books are not ultimately all that important to me personally."

Which does not confirm or deny it being a genre-shattering. It's just that if you aren't reading a particular genre, even a genre-shattering work wouldn't affect you much, just like you wouldn't be affected by the catastrophic collapse of a house halfway across the city.

I will note that I am completely unfamiliar with Watchmen and do not pretend to know or care how important it was. But if I did want to know, I would trust the opinion of people who read the genre in question above that of others.

Eth said...

Wait, do you mean that superheroes as seen in comic books are the inherent expression of the medium? Like, if we have comic books, we have superheroes, with all their colours and silliness?
Funny, because here in Europe, comic books are a big deal, superheroes are pretty much non-existent, and many comic books here follow a realistic style, both with artworks or with characters and story.
Or I probably misunderstood, then what did you mean exactly?

If Watchmen deconstructs something, it's the conventions of the superhero stories, not the entire medium.
Which wasn't a bad thing, far from it. Deconstruction, when followed by reconstruction, help making a genre evolve. Though most of the superheroe genre seem to have forgotten the reconstruction part for some years with not so fortunate results, many of today's stories are interesting takes at it that you wouldn't see in the 80's.
And I'm pretty sure we can find many other examples of deconstructions and reconstructions having helped varied genres evolve.

Anonymous said...

(SA Phil)

Eth is definitely right about that. Watchmen was only a deconstruction of the superhero genre in comics.

The medium is a bigger than that. Which was, perhaps ironically, a point "Watchmen" itself made with the 'comic within a comic' pirate story that ran throughout.

Anonymous said...

I propose these rules instead.
#1 Be internally consistent. Either you can beam through the shields or you can't. Either you can cure noxblarg disease or you can't. If you can see 5 minutes into the future then characters shouldn't forget they have that ability. And the implications need to be worked out.

#2 Know your genre. A murder mystery on a space station is a murder mystery with a SciFi backdrop. A war story set on Jigbet III is a war story with a SciFi backdrop. Don't switch up genres on the reader part way through. HOWEVER it is totally fine to combine other kinds of genre with science fiction.

#2A Spectacle Science fiction is an adventure story set in a SciFi backdrop. Hard(ish) science fiction is a story about how some idea/concept/technology affects the world. Star Wars is an adventure story that happens to be in space. Star trek is trying to be hard science fiction. DON'T CLAIM TO BE ONE WHEN YOU'RE THE OTHER.

#3 Respect your audience. Don't call a rabbit a smeerp. Don't use rubber forhead aliens if you can craft better. Don't think they won't figure out the plot holes. Spend some time THINKING about how your story works because the audience certainly will.

Hmm. Thats it.

Tony said...

Eth:

"Wait, do you mean that superheroes as seen in comic books are the inherent expression of the medium? Like, if we have comic books, we have superheroes, with all their colours and silliness?
Funny, because here in Europe, comic books are a big deal, superheroes are pretty much non-existent, and many comic books here follow a realistic style, both with artworks or with characters and story.
Or I probably misunderstood, then what did you mean exactly?"


I don't think anybody made it explicit, but we were pretty much taling comic books in the American pulp context. Thinking of European comics in particular, I for one never really thought of Tintin (for example) as a comic. It certainly didn't come to America in comic book form, but as hardbound volumes, each one containing a whole story arc. It was more like art, though I doubt I would have thought of it that way at the time.

I've also mentioned Heavy Metal magazine, which was very much made up of European art. (And informed by the European commercial art style when American creators were published.) Though perhaps that's not what you're getting at, since HM tended to have surrealistic images and story lines.

In any case, I don't think superheroes are fundamental to the medium storytelling with commerical art per se. They just fit the audience and the time in America.

"If Watchmen deconstructs something, it's the conventions of the superhero stories, not the entire medium."

To the degree that the conventions sold the medium (in America, if nowhere else), I think that's a hard case to make.

"Which wasn't a bad thing, far from it. Deconstruction, when followed by reconstruction, help making a genre evolve. Though most of the superheroe genre seem to have forgotten the reconstruction part for some years with not so fortunate results, many of today's stories are interesting takes at it that you wouldn't see in the 80's.
And I'm pretty sure we can find many other examples of deconstructions and reconstructions having helped varied genres evolve."


I'm not thrilled with deconstruction as an analytical movement, because it takes a tool that's valid as a tool, and tries to elevate it to the level of the entire toolbox. Deconstruction to the degree of looking at the medium or genre, its tropes, and its tools, with an eye towards embedded message may have some validity. But it doesn't tell the whole story. And it often involves applying the deconstructionist's own agenda where it isn't any more valid than any agenda the original author may (or may not) have had. The political agenda in Watchmen is not a deconstruction, it's a hijacking, to the degree that there was an unspoken political and social agenda inherrent in comics to begin with. (Which is another argument all in itself, but a deconstructionist would certianly go looking for -- and likely find -- all sorts of values assumptions in comic books of any era.)

And I don't think that deconstruction necessarily improves a medium or genre. Getting away from comic books, and back onto science fiction, I find much of what is written in SF today inherrently informed by the rebellions and deconstructions of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. I also find it unreadable, self-absorbed dreck. You know...maybe people read space opera for the adventure and the outrageous characters. Deconstructing that and writing to the deconstruction doesn't make space opera better. It just hinders the writing of space opear.

Tony said...

I propose these rules instead.

+9.5

I couldn't give you the full "10" because Trek never was hard SF. It was imagined and sold by Gene Roddenberry as "Wagon Train to the stars". Where Trek screws up is when it tries to be hard, which it just ain't.

Anonymous said...

(SA Phil)

In many ways Star Trek is "softer" than Star Wars.

Which is saying a lot.

It is just interesting that because of whatever way its sold itself over the years that Trek is considered plausible.

Indeed in many ways, to many people more plausible than reality.

Ask some people what they think the world will be like in 500 years.

If they don't follow hard Sci Fi, their response is likely to be very Trek Like.

Thucydides said...

I'm not so sure "Game of Thrones" deconstructed JRR Tolkein or fantasy in general; when I read it it struck me as a fairly convoluted political story with a sprinkling of magical elements. One could write a similar story set during the 100 years war or in Italy during the Renaissance and have roughly the same effect. Then again, despite generally liking George R.R. Martin, I had a hard time getting into this one...

Tolkein is probably either not a good example or the uber example, depending on how you take things. Lord of the Rings (to my mind) is a Christian allegory, which means attempts to deconstruct it as a work of fantasy miss the point entirely. OTOH, if you are looking at it as a literary work, then deconstruction may work on those terms.

WRT comic books, most recycle or update other tropes. I came into the "Punisher" sideways after seeing the movie on TV. I read a few of the comics to see where the source material for the movie came from, and it was really an updated Western, with the Punisher being a 20th century "Man with no name", perhaps as in "High Plains Drifter".

Tony's point "If there's some kind of point to be made -- and it isn't necessary that there be any real point at all -- is it made properly within the context of the story, so that it seems to organically grow out of the plot, rather than have to be grafted on? (IMO, the perfect point would be absolutely burried in the situation and characters, to the degree that the reader sees no other way. is true in any medium, and in any time and place. We can appreciate the ancient Greeks just as well as JRR Tolkein for their skills in doing so.

Damien Sullivan said...

"Uhhh...no. You don't perceive (or don't wish to perceive) the rebellion against the medium. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist for an observer outside of the fanbase. The motive was apparently to nuke the superhero as superpowerful. That is a rebellion against the underlying idealism and wish fulfillment of the medium."

Comics are a medium. Superhero stories are a genre. Mainstream US comics are dominated by the superhero genre, but there's no intrinsic connection.

"I think the idea of deconstruction from within is a ill-founded"

There goes Evangelion, or Puella Magi Madoka...

"taling comic books in the American pulp context"

Sandman. Swamp Thing. Hellblazer. Even in US comic books published in the standard issue format, you're not limited to superheroes.

Anonymous said...

I read the "Rules" and I have to say that having those 10 rules works very well...for that author. Except for being internally consistent and entertaining, make up you own rules and stick to them.

Ferrell

Anonymous said...

Tony:

"You want (and possibly in some way emotionally need) Watchmen to be an Earth-shattering -- or at least genre-shattering -- tour-de-force

----------

Seeing another poster quote this one ... it was particularly interesting bit of projection.

I didn't actually say or even suggest it was any of those things.

I wonder why you implied I did.

(SA Phil)

Damien Sullivan said...

Tolkien denied it was allegory at all, which means he didn't intend it as such, talked a lot about sub-creation, and got into fantasy worldbuilding to justify his conlang passion. First there was Elvish, then there was a history of the Elves, then there was the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

Deconstruction might start with "what do elves and dwarves *eat*?"

Rick said...

Welcome to several new commenters! And returning ones.

I ask everyone to tread a bit delicately. In the past I put up with much too much bashing among commenters. I won't be so negligent again. SF is not necessarily about having fun, but no one is paying me to run this blog, so doing so had damn well better be fun.

As a side note, I had to get a Gmail address to download Android apps for my phone. But I don't even know hot to access Gmail - presumably it doesn't require a PhD in computer science, but I haven't done so. Which is a roundabout way to say that if you want to email me, I'm more likely to see my email addy shown on the front page of this blog.

Thucydides said...

Damien

While Tolkein may not have explicitly written LOTR as an allegory, that happens to be the way I read it. (It is much more subtle and creative than C.S. Lewis' Narnia, which is pretty overt about the whole thing.)

As for deconstructing by asking what Elves and Dwarves eat, Tolkein answered those and so many more questions in such a level of detail that it might be possible to answer detailed questions about the economy of Middle Earth with a bit of research. Just look at the various codexes, atlas and other "reference" works that the Arda mythos spawned...

Want to start? try here: http://www.glyphweb.com/arda/

Rick said...

Now for a minor dose of substantive comment. The statement that Trek and Star Wars are

beyond judgment and criticism

is so over the top, if taken literally, that I think the intended meaning is meta. They are a big part of the popular culture. But arguing about them - like whether the Enterprise could defeat an Imperial Star Destroyer - is totally pointless. It is like asking why World Cup teams never score touchdowns, even though they are reportedly playing football.


I know zero, zippo, about comics. I was just starting to read them when we moved to a neighborhood where no store carried them. But the bookmobile had Heinlein juvies ...

So my impression is that if you didn't read superhero comics as a kid - or make a real effort to get into them later - the whole thing just flies past you. At least it flies past me, so I have no informed comment. All I know about Watchman is that it is considered important in the American comics world.


I made a halfhearted effort to get into Game of Thrones (the book), but just didn't feel the fire. Even though I could easily get into sprawling political epics.

One thing is that it is unabashedly ripped off from the Wars of the Roses (Stark v Lannister - GMMR was not being subtle here). And the Wars of the Roses were basically all about total political failure, until Henry Tudor came along. I just can't see reading a 36-volume epic about a complete clusterf*ck.

Adding to my grump was the Stark motto, 'Winter is Coming' or some such. Like a big flashing red sign: Darker and Edgier. So I checked out.

I draw no deep lit-crit conclusions from the foregoing, except that it offers some insights into my personal prejudices. Possibly more insights than you actually needed ... But hey, my blog, so I get to bloviate at will here.

Rick said...

Funny thing about the Narnia books. Even though I was turned onto them by a Sunday School teacher, the Christian allegory just flew right past me.

Sabersonic said...

"Deconstruction might start with "what do elves and dwarves *eat*?" " - Damien Sullivan

Lembas Bread...?

Okay, I apologize. It was a bad joke. Continue.

- Hotmail Address
Gmail Address

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Damien Sullivan:

"Deconstruction might start with "what do elves and dwarves *eat*?""

Let's see. Elves seem simple at first, they're surrounded by life. Problem: having a bunch of elf peasants toiling on farms doesn't really fit the glamor they're supposed to have. If not farming than how do they get their food? Are they hunter-gatherers? I actually like the idea of nomadic elves - after all, a tribe of elves who have wandered the far reaches of a sprawling forest and over the course of their long lives grown acquainted to every grove and brook in its confines have more right to calling themselves "forest elves" than a bunch of pointy-eared people living in a treehouse village. For advanced class, adapt them to other terrain types. Why not desert elves?

Dwarves are trickier. The fact is that despite how much fantasy authors like underground civilizations, it just doesn't work in real life. While even the aforementioned deserts have numerous cool, pretty, and/or useful fauna and flora (just scattered kinda thinly), cave ecosystems have always been disappointing whenever I tried to look them up - a few insects, maybe even a blind albino salamander, and that's mostly it as far as vertebrates go. There just isn't much opportunity for life without a primary producer of some sort. The standard go-to of "fungi" isn't an answer for how to make food without sunlight input - fungi are decomposers, and they need something to decompose, which will in the end still trace its food chain back to sunlight. But! Dwarves don't actually live that deep. Often, they're in artificial cave-cities mined into a mountainside, with the open sky accessible directly outside the city - and most humans don't try to grow food in cities either. So they can import food. From where? Are there significant amounts of dwarves who live aboveground and tend to the fields? Again, that's probably not the first thing you think of when asked to picture a dwarf settlement. Do the dwarf farmers live in the cave city and commute to work? Do dwarves get all of their food from trade with other races? It's possible.

(This is working with more generic elves and dwarves in the Dungeons & Dragons mold, not specifically Tolkien's.)

Damien Sullivan said...

Milo: my thoughts exactly! Including not imagining Tolkien elves as peasants. (Steven Brust elves, OTOH...) I'd probably go with hunter-gatherer to forest permaculture myself. And given the elven magics we do see, I can see both trees bearing nuts and fruits in unusual season and keeping vermin away. ("I sang of squirrels, of squirrels in flight, and squirrels from crops then fled")

Later dwarves, perhaps selling iron to hobbits and humans for food. Dwarves in fields don't work well (do hobbits?) but I could sort of see them on Inca terraces.

But... according to the Silmarillion, the Sun first rose the same time humans woke up. Elves and dwarves and trees had been around for ages by then, under permanent starlight...

This from the same guy who *did* have Sam wonder how Sauron's armies ate, with the narrator telling us of slave fields to the south by a large lake, and out from under the war-clouds. And who in the notes went to some trouble to explain why a lot of the lands seemed completely desolate and unihabited. (Deforestation, plagues, and recent floods.)

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"I didn't actually say or even suggest it was any of those things.

I wonder why you implied I did."


Not in so many words, no you didn't say it. But when you hold up a certain work as an example of what you want to see done to an entire franchise, well...

"In many ways Star Trek is 'softer' than Star Wars.

Which is saying a lot.

It is just interesting that because of whatever way its sold itself over the years that Trek is considered plausible.

Indeed in many ways, to many people more plausible than reality.

Ask some people what they think the world will be like in 500 years.

If they don't follow hard Sci Fi, their response is likely to be very Trek Like."


So you want Trek blown up in some way that Trek fans will somehow appreciate.

Thing is, there's absolutely no need to blow up Trek. What used to be hard SF, Golden Age SF, even, was overtaken by events, even though sixty years ago bullet-shaped atomic rockets, Martians and Venusians, and personal helicopters were probably exactly what most people thought of the future. Trek will be overtaken by events too. No need to blow it up.

Eth said...

A better example of deconstruction of Tolkien-like books is a story where the Orcs are the good guys. Which was done (the example I remember was poorly written, unfortunately, but some of the ideas were fun).
A reconstruction is to have Orcs often brutal and bloodthirsty, but also capable of honour and having great values. Or a system like Morcook did, with Law and Chaos where both extremes are bad but for the moment Chaos is stronger and thus tend to be the bad guys causing the unbalance.

Interestingly, Tolkien himself didn't care for Always Chaotic Evil Orcs, because it was against his Christian ideals of everyone being free to choose between good and evil; which means that he may have wished for a reconstruction himself.
Also note that deconstruction and reconstruction can be done in the same work (arguably like in Puella Magi Madoka). As said Tony earlier, see the Evil Wiki for more details and examples.

jollyreaper said...

There was an interesting discussion on another forum concerning the rationale for dwarves living underground. Had some pretty speculative world-building. The consensus was that the mines might be underground but the agriculture would have to be above-ground. Likely most of the dwarves would be living up there, too. There was talk going back and forth about the difficulty of mining with medieval tools, how unpleasant underground living would be, the question of whether it's fair to imagine a fantasy geology prone to far more caves than our own world, the use of fantastic burrowing creatures that can be tamed to create the tunnels or occupying the burrows of such creatures once they die, etc.

There was also a critique of the plausibility of the whole idea of an Underdark which I believe is a D&D setting where you have whole countries underground. Some commenters maintained that dwarves would not be fighting in their own tunnels unless invaders fought their way up to the entrance above. They should not be facing incursions coming up from below.

I don't think an underworld is impossible, especially in fantasy, but some effort would be needed to make it plausible. What sort of geologic history led to the formation, what kind of creatures live down there, what's the ecology like, etc. According to ye olde wiki: "The largest form in areas of karst soils whose rocks erode easily and create caves. Preferable conditions for cave formation are adequate precipitation, enough plants and animals to produce ample carbon dioxide, and a landscape of gentle hills which drains slowly."

You're not going to find a subterranean passage under Mt. Everest. Therefore you're going to need to do a lot of world-building to explain Moria. Which is perfectly allowable in fantasy.

jollyreaper said...

Concerning subterranean monsters, I did a write-up for monsters of my own. These monsters appear in "the Feasters Below." I want them to seem like plausible cryptids, nothing supernatural about them so I have to explain:
1) What they are
2) Where they live
3) How their native habitat works
4) Why nobody's seen them until now

There are going to be some leaps of logic to explain them but I'd like to avoid the head-thunkingly implausible as much as I can. I'll settle for a begrudging "Eh, I'll run with it." :)

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Jollyreaper:

"There was talk going back and forth about the difficulty of mining with medieval tools,"

I can't really say anything about that. One could argue that presumably it'd be less difficult for dwarves, but that depends on how much disbelief you're willing to suspend.


"how unpleasant underground living would be,"

Unpleasant how? There are advantages to underground living, such as stable temperatures year-round. The lack of natural light sources could be a problem, but dwarves won't mind that as much as humans do. (Though you'll want to think twice about lining your city with torches - it eats up the oxygen in an enclosed space.)

There are human settlements with underground living space, like Coober Pedy. Unlike my typical mental image of dwarf homes, each individual house is its own cave, with people having to go aboveground to move from one house to another. For the most part I suppose this is because - even with modern tools - hollowing out caves is difficult and time-consuming, compared to conventional architecture, and there's no real advantage to the entire city being a single cave system (except, perhaps, fortification).


"the question of whether it's fair to imagine a fantasy geology prone to far more caves than our own world,"

I can totally accept a fantasy world having extensive cave networks - if nothing else, just say the gods made it that way. There is the minor problem that excavating too much of your planetary crust would cause the ground to collapse, but you can keep the caves sturdy as long as you keep them as maze-like passages in a mostly solid-rock environment.

The problem is justifying those caves not being totally barren and lifeless.


"the use of fantastic burrowing creatures that can be tamed to create the tunnels or occupying the burrows of such creatures once they die,"

I could see that working for some gnomes. Stock fantasy dwarves, not so much.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Jollyreaper:

"Some commenters maintained that dwarves would not be fighting in their own tunnels unless invaders fought their way up to the entrance above. They should not be facing incursions coming up from below."

Sounds reasonable to me. I picture a dwarf city as an isolated cave system carved into the rock, with only a single, heavily defended, gate to the outside. Or possibly more than one to reduce risk of being trapped inside by a siege or cave-in, but each entrance will be specifically placed there by the dwarves.

Even if there is an Underdark, most dwarves will prefer not to connect to it if they can help it. Unless the inhabitants of the Underdark are relatively friendly and the dwarves want to trade.


"I don't think an underworld is impossible, especially in fantasy, but some effort would be needed to make it plausible. What sort of geologic history led to the formation, what kind of creatures live down there, what's the ecology like, etc."

Again, the problem is that even if you could have an Underdark, it would be a barren wasteland. To get around this, you need to postulate some source of energy that feeds to ecosystem.

Geothermal energy? Seems too miniscule to support life - even in real-life hydrothermal vents, the organisms feed on volcanic chemicals released from the vent, not the heat itself. Okay, so chemical energy? Well, vents are going to be small and scattered. There's not enough to support a civilization. You could also try chemicals in the rocks themselves, but those are a non-renewable resource. Really, all of this is going about it the wrong way. Cave ecosystems don't work in real life, so to make them work, you need something that doesn't exist in real life. So, magic energy? Well, then you need to determine the rules of your magic, where it can be found and how it can be used.

If you can stipulate believable rules for where underground forests (not necessarily made of trees-as-we-know-them) grow and where not, you can work from these.

Tony said...

Rick:


"The statement that Trek and Star Wars are

beyond judgment and criticism

is so over the top, if taken literally, that I think the intended meaning is meta. They are a big part of the popular culture. But arguing about them - like whether the Enterprise could defeat an Imperial Star Destroyer - is totally pointless. It is like asking why World Cup teams never score touchdowns, even though they are reportedly playing football."


I think it goes beyond whether ST and SW are directly comparable. I think the point to be made (whether or not our rules maven was actually making this point) is that both franchises are widely accepted on their own terms. There's no point in trying to tear them apart or show them up for what they are or aren't. So what if they're not hard SF? It's not what patrons of those franchises want.

Now, if you want to argue that the patrons should want something else, be our guest. But judging by the fact that there isn't a large 2001 fan base, or even much of a fan base for Space Age docudrama, I think arguing for a harder should is nothing but a last shrill shriek on the way to the gallows. Hard SF works in books. It just ain't visual enough for film or TV.

Anonymous said...

Tony,

Thing is, there's absolutely no need to blow up Trek.

-------

If a genre has absolutely no need to be deconstructed or otherwise experimented with .. its not really interesting enough to be worth talking about.

(SA Phil)

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"If a genre has absolutely no need to be deconstructed or otherwise experimented with .. its not really interesting enough to be worth talking about."

Non sequitur. Just because something can be deconstructed or experimented with doesn't mean that it should be. When you have a wildly popular franchise that works on its own terms -- even if it is unrealistic on some other level of analysis -- it's kind of hard to reason out any objective need for such an exercise. Not that subjective reasons are invalid -- they're just not imperative.

Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight -- you think that fiction stories live in some sort of objective realm?

If not - why does anyone need an objective reason?

I think fiction is pretty much entirely subjective.

Unless you are discussing whether or not it exists.


(SA Phil)

Thucydides said...

The Dwarf ecology in LOTR is not discussed in any great detail, but since they have been around since the Age of the Stars, one can presume most of the details have been worked out in the intervening millenia. Dwarves seem pretty much at home above ground (no issues of Agoraphobia), so we can infer they operate above ground some of the time, and use the mines to extract resources and wealth, or create showcases like Moria.

We also know from the Silmarillion and LOTR that there is a magical ecosystem of sorts in the deeps; Orcs use caves as lairs to hide and launch raids, and there is an even deeper ecosystem where beings from the First Age can still be found.

On a more meta level, what we are doing here is circling the drain. Yes, any second creation is incomplete since authors do not have infinite time to map out all the details. What brand of shirt does Phillip Marlowe buy? What credit card company do the vampires of Twilight deal with for their gas purchases? What did the Dragon Lady (Terry and the Pirates) have for lunch yesterday?

For the most part, that sort of deconstruction is just nit picking, since it neither adds nor detracts from the story the author intends to write (Good catch on the War of the Roses/Game of Thrones BTW). If story elements can arise organically from the background which exists in the writer's head, and don't seem to be tacked on for effect or to make a point, then the story should work. Even ST or Star Wars can work on that level (at least the better episodes/movies).

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"Let me get this straight -- you think that fiction stories live in some sort of objective realm?

If not - why does anyone need an objective reason?

I think fiction is pretty much entirely subjective.

Unless you are discussing whether or not it exists."


We live in a (more or less) objective world. In this world, a need can either be objectively imperative or just a subjective desire. I evaluate a need to do this or that to a work of fiction to be the latter. There's no objective imperative to do anything to or with Trek. It's just a personal desire.

Anonymous said...

(SA Phil)

Ah okay .. you don't have to read it then.

Maybe we can get them to do a comic book version -- then you would be safe.

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"Ah okay .. you don't have to read it then."

To be perfectly honest, I doubt it ever will be done in the first place. To be perfectly honest, your desire for Trek fans to be saved from themselves through the very medium of Trek seems, well...quixotic.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"On a more meta level, what we are doing here is circling the drain. Yes, any second creation is incomplete since authors do not have infinite time to map out all the details. What brand of shirt does Phillip Marlowe buy? What credit card company do the vampires of Twilight deal with for their gas purchases? What did the Dragon Lady (Terry and the Pirates) have for lunch yesterday?"

+10

This is at bottom my objection to so much technowank in what passes for space opera these days. Trying to justify why your FTL drive really works, or giving everything but the circuit diagrams of your plasma torpedoes, is essentially the same thing as worrying about Phillip Marlowe's shirt or the vampires' financial dealings. It's enough to know that Marlowe wears a shirt and tie, that vampires have and use money, that your ship can travel FTL, and that your main armament is plasma torpedoes. The only detail you need is detail that affects the story: Marlowe sometimes forgets to button his button-down collar, or your FTL drive needs you to not get too close to gravity wells while you're running it. Anything else is useless detail that fails to advance the plot, but absolutely succeeds in boring your audience.

Anonymous said...

Tony,


To be perfectly honest, I doubt it ever will be done in the first place. To be perfectly honest, your desire for Trek fans to be saved from themselves through the very medium of Trek seems, well...quixotic.

---------

Well sure -- when you rewrite what I have said into something I didnt say and then say it was something it wasnt ... then it sure isn't something that I didnt say it was.

But that is cool. I expected you to win your arguement with your projection of me.

Just seemed like a real waste of a few thousand words.

(SA Phil)

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Thucydides:

"What brand of shirt does Phillip Marlowe buy? What credit card company do the vampires of Twilight deal with for their gas purchases? What did the Dragon Lady (Terry and the Pirates) have for lunch yesterday?"

Normally, this does not matter, as long as readers can accept that Phillip Marlowe is able and willing to buy some brand of shirt, the details of exactly which shirt aren't important. But if, say, vampires are not legally acknowledged to exist by the government and so would be unable to pass credit card background checks, or the Dragon Lady is in the middle of a barren desert where food would appear to be hard to find, then readers (and other writers looking to do a deconstruction) would be justified in wanting an explanation how they circumvent these problems. If the Dragon Lady is not somewhere that food would be expected to be scarce, then what she ate probably isn't important.

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"Well sure -- when you rewrite what I have said into something I didnt say and then say it was something it wasnt ... then it sure isn't something that I didnt say it was.

But that is cool. I expected you to win your arguement with your projection of me.

Just seemed like a real waste of a few thousand words."


This seems to be your message so far; Please feel ree to correct me where you think there is a misinterpretation:

You said that Trek needed a deconstruction in the fashion of Watchmen. Let's set aside all previous argument about Watchmen and comic books in general. Let's suppose that Watchmen is the perfect model for what you want done. You then go on to give a rationale for this need: that many people -- the implication seems to be be too many people -- envision the future as being essentially Trekian in form. Apparently because people find it "more plausible than reality".

So, you want a genre deconstruction because too many people take Trek at face value, and there is a "need" (your word, not mine) for correction, through the medium of Trek itself. I can't see that as anything other than quixotic, given that events will overtake Trek eventually, and in the meantime people neither want nor, in any way succeptible to analysis, need to be saved from it. The need seems to be entirely in your mind.

That's great, as far as it goes, for you. But there's nothing in it for anybody else, except perhaps people who think like you and have a desire for the same approach. And, as previously pinted out, I simply don't think that's a very big audience at all.

Rick said...

On dwarves' ecology, an alternative approach is to simply ignore such considerations.

Much of what we talk about re worldbuilding is arguably a science fiction-esque approach to fantasy. Which is perfectly legitimate, but not mandatory. Fantasy worlds can equally legitimately be rooted in ... in, well, fantastic modes of thinking.

Think for a moment of Tolkien's worldbuilding. It was and is a tour de force, and really created worldbuilding as we now think of it. But he didn't start with ecology and economics, he started with linguistics. Which fits with the deeply magical associations of language (think of spell, and glamour in its original sense).


I think it goes beyond whether ST and SW are directly comparable. I think the point to be made ... is that both franchises are widely accepted on their own terms.

No dispute there. I only used the comparison as an example of egregious pointlessness. Those franchises have achieved somewhat mythic status in the popular culture.

Flip side, I think it is pointless to say that Trek isn't 'really' SF. It is about an interstellar survey ship, for chrissakes, however corny much of the detailing. (Star Wars is more ambiguous, because while the backdrop is basically Asimov, the foreground is full of unabashed fantasy elements.)


Regarding 'deconstruction,' I think that - at least as applied to subgenres of Romance - it is mainly relevant precisely to the fans of that subgenre. Watchman would be lost on me, because while of course I know who Superman and Batman are, and even (more vaguely) the X-men et al., costumed superheroes just aren't part of my imaginative furniture.

Similarly, deconstructing mystery conventions would be lost on anyone who doesn't read mysteries. But could have an important effect on someone who does.

Tony said...

Rick:

"Those franchises have achieved somewhat mythic status in the popular culture."

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Rick. You found what I didn't even know I was looking for. The Franchises have mythological value within our culture. In fact, I'd go so far as to say they express as mythology some of our most closely held values.

Thucydides said...

hink for a moment of Tolkien's worldbuilding. It was and is a tour de force, and really created worldbuilding as we now think of it. But he didn't start with ecology and economics, he started with linguistics. Which fits with the deeply magical associations of language (think of spell, and glamour in its original sense).

Exactly so. What is perhaps even more interesting is watching how the story grows from a rather simple children's tale (The Hobbit) into the complex mythos of the Arda universe.

Even the Hobbit is much more richly imagined than most children's tales, because the author was not only a highly imaginative individual, but also deeply grounded in Germanic Languages and Mythology. Let's see, dragons, treasure, Dwarves skilled in metal work...the story has a certain Ring about it

I suspect that lots of authors have developed a unique and distinctive voice because they are grounded in particular subjects or real world experience (Louis L'Amour, for example, or Robert A Heinlein if we want to move back into Science Fiction [the horror!]). Neither of those authors needed much cow or techno babble; their stories were about people, who's reactions they knew well from observing them in multiple settings and various conditions.

Anonymous said...

My take on Deconstruction, is that unless you're an expert on it, don't use it. Deconstruction is an extremely complex and subtle insturment; if you don't fully understand it, you can't use it correctly. My own limited understanding of Deconstruction has led me to not use it, for fear of embarrassig myself.

I also think that a true measure of success for any story is if readers 'get lost' in the story. No matter what genre of story I write, that's what I'm aiming at. If you think you need rules to achieve that, then rules are what you use.

Ferrell

Anonymous said...

Tony,

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Rick. You found what I didn't even know I was looking for. The Franchises have mythological value within our culture. In fact, I'd go so far as to say they express as mythology some of our most closely held values.

================

And it was no less a personage than Plato that deconstructed his own culture's mythology ... with a political commentary thrown in for good measure.

Nothing is really new.

(SA Phil)

Rick said...

You're welcome, you're welcome, you're welcome. The reflection of deep culture values is exactly why they achieved mythical resonance. (Surely this is also true of the superhero mythos, even if it eluded both of us due to accidents of childhood life.)

Between Trek and SW you could say a lot about 'Murrican culture. As one example, both the Prime Directive and its routine violation on the show.

Personally I would confine the true mythic power to ST:TOS and the original three SW films - especially the first two. (Do Ewoks reflect anything deep?)

Damien Sullivan said...

'Deconstruction' probably has multiple meanings. The most common usage here is the one I got from TVTropes, which put simply seems to be looking at the logical consequences of things. "What would be consequences of this genre trope be" or "what conditions would have to apply for this trope to make sense".

E.g. Super Robot anime tends to use teenage male pilots in violent situations; Neon Genesis Evangelion suggested that you'd need some f-cked up people to send young teens into combat, and that it'd be pretty traumatic for the teens. Which, stated baldly, seems kind of obvious, but you've got a whole genre or more based on ignoring the obvious, and Eva is supposed to be a good series, though I haven't seen it.

Or for superheroes, there'd be the property damage and loss of life from throwing superpowers around, or all the people killed when the Joker escape because no one will kill him even when he keeps escaping.

Anyway, I don't know if this version of deconstruction is at all related to Derria and postmodernism et al.

Deconstruction probably doesn't have to be dark and gritty, but if you're shining light on things people swept under the carpet, you'll probably find dark things.

Then there's Reconstruction, that re-affirms the tropes on a new more sensible ground, or something.

Brett said...

@Thucydides
The Dwarf ecology in LOTR is not discussed in any great detail, but since they have been around since the Age of the Stars, one can presume most of the details have been worked out in the intervening millenia. Dwarves seem pretty much at home above ground (no issues of Agoraphobia), so we can infer they operate above ground some of the time, and use the mines to extract resources and wealth, or create showcases like Moria.

I think Tolkien said that there was a hybrid economy between the dwarves and humans in better times. The dwarves mined and produced all manner of high-quality goods, and the humans were foresters, fishers, farmers, and herders who supplied the dwarves with food, cloth, and wood. The Elves occasionally collaborated with both, and particularly with the dwarves on various crafts.

Brett said...

Thinking about it, that actually makes sense, too. If the dwarves are mining all kinds of valuable and useful metals, they can afford to pay high prices for imported food and perishable goods.

Tony said...

When I think of deconstruction, I think of exposing and criticising a genre's or work's unspoken assumptions -- IOW academic deconstruction. Of course the problem with this is that deconstruction -- any deconstruction, not just the academic kind -- is based on perspective. One person's "assumption" is another's self-evident principle. You want to assail Derida or Moore, you first have to understand that you're assailing that which is beyond analysis. Of course, the opposite is also true -- deconstructionists are targetting those things in life that are philosophical, not analytical. It is, to borrow a turn of phrase, circling the drain.

WRT mythology, well, it is mythology. ST is just a projection into the future of the American frontier mythology. If it has resonance in America, and to the degree that it has resonance overseas, it's because it's Cowboys and Indians, with a heavy helping of the Cold War and a Classical mythos cherry on top. SW was consciously mythical. Just ask Lucas, he'll tell ya.

Rick:

"Personally I would confine the true mythic power to ST:TOS and the original three SW films - especially the first two. (Do Ewoks reflect anything deep?)"

Well, at a very superficial level, Ewoks are Little People livingi n the forest, as well as Noble Savages. I think the prequels have enough mythic value to be taken seriously -- coming of age, questing, falling from grace, the corruption and cooption of Good by Evil, the struggle between personal and instituional loyalties. (This last is very starkly drawn at the end of Ep. 3 when Qui-Gon moans and groans about what a buddy effer Anakin is, when all the time (as a Jedi and guardian of the Republic) he should be hacking Anakin into little bitty pieces.) The prequels also have a little bit of modern mythos thrown in, as it turns out that Jedi are, among other things, detectives who get their best stuff from friends in low places. And we should never forget gross homages to the Western mythos, such as the Ep. 3 shout out to The Searchers.

Rick said...

Fair enough points! Given that I never saw the prequels, I can hardly claim to have an informed opinion of them.

That said, myths as they evolve create their own canon. They are made of collective memory, including what is collectively mis-remembered. Much of our image of Sherlock Holmes is from the Basil Rathbone movies. Though this may be changing as filmmakers go back to the books.

jollyreaper said...

Evilly enough, there's some great lists on bad writing in particular on the evil website. It's a good checklist to keep in mind. If what you're doing fits the list, it's probably a bad idea.

Still, they use a lot of bad examples, cautionary tales. I'd like to see more examples of people who got it right. YMMV, of course. Some people see Dune as masterful world-building, others see it as tedious political twaddle. Same for Rings, some people want to put it on the pedestal and others want it buried beneath.

A writer with a strong author's voice can do a good job of laying the scene in prose but it becomes far more difficult on-screen.

The appendix is the only real solution I can find to most of it. If you work out the ecology of your scifi world, the principle industries, the major families, political factions, and how they come into conflict, that's a good thing because not working it all out in advance will show in the text. But keep the exhausting detail in the appendix. People who only care to know who's shooting at who, they can get that from the story. They'll even get a brief why. Anyone who wants more can read the appendix. Everyone is happy.

Tony said...

Jollyreaper:

"Still, they use a lot of bad examples, cautionary tales. I'd like to see more examples of people who got it right. YMMV, of course. Some people see Dune as masterful world-building, others see it as tedious political twaddle. Same for Rings, some people want to put it on the pedestal and others want it buried beneath."

Actually, what most skeptics want is for the works to be set down on the ground alongside everything else, and for the rabid fans to be burried. Good works -- and both Dune (by which I mean the original canon written by Frank Herbert) and LOTR are good works -- can stand for themselves. What is grating is the uber-fans' insistence that they must stand for everything.

jollyreaper said...


Actually, what most skeptics want is for the works to be set down on the ground alongside everything else, and for the rabid fans to be


Skeptics?

burried. Good works -- and both Dune (by which I mean the original canon written by Frank Herbert) and


I've never read the heretical Dune books but I've talked to people who have and read the outlines. That's some really dire crap right there.

LOTR are good works -- can stand for themselves. What is grating is the uber-fans' insistence that they must stand for everything.

Obnoxious fans are annoying as a rule, regardless of what they're into. I'm actually more annoyed when they like stuff that's good because they make all of us fans look like neckbeards.

This is how any rabid fan of a complicated mythos comes across to the uninitiated. In this clip, good cop and bad cop go into an elaborate recounting of the Animorphs in order to break the will of a suspect under interrogation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivQ9OU2B5so

I'd only ever seen the series in passing and knew absolutely nothing other than the name. Dear Xod it sounds stupid!

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"Skeptics?"

People skeptical of the outrageous claims made for a given work, not skeptics of the work itself. I thought it was obvious in context.

Teleros said...

#10: Should really be more along the lines of "write for your intended audience" really.

#9: Doc Smith = supermen done well (ie, supermen vs supermen, we're the pawns). Stephen Baxter's Xeelee = supermen done not so well (ie, humanity can never win the war).

#8: What's wrong with teleporters, androids and blasters (to give 3 examples)? I'm not calling them Blastech E-11s after all...

#7: Should really be more along the lines of "doesn't break suspension of disbelief". We can suspend disbelief easily with FTL say, but only if it's done consistently etc.

#6: True, unless you're trying to highlight some particular cultural or linguistic change. A good example would be a political scene in which people called "liberals" are more akin to modern neocons (or whatever). A bad example would be calling rabbits smeerps.

#5: Damned hard to do well I think. Perhaps evolution likes humanoid forms for efficiency though, or perhaps a lot of our psychological make-up.

#4: Certainly you should make believable characters. Unfortunately, real life isn't very believable (see Nazis).

#3: Not much to complain about here. I wouldn't classify telepathy as unscientific though - it depends on how you write it, after all.

#2: I'd say less a sense of wonder than a sense of imagination, or blue-skies thinking. The Xeelee sequence, or Warhammer 40K (assuming you call it sci-fi) are not filled with a sense of wonder: they're pretty grim and dark places.

#1: No. Sci-fi is, like all fiction, a telling of a story. If you choose to give it a message, or believe you see one in it, then fine, but it's not compulsory.

#0: No, it should be readable :P . I've read stories that are, for example, thought-provoking but not very fun or enjoyable (beyond the thought-provoking bit I guess) - and vice-versa. Eg the Xeelee books to a typical action-packed romp through a typical Warhammer novel. But funnily enough I've never read a book I didn't consider readable.

One final thought: rules are there to make you think before you break them.

Tony said...

Teleros:

"#9: Doc Smith = supermen done well (ie, supermen vs supermen, we're the pawns). Stephen Baxter's Xeelee = supermen done not so well (ie, humanity can never win the war)."

As previously stated, sometimes the point is to explore the consequences of not being able to win. It's hardly new in literature or particular to SF, as anyone who's read German fiction about the downhill side of WW2 would easily recognize.

WRT the Xeelee Sequence, even the Xeelee couldn't win against the photino birds. All they (and a small sliver of humanity piggybacking on their works) could do was escape to another universe.

"#8: What's wrong with teleporters, androids and blasters (to give 3 examples)? I'm not calling them Blastech E-11s after all..."

Nothing, if you don't mind science fantasy. If you're looking for hard SF, however...

"#4: Certainly you should make believable characters. Unfortunately, real life isn't very believable (see Nazis)."

The Nazis are actually a canonically bad example of counterintuitive believability. Everything they did was perfectly understandable given their particular derangement and that you don't assume a Polyanna attitude towards human nature.

"#3: Not much to complain about here. I wouldn't classify telepathy as unscientific though - it depends on how you write it, after all."

I think the guy's POV on mental powers is in reaction to the way that Golden Age SF authors who should have known better included them in their works, and how they have as a trope continued to be used. And I agree with him. The Golden Agers should ahve dismissed mental powers as pseudoscientific tripe back in the day.

"One final thought: rules are there to make you think before you break them."

To borrow a turn of phrase: No. Rules are there because people need them. And a lot of people simply don't think before they break them. Thinking things through and being willing to accept the consequences of rule-breaking is actually a pretty rare skill, in writing as much as anywhere else.

Rick said...

The fact that it has so much genuinely useful information and insights is precisely what makes the Evil Website so Evil. Going there can be like entering a time warp.

There are no 'rules' about writing, really - only guidance, some of it highly useful, some less so.

* (Setting aside mechanics and such.)

Keith said...

I am amazed at the depth and sheer number of comments about a silly page I wrote a very long time ago.

When I wrote the Ten Laws, it was about the time there were some dreadful Nazi episodes on ST Voyager. The laws are mostly in response to crappy SF that seems to fill movies and TV and even bleeds over into books.

I never meant for anyone to take it so seriously.

I have enjoyed all of your comments, even the ones that I disagree with. I encourage you all to come up with your own 10 laws. Just let me know when they are ready and I'll drop by to argue about them.

Thanks,

Keith

Anonymous said...

I am watching through Voyager on Netflix in my spare time now.

I might be looking forward to Nazi episodes after the umpteenth spacial anomoly show.

Kinda surprized at the bad rep Enterprise got .. (which I just finished watching) compared to Voyager.

(SA Phil)

Keith said...

SA Phil,

Enterprise, at the time, was fairly slow moving and the individual episodes seem to lag and get bogged down in the long term arc. I have watched it since on DVD where I can move quickly from episode to episode with having to wait a week or two in between and it seems much better than when I watched it in its first run.
Voyager had more stand-alone episodes which at the time were more satisfying.

Anonymous said...

Interesting.

I expect you could be right. I wonder if the same thing could be said for Firefly. Which watching in quick succession seems pretty good, but got horrible ratings.

Also I guess I just Really hate spatial anomaly shows.. heh

Mainly because they always require Use made up particle A to solve made up dire situation B using fake physics C.

(SA Phil)

Anonymous said...

What I didn't like about Enterprise were the time travel episodes, and when they seemed to miss an oppertunity to explore the whole 'begining of the Federation' stories. The things that I liked about the show were when they had stories showing the beginnings of ideas, gadgets, or situations that were central to the 'later' series.

Ferrell

Anonymous said...

There is some serious logical flaws in Voyager travel as well.

Back in the Alpha quadrant the Enterprise D can cruise around to Klingon Space, Romulan Space, Kardasian Space, zipping across the entire Federation in days/ weeks.

However in the Delta quadrant .. the ship starts out in Kaison space .. 10 months later its still in Kaison space. Just how giant of a "geographical" area do these Kaison groups frequent compared to the Federation?

Voyager is one of the fastest ships in the Federation, slightly faster even than the Enterprise D. The Federation is established as having superior technology. Yet they are plagued not only by the same Kaison groups .. but often the same Kaison leaders...

Using consistent FTL .. seems at least one rule that should be added to Space Opera settings.

(SA Phil)

Damien Sullivan said...

Firefly aired at 9pm on Friday, and got like no advertising. I think it ended up being pretty expensive per episode, too.

Teleros said...

@Tony:

Nothing, if you don't mind science fantasy. If you're looking for hard SF, however...

Nothing wrong with androids and handheld energy weapons, although teleporters aren't really hard I'll admit.


The Nazis are actually a canonically bad example of counterintuitive believability. Everything they did was perfectly understandable given their particular derangement and that you don't assume a Polyanna attitude towards human nature.

I'm reminded of this WRT the nazis actually:

http://squid314.livejournal.com/275614.html

My point though is that of course the nazis must be a believable villain... because they really existed. But use them in science fiction as the bad guys and you get "oh no it's just Space Nazis, way to break suspension of disbelief, dumb writer" etc.


I think the guy's POV on mental powers is in reaction to the way that Golden Age SF authors who should have known better included them in their works, and how they have as a trope continued to be used. And I agree with him. The Golden Agers should ahve dismissed mental powers as pseudoscientific tripe back in the day.

Fair enough.


To borrow a turn of phrase: No. Rules are there because people need them. And a lot of people simply don't think before they break them. Thinking things through and being willing to accept the consequences of rule-breaking is actually a pretty rare skill, in writing as much as anywhere else.

Take a simple example: you must not steal things. I'm sure the commentators here can think of cases where that doesn't hold true though (Eg espionage... or what about taxation?). Don't get too side-tracked though :P .

Now, of course accepting the consequences etc is a rare skill: I never said it wasn't. 99 times out of 100, an author who breaks the rules won't get published, or if they do get published, their work will flop. It's a high risk / high reward situation - and for most, you break rules at your peril...

Rick said...

Welcome to the comment threads, Keith!

You surely knew that any such essay was sure to get bounced around the Internet more or less forever. I only just noticed that it dates to 2009. (The date is in tiny print right at the bottom, after all.)

I had lazily assumed it originated not long before it showed up in my G+ feed.

Keith said...

Rick,

2009 is the date that I moved it to the current blogging software. It was a static page since about 2000 or 2001. This is a very old page - probably 1,000 years old in internet time.

Keith

Tony said...

Teleros:

"Nothing wrong with androids and handheld energy weapons"

Neither is very hard at all. A hard Android is a smart phone and a hard handheld energy weapon is a laser pointer.

"I'm reminded of this WRT the nazis actually:

http://squid314.livejournal.com/275614.html"


Cute commentary, but seriously flawed in many ways, from the POV os a serious student of WW2 history. The guy took the most caricatured pop culture verion of the war and used it to criticise the most egregiously campy science fantasy. (And I'm a Billie Piper man myself anyway.)

"My point though is that of course the nazis must be a believable villain... because they really existed. But use them in science fiction as the bad guys and you get 'oh no it's just Space Nazis, way to break suspension of disbelief, dumb writer' etc."

The objection is not that they do really bad things to millions and millions of people. My objection is that Nazi forms and cliches are used, when there's such a wide variety of European and Asian willful bastardy to pick from. Come on, can't SF have at least one Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution? Or one Holodomor?

"Take a simple example: you must not steal things. I'm sure the commentators here can think of cases where that doesn't hold true though (Eg espionage... or what about taxation?). Don't get too side-tracked though :P .

Now, of course accepting the consequences etc is a rare skill: I never said it wasn't. 99 times out of 100, an author who breaks the rules won't get published, or if they do get published, their work will flop. It's a high risk / high reward situation - and for most, you break rules at your peril...


The point I was making remains. Rules don't server to make people think. They serve mostly as a guide to judge people's stupidity, and to duly assign them their just deserts.

Anonymous said...

Tony,

Come on, can't SF have at least one Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution?

-------
In the Honorverse ..


The People's Republic of Haven was a Egaltarian/Liberal/Socialist republic that corrupted/fell to a Socialist/Communist type of system.

Eventually after 2 coups it was restored to the original constitution.

During the worst phase there were Dolists, forced Labor on conquered worlds, Secret Police everywhere including onboard military vessels. Unjust incarcerations the whole bit - and no Nazis in sight.

The setting is pretty soft/space opera but some of the politics is quite interesting.

(SA Phil)

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"In the Honorverse ..


The People's Republic of Haven was a Egaltarian/Liberal/Socialist republic that corrupted/fell to a Socialist/Communist type of system.

Eventually after 2 coups it was restored to the original constitution.

During the worst phase there were Dolists, forced Labor on conquered worlds, Secret Police everywhere including onboard military vessels. Unjust incarcerations the whole bit - and no Nazis in sight.

The setting is pretty soft/space opera but some of the politics is quite interesting."


From what I've read, the People's Republic was supposed to be a close parallel of revolutionary and Napoleonic France, with a few modern details like a more efficient police state. Bleak, but not particularly scary.

I'm talking about all the excesses, with the Nazi proof marks (plausibly) filed off.

Anonymous said...

Ahh I thought you were looking for something less like Nazis and more proletarian revolution. Which had me thinking Soviet Communism, etc.

The People Republic of Haven was a Star Empire that sort of resembled the bastard child of Napoleonic France and 1960's Soviet or Chinese State Communism.

The opponent Manticore was like early victorian england mixed with just a touch of cold war UK.

(SA Phil)

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"Ahh I thought you were looking for something less like Nazis and more proletarian revolution. Which had me thinking Soviet Communism, etc. "

Well, I did mention the Holodomor, which was pure, unreformed Stalinism, overseen by the Man of Steel himself.

But what I was trying to get at was that Nazi behavior is really just generic Twentieth Century Totalitarian Excess (TM), dressed up in Hugo Boss and black leather. Leaving the direct ethnic targeting aside -- and not so far aside in the case of Stalin's USSR -- Stalinism and Maoism were pretty ruthless and efficient killers and oppressors in their own rights. Speaking in terms of proportional effectiveness, Pol Pot's Cambodia may have been the worst example of all of them. So the stereotypical Nazi cheat trope cheats just aren't necessary for any author with half an imagination and even a cursory understanding of 20th Century totalitarianism.

Thucydides said...

The 20th century was unique mostly in the scale and scope of atrocity; Gengis Khan, the Roman Imperium or the Inquisition could perform similar feats on a craft rather than a production line scale.

There have been arguments that the general level of violence in society has been declining for centuries; maybe violence has been squeezed into smaller pockets rather than being a normal condition of society.

At any rate, it is quite easy to imagine great and opressive regimes arising in the future, combining powerful forms of media to spread their ideas and powerful technologies to enforce their rule. Colony settings may be quite susceptible, especially if the ruleing elite has control over the environmental systems.

The only thing *we* have going for us is authoratarian systems tend to be brittle and inflexible, so are unable to adapt to changing conditions, while systems that lean more towards classical liberalism (individual rights, unfettered use of property, Rule of Law) tend to outcompete the larger and more inflexible systems.

Jesus Christ Supercop said...

"Today, SF readers are younger and much more diverse. SF characters need to reflect the diversity of its readership."

At no point does he back up his claim that scifi has a diverse readership. I don't have any stats either, but I see no reason to believe that the readership isn't still overwhelmingly dominated by white men. But regardless of what the demographics are, the idea here is to browbeat authors into political correctness. It's very revealing that this is the very first thing the author decided to bring up. Why, it's almost as if the article has nothing whatsoever to do with scifi.

"Sexually, there should be reality-based characters that represent the readers’ real world."

Whose real world? I have never knowingly met a gay person, whereas people like the author go out of their way to surround themselves with them. They then make the mistake of assuming that their experience is representative of everyone else's, and they think there's something wrong with a story when it doesn't feature a closet the size of Narnia. Gays just aren't that common, and not all of them will even make themselves known.

"Science Fiction should expand the worldview of its readers and expose them to much more than the normal, expected and ordinary. Nowhere is this more important than in the characters that populate SF stories."

The purpose of science fiction is to politically educate the reader through non-white, non-heterosexual characters. Less Solaris, more Glee! By the way, how are gay characters reality-based and representative of the readers' world, but at the same time also abnormal, unexpected and out of the ordinary?

Anonymous said...

I believe the term used in the article was sexually, not sexuality or Sexual Orientation.

So you might be projecting a bit there. The point the author was making was that the characters shouldnt be all men, but women as well.

Its possible in context he also implies gay characters - but that really isn't the only way to intepret what he said.

======

That said there has been an interesting SF theme I have encountered from time to time. I believe the Forever War included it as well as a Novel I read 20 years ago whose name escapes me at the moment.

In both cases overpopulation led to an increase in the incidence of homosexuality. Government sanctioned even.

It seems likely in the real world the stigma attached to being gay is more likely to go down in the future than increase - based on historical trends.

Now that the subject has come up - has there ever been a gay Trek or Star Wars character? Firefly had the ship's Escort that was bisexual at least for work.

(SA Phil)

FBH said...

Law 5's and especially it's corollaries annoy the hell out of me.

Physical form is the easiest and least interesting aspect of an alien to make alien. It aborts that even by suggesting they might be humanoid.

No, they won't. They might be if you're a visual science fiction show and you haven't got the budget to make things that look like they came out of a deep sea trench. Otherwise they're unlikely to look anything like earth animals.

Going on:

"D. Aliens as far as they have personalities will be more likely to be aggressive and pushy. There are not likely to be kindly, friendly and caring aliens because they would not have the drive to explore space. (In this way, they will be much like us.)"

This is just... really dumb.

First after all this about how you shouldn't make aliens like us now you say that in their most interesting aspect, their minds, they should be exactly like us? Even among human societies there's massive differences in terms of why we carry out policy, or how we believe policy originates. The idea that aliens cannot be something given they have an entirely different history, society and biology is ridiculous.

Second I think it's, for lack of a better term, politically suspect. Old episodes of star trek about being split into your good and evil halves aside I don't see evil, for lack of a better word as a great driver. You could just as easily have a society of extremely compassionate aliens who went into space to find resources to make their lives better. Or a society that when there cause their religion is based on flying higher and higher.

Third and most importantly it actually kills one of the most interesting aspects of writing aliens. The fact that they're incomprehensible and don't think even a bit like us. There ethics, society and so on are unlikely to be anything like ours. Alien personalities is an area where we really shouldn't make assumptions.

I also actually disagree with 3. You can have terrible science and good science fiction. Look at say, Dune. That has terrible science and it's a modern classic.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



I take issue with the equation of "not likely to be kindly, friendly and caring" and "in this way, they will be much like us".

Yes, humans have done some nasty stuff. However many humans are also kindly, friendly, and caring, and even when we fail to live up to that standard, we still tend to hold it as an ideal. As a certified member of the species Homo sapiens, I object to the suggestion that all of us are inherently horrible people - and by extension, that any aliens like us are going to be inherently horrible aliens.

Tony said...

FBH:

"'D. Aliens as far as they have personalities will be more likely to be aggressive and pushy. There are not likely to be kindly, friendly and caring aliens because they would not have the drive to explore space. (In this way, they will be much like us.)'

This is just... really dumb.

...Alien personalities is an area where we really shouldn't make assumptions."


If we're to keep the "science" in science fiction, we really need to remain always cognizant of the mediocrity (AKA "Copernican") principle. If aliens live in the smaep hysical world as us, then their intelligence is evolutionary, and if evolved in a competitve environment. About the one thing we can be absolutely sure of is that intelligent aliens will be highly competitive. And probably not all too altruistic WRT competing non-species members.

"I also actually disagree with 3. You can have terrible science and good science fiction. Look at say, Dune. That has terrible science and it's a modern classic."

It's a modern literary classic. It even has some good SF ideas from time to time. But it ain't classic SF.

FBH said...


If we're to keep the "science" in science fiction, we really need to remain always cognizant of the mediocrity (AKA "Copernican") principle. If aliens live in the smaep hysical world as us, then their intelligence is evolutionary, and if evolved in a competitve environment. About the one thing we can be absolutely sure of is that intelligent aliens will be highly competitive. And probably not all too altruistic WRT competing non-species members.


Except that's just it. We can't determine any such thing. There are plenty of humans who are incredibly altruistic to non-species members, sometimes almost nonsensically so. In our society this is regarded as quite odd. In an alien society it might not be. Even if you assume a very similar structure of cognition. Which we can't, because we're dealing with aliens.

It's easy to imagine a planet where a group of species with a high degree of mutualism evolved might for instance feel a much wider kind of compassion.


It's a modern literary classic. It even has some good SF ideas from time to time. But it ain't classic SF.


It's science fiction.

Science fiction's real modus operandi is exploring concepts using a setting that's the future/another dimension/somewhere extremely different from earth to explore ideas that cannot be explored in a conventional context.

It differs from fantasy in that it hasn't so much impaled itself on a certain set of genre tropes.

Now there's a place for "hard" science fiction but if we exile every science fiction which has bad science there will be no science fiction left to be fans of.

Jesus Christ Supercop said...

Anonymous,: "In both cases overpopulation led to an increase in the incidence of homosexuality. Government sanctioned even."

Sounds like author wish-fulfillment. Overpopulation is a non-issue in developed countries (low birth rates is the real problem), and in China the government just mandated that citizens may only have a certain number of children.

Tony said...

FBH:

"Except that's just it. We can't determine any such thing. There are plenty of humans who are incredibly altruistic to non-species members, sometimes almost nonsensically so. In our society this is regarded as quite odd. In an alien society it might not be. Even if you assume a very similar structure of cognition. Which we can't, because we're dealing with aliens.

It's easy to imagine a planet where a group of species with a high degree of mutualism evolved might for instance feel a much wider kind of compassion."


It's easy to imagine such a place. It's impossible for somebody with even a basic understanding of evolutionary biology to believe in it. Mutualism doesn't mean peaceful coexistence with everybody. Sheep-dog mutualism certainly doesn't make the dog the friend of the coyote or the puma. Human-bovine mutualism may be a good deal for certain species of bovinae, but the bovine individuals that get served, well...let's just say the attitude is pretty bloodthirsty on the part of the human.

WRT to the larger point, simply put, we have to recognize that getting to the top involves stepping on those beneath, as a pretty basic rule of evolution and ecology. There's only so much energy to go around, and intelligent species at the top of the energy pyramid have to short those lower down to get what they want and need. If you see an intelligent alien, immediately think "wolf", not "sheep". Physics and evolutionary biology tells us you'll be right.

"It's science fiction."

I never said it wasn't. It's just not a science fiction classic. The Lysenkoism and mental superpowers move it too far away from science.

"Science fiction's real modus operandi is exploring concepts using a setting that's the future/another dimension/somewhere extremely different from earth to explore ideas that cannot be explored in a conventional context."

Joe Haldeman didn't need to send William Mandella to the Megellanic Cloud to explore military psychology and the phenomenon of combat. About the only thing he did was get a love story he could resolve with a clever trick of relativistic physics, functionally no different than a sleeping potion in a high fantasy novel. The same point could be made for most SF -- even good n' hard SF. Replace physics with magic and you could get the same result.

"It differs from fantasy in that it hasn't so much impaled itself on a certain set of genre tropes."

You wanna bet? SF, particularly military and space opera, has genre tropes coming out its ears.

"Now there's a place for 'hard' science fiction but if we exile every science fiction which has bad science there will be no science fiction left to be fans of."

See above. Didn't say Dune wasn't SF. I said it wasn't classically so.

Damien Sullivan said...

"Overpopulation is a non-issue in developed countries"

This was rather less obvious when _The Forever War_ was written. (Written by a male author married to a woman, BTW.)

"China the government just mandated that citizens may only have a certain number of children."

Which has enforcement problems. Encouraging homosexual orientation might seem a reasonable alternative if possible.

'If you see an intelligent alien, immediately think "wolf", not "sheep"'

Unwarranted confidence, there. The list of most intelligent non-human animals includes chimps (some hunting), orangutangs (mostly fruit), gorillas (leaf eaters), elephants (herbivore), parrots (plant eaters), and ravens (carrion). Also omnivores like pigs and raccoons. Wolves aren't all that high.

"science fiction classic. The Lysenkoism and mental superpowers move it too far away from science"

Most of science fiction, including many of the accepted classics, have crap science, including mental superpowers. Dune won the Hugo and Nebula and is generally considered a science fiction classics; you're engaging in pure revisionism.


"Didn't say Dune wasn't SF. I said it wasn't classically so. "

You're using language idiosyncratic to yourself, then.

FBH said...

Tony

It's easy to imagine such a place. It's impossible for somebody with even a basic understanding of evolutionary biology to believe in it. Mutualism doesn't mean peaceful coexistence with everybody. Sheep-dog mutualism certainly doesn't make the dog the friend of the coyote or the puma. Human-bovine mutualism may be a good deal for certain species of bovinae, but the bovine individuals that get served, well...let's just say the attitude is pretty bloodthirsty on the part of the human.


On the flip side though, humans feel a strong degree of empathy for certain animals, such as pets. I don't think it's particularly strange to imagine you might have a species that had more interspecies empathy, or just more empathy in general even if it's not complete. It's unlikely to be completely peaceful by biology, but see below.


WRT to the larger point, simply put, we have to recognize that getting to the top involves stepping on those beneath, as a pretty basic rule of evolution and ecology. There's only so much energy to go around, and intelligent species at the top of the energy pyramid have to short those lower down to get what they want and need. If you see an intelligent alien, immediately think "wolf", not "sheep". Physics and evolutionary biology tells us you'll be right.


I think you're far too crudely attaching biology to policy. It's unlikely you'll have a species that is completely pacifistic by instinct. It could be however you'll find one that is beneficent by philosophy. Even among human cultures there's a very broad set of motivations and accepted social norms and behaviours. If you're dealing with aliens, who have different history, society, etc. then you could find something else again.


I never said it wasn't. It's just not a science fiction classic. The Lysenkoism and mental superpowers move it too far away from science.


Right, that's why I don't think good science is necessary for good science picture.


Joe Haldeman didn't need to send William Mandella to the Megellanic Cloud to explore military psychology and the phenomenon of combat. About the only thing he did was get a love story he could resolve with a clever trick of relativistic physics, functionally no different than a sleeping potion in a high fantasy novel. The same point could be made for most SF -- even good n' hard SF. Replace physics with magic and you could get the same result.


Yes. Yes he really did. The idea with Forever war was to explore the extreme alienation of people caused by Vietnam in a more desaturated, politically neutral context which bought the ideals of it out more sharply.


You wanna bet? SF, particularly military and space opera, has genre tropes coming out its ears.


See above. Didn't say Dune wasn't SF. I said it wasn't classically so


I more meant classic in the sense of good.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



FBH:

"I more meant classic in the sense of good."

Quality is, unfortunately, subjective.

Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ Supercop said...

Anonymous,: "In both cases overpopulation led to an increase in the incidence of homosexuality. Government sanctioned even."

Sounds like author wish-fulfillment. Overpopulation is a non-issue in developed countries (low birth rates is the real problem), and in China the government just mandated that citizens may only have a certain number of children.

=============

That is a particularly interesting example to use.

Because of the combination of favoring Male Children and the one child policy - China has a skewed male/female ratio.

Such that many men are not getting married. Others have been importing wives from Korea, Vietnam, etc.

If you were to make that a global situation - you couldn't import women. And you could easily end up with more men who choose male partners simply because that is what is available.

As to the possibilities of overpopulation - a lot of things can influence that. If for example climate change reduces reasonable food capacity by 20% -- the number before we become "overpopulated" goes down.

(SA Phil)

(SA Phil)

Rick said...

Welcome to a new commenter!

If aliens live in the smaep hysical world

A typo that had me scratching my head, given the context!

I think the Nazis have a couple of 'advantages' as bad guys that put them a step above other totalitarians of the era. There is a reason why biker gangs go in for Nazi imagery: 'Hugo Boss and black leather' make an impressive visual statement. Communists have generally done badly at fashion.

On a more substantive level, the Shoah surpasses in sheer weirdness. Stalin had some brutal logic in starving the Ukrainians; Hitler didn't even have that.

And the Nazis came to a satisfying arch-baddie end. So on purely dramatic grounds they are head and shoulders above their rivals in 20th century political horror.


I can see that I am going to have to take on the 'What is SF' question (again). IMHO, the boundaries between science fiction and its neighboring subgenres of Romance are extremely hazy and permeable, making 'real' SF hard to define.

Even 'Hard' SF can get shaky if examined too closely - certainly that has been my experience on this blog. Think of psionics - or indeed the very fact that midcentury Hard SF was heavily influenced by John W. Campbell.

Anonymous said...

I read it as "same physical"



(SA Phil)

Anonymous said...

Wolves hunting (and living) in packs is an example of mutualism; sheep/dogs or humans/bovines are not; apes living communally is an example of mutualism.

I can imagine an alien species that are filter-feeders who band together for mutual protection from predators, better mating prospects, and mutual support for each other's survival. These groups prosper and expand while their rivals die off; they become the dominate species on their world. The only things they have in common with us are that they're organic and are social.

Ferrell

Anonymous said...

Its always possible that even if an alien species are sheep .. they will try to kill us - out of fear that we are wolves.

(SA Phil)

Damien Sullivan said...

Niven's Puppeteers! A lot more dangerous than Kzinti.

jollyreaper said...

My inversion of alien apex predators like the kzin are crafty critters that evolved high intelligence to escape predators. They never had herds for safety in numbers so they had to get really good at escape and evasion. They eventually developed tech and killed back the predators but retained the hunt as a vital part of their culture. Their way of counting coup is letting the predator get close but not close enough. A weapon can be used to kill if it gets too close but that's dishonorable.

Apex prey. They would not be as cowardly as the puppeteers but crafty, cunning, and proper chess masters.

Tony said...

Damien Sullivan:

"Unwarranted confidence, there. The list of most intelligent non-human animals includes chimps (some hunting), orangutangs (mostly fruit), gorillas (leaf eaters), elephants (herbivore), parrots (plant eaters), and ravens (carrion). Also omnivores like pigs and raccoons. Wolves aren't all that high."

But wolves are apex predators. So are humans -- though through technological rather than natural mechanisms. In both cases the apex was reached by outcompeting in an at best ambivalent, but mostly hostile, environment.

Simply put, I believe that intelligence by itself will not succeed in creating a technological civilization, nor will competitiveness. But intelligent competitiveness...there's the killer.

"Most of science fiction, including many of the accepted classics, have crap science, including mental superpowers. Dune won the Hugo and Nebula and is generally considered a science fiction classics; you're engaging in pure revisionism."

The problem with Dune is that it was written after Lysenkoism had been roundly discreditted and psionics was under serious assault. Good SF should at least try to match what contemporary science says, dontcha think?

WRT the Hugo and Nebula awards, Left Hand of Darkness and Neuromancer also won both awards. I know plenty of people who would consider one or the other a classic, but I don't know too many people who would consider both classics. All the awards really recognize is what's trendy and new in the genre at the time of the award.

"You're using language idiosyncratic to yourself, then."

I'm making my own judgment and stating my own opinion.

Tony said...

FBH:

"On the flip side though, humans feel a strong degree of empathy for certain animals, such as pets. I don't think it's particularly strange to imagine you might have a species that had more interspecies empathy, or just more empathy in general even if it's not complete. It's unlikely to be completely peaceful by biology, but see below."

Humans themselves have plenty of interspecific empathy. My neighbors goats ate my roses this spring. But that's what goats do and I like them as individuals anyway. We won't even go in to how people feel about their dogs and cats.

But that doesn't stop people eating tasty animals. It doesn't stop them from eradicating dangerous animals -- especially animals that are only really dangerous to their livestock. Empathy, even great empathy, simply doesn't preclude competitiveness or practicality.

"I think you're far too crudely attaching biology to policy. It's unlikely you'll have a species that is completely pacifistic by instinct. It could be however you'll find one that is beneficent by philosophy. Even among human cultures there's a very broad set of motivations and accepted social norms and behaviours. If you're dealing with aliens, who have different history, society, etc. then you could find something else again."

Once again, apply the principle of mediocrity. Whatever is true for us is probably true for everybody. We think that intelligence developed as a competitive advantage. We know what failing to compete means for already evolved, fully intelligent humans. Absent evidence to the contrary, we should fully expect the same to hold true for any alien intelligences we meet.

Also -- and I'm manifestly not accusing anyone here of this -- there is a line of thought that humans represent the lowest nadir of what a successfully intelligent species can be. when we contact intelligent aliens, or they contact us, we will find that they are much more peaceful and advanced than us. Or, taken in a slightly different direction, humans will necessarily have to become more peaceful to survive long enough to make contact.

The problem with this is that the mediocrity principle works both ways. If humans are typically violent and competitive, they can't at the same time be atypically violent and competitive. If we say to ourselves (and the history of science bears this out) that we're nothing special, then we need to realize that we are nothing especially good, nor are anything especially bad.

"Right, that's why I don't think good science is necessary for good science picture."

Suit yourself. But please don't be too offended if people with scientific and technical educations aren't reading your books, or very many of the books you like to read.

"Yes. Yes he really did. The idea with Forever war was to explore the extreme alienation of people caused by Vietnam in a more desaturated, politically neutral context which bought the ideals of it out more sharply."

He could have used any war in the 20th Century. He could have even used the Vietnam War. All of the angst and cynicism found in Forever War can be found in James Webb's Fields of Fire, which was published just 4 years after Haldeman's book.

"I more meant classic in the sense of good."

Strange thing -- I thoroughly like and enjoy the Dune canon (up to Herbert's death, of course), including the supplemental Dune Encyclopedia. But I just can't elevate it or any particular work to the level of "classic". It's just too idiosynchratic, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Dune is definitely classic Science Fiction. At least the first novel.

Its not hard SF though.

----
Whether we like it or not Star Wars, Star Trek, etc are all Science Fiction also.

The original Trek is classic, the original series Star Wars is Classic. The last of those was 30 years ago. And they have the chops.

Now SF fans like to say some things are Science Fiction and some things are Fantasy .. whatever -- but that is just geek bias. An alternate more specific definition used a select group of people. (and not even all SF fans agree)

I dont think those who arent SF fans have any problem lumping all those together into the Science Fiction heading.

(SA PHil)

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"Whether we like it or not Star Wars, Star Trek, etc are all Science Fiction also.

The original Trek is classic, the original series Star Wars is Classic. The last of those was 30 years ago. And they have the chops.

Now SF fans like to say some things are Science Fiction and some things are Fantasy .. whatever -- but that is just geek bias. An alternate more specific definition used a select group of people. (and not even all SF fans agree)

I dont think those who arent SF fans have any problem lumping all those together into the Science Fiction heading."


Star Trek and Star Wars are classic TV and film. No arguments there. But it's engaging in the fallacy of popularity to say that just because millions of people label them SF makes them SF.

FBH said...

Tony

Looks like this got a bit long. I'm going to snip the literary discussion for a moment cause I think it's less relevant to this blog.

The short version is: I don't actually think there's enough really hard science fiction around that worrying about good science is a good idea. Even science fiction that looks very hard (I might mention Alastair Reynold here) often includes a lot of sheer magic.

Humans themselves have plenty of interspecific empathy. My neighbors goats ate my roses this spring. But that's what goats do and I like them as individuals anyway. We won't even go in to how people feel about their dogs and cats.

But that doesn't stop people eating tasty animals. It doesn't stop them from eradicating dangerous animals -- especially animals that are only really dangerous to their livestock. Empathy, even great empathy, simply doesn't preclude competitiveness or practicality.


My point is that you might find a species with more itnerspecies empathy, which might indeed make it less practical. You might also find ones with less. In fact some humans are empathetic enough to stop themselves from eating tasty animals because of their empathy.

I think we're getting a bit off the point here though. My real complaint about the statement "aliens won't be kindly just like we aren't" is it's both highly dubious and highly political.

If a human starship saw a comet heading for a primitive alien planet and could prevent it, I think we'd do so for instance. Isn't that a kindly act? Saying that no alien species will be kindly seems to present a world in which we should meet any alien species not just with the possibility of having to fight them in mind but that it is the most probable outcome. That's not a position that I think is very worthwhile.

Wow. Still too long. Better cut this in two.

FBH said...

Tony Part 2
Once again, apply the principle of mediocrity. Whatever is true for us is probably true for everybody. We think that intelligence developed as a competitive advantage. We know what failing to compete means for already evolved, fully intelligent humans. Absent evidence to the contrary, we should fully expect the same to hold true for any alien intelligences we meet.

Except that's kind of self evidently dumb when talking about aliens. You're potentially talking about a being with different senses, a wholly different body, different brain chemistry and structure. A being that evolved in a radically different environment to us. Then layer on top of that a wholly different history, culture and set of experiences to us.

Frankly I think we'd be lucky to share the same "reality" as such a being enough to comprehend one another even slightly. At the very least the mind of a human and an alien being will be profoundly different. Indeed the very concept of "kindly", of human ethics in general fails even when looking at historical humans. The idea that an alien would be "kind" or "unkind" in the way we're describing is its self probably completely unsound.

Also -- and I'm manifestly not accusing anyone here of this -- there is a line of thought that humans represent the lowest nadir of what a successfully intelligent species can be. when we contact intelligent aliens, or they contact us, we will find that they are much more peaceful and advanced than us. Or, taken in a slightly different direction, humans will necessarily have to become more peaceful to survive long enough to make contact.

The problem with this is that the mediocrity principle works both ways. If humans are typically violent and competitive, they can't at the same time be atypically violent and competitive. If we say to ourselves (and the history of science bears this out) that we're nothing special, then we need to realize that we are nothing especially good, nor are anything especially bad.


I have seen that come up yes and I did think of it when I saw the sentiment. That's not really my objection here. My objection is then turning it around and saying it the other way. "Aliens will all be kindly and more advanced than humans." and "Aliens will be violent and competitive like humans." are both wrong. First the level of violence and competition among humans fluctuates wildly between individuals, cultures and time periods. Second, both of them are making unjustifiable assumptions about the mind of an alien being.

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Rick:

"And the Nazis came to a satisfying arch-baddie end."

In other words... the reason they're such popular villains is that they lost the war.

Once again, history is written by the victors.



Tony:

"Simply put, I believe that intelligence by itself will not succeed in creating a technological civilization, nor will competitiveness. But intelligent competitiveness... there's the killer."

Technological civilization requires intelligence and cooperation. You cannot develop any appreciable level of technology if members of your species do not share their discoveries and pass them down through generations. Many items of high technology require more than one person working together just to build.

Competitiveness is not necessary. Much of technological civilization is motivated by wanting a more comfortable life than can be had living in the wilderness. People are not interested in getting sick less often than their neighbors, they simply don't want to get sick period. They don't want their roofs to be less leaky than the neighbors', they just want their roofs to not be leaky. Same goes for any of the other comforts civilization provides.

This requires a certain degree of defiance against the environment, but not, necessarily, against other civilizations. Though they too can be seen as part of the environment and beaten down like everything else, as has historically often been the case.



FBH:

"Indeed the very concept of "kindly", of human ethics in general fails even when looking at historical humans."

Actually, an examination of history shows that while past societies had commonly accepted practices that we now find reprehensible, many of the people living in them were still quite nice ASIDE from these flaws. It shows that people can be kindly while still having a blind spot in their kindness.

I can imagine an alien civilization being mostly personable and sympathetic to us, while having several practices which utterly disgust our ambassadors.

Anonymous said...

Tony,

Star Trek and Star Wars are classic TV and film. No arguments there. But it's engaging in the fallacy of popularity to say that just because millions of people label them SF makes them SF.
-----

What is the bigger fallacy...

...That a narrow subset of SF fans get to define what Science Fiction means to everyone.

...Or that a much larger group of people (include most SF fans) define what the general use of the term is.

?

It might be more useful to define sub-genres of Science Fiction to include fantasies like Trek and Star Wars, and then harder stories like Space Odessey.

--------
In the end if we were to use your version potentially no story is science fiction because we can always find some fan that has a higher minimum scientific plausibility bar.

(SA Phil)

Anonymous said...

For example wherever the Angel Aliens show up - 2001 a Space Oddessey isn't very plausible.

In fact the sufficiently advanced alien thing is potentially a lot of bunk.

No technology is going to allow any species to bypass the laws of physics.

And then there is the AI portion, which is completely implausible.

So I could frame 2001 .. as fantasy.

(SA Phil)

Damien Sullivan said...

"Star Trek and Star Wars are classic TV and film. No arguments there. But it's engaging in the fallacy of popularity to say that just because millions of people label them SF makes them SF."

...

Resolved: to not respond to Tony in any way apart from correcting blatant errors of fact with a citation. I see no point to any other interaction.

FBH said...

Anonymous
Actually, an examination of history shows that while past societies had commonly accepted practices that we now find reprehensible, many of the people living in them were still quite nice ASIDE from these flaws. It shows that people can be kindly while still having a blind spot in their kindness.

I can imagine an alien civilization being mostly personable and sympathetic to us, while having several practices which utterly disgust our ambassadors.


Yeah, that's exactly what I mean. Where the ancient romans bad people cause they kept slaves? Or the ancient chinese cause they bound people's hands till they rotted off?

Not all of them. Just products of a different culture and set of circumstances.

One of my favourite examples of this is the Crusades. The pope was, all political judgements aside face with the need to somehow save the souls of his flock who where constantly fighting all kinds of wars with one another. He needed some way to save their souls while they were still violent people which he accepted was against the bible.

So he came up with the idea of reclaiming the holy land as a no doubt holy mission which could save all those who did it, but will be something that Norman aristocrats could actually do.

Anonymous said...

Since it was mentioned earlier in the thread-

Is "Ringworld" allowed to be a Science Fiction Classic?

How about Blade Runner?

Alien?

Fallout?

(SA Phil)

Jean-Remy said...

If you really want to know how I feel about those 10 *SNORT* laws

(as if you can't figure it out from my woeful attempt at internet sarcasm)

#10: Well duh! At this point who would not be ahead of the political curve? Racial equality happened when Kirk kissed Uhura, and gender equality... did I mention Uhura? Any SF that falls before that point is irrelevant.

#09: When has that ever happened? The Greek Gods had flaws, their heroes more so. Superman has kryptonite. No writer has ever created a villain that can't be beaten by a hero without flaws, or a hero without flaws himself.

#08: Always write your story. Be INSPIRED by ST, SW, B5, or, why not as highly acclaimed as Akira Kurosawama or ignored as Drew Karpyshyn. It doesn't MATTER where your inspiration comes from, as long as the END product is your story.

#07: Wrong in more ways than I can express. First you can have realistic Fantasy: LotR is fantasy and has elves, but also has a thoroughly studied analysis of the development of language and social structure, as well as a solid grasp or available technology in terms of weaponry that was actually used and developed. Nothing is impossible about it scientifically until it has been.

#06: Just to be contrary I will disagree. Just because the chemical we call Caffeine has a certain effect on our biology (increased heart rate=increased blowdflow =increased energy) doesn't mean Raktajino is molecularly REMOTELY the same. Worse! Since coffee and raktajino are not products of pure molecular science (unlike, say, salt (NaCl) and sugar (Almost all sugars have the formula CnH2nOn (n is between 3 and 7)) or even alcohol). Of all the legal drugs, coffee is really most complex. And is a smeerp really a rabbit if it is based on dextro-aminoacids and levo-saccharides? (hint: we're the opposite) Is it a smeerp if it ever touches a rabbit and they both combust? or liquefy each other? A cute long-eared animal isn't anymore a rabbit than a young Tyrannosaurus is.

#05: Let's not be blinded with Nazis as Nazis because they're Nazis. There have been PLENTY of totalitarian regimes obsessed with uniforms and martial salutes and racial cleansing. Just because one such philosophy attained sufficient power only to be smacked back down doesn't mean the underlying PHILOSOPHY died... only that a particular culture and nation that embraced got its ass thoroughly kicked.

#04: Read above. As if Nazis have ever been the only regime obsessed with uniforms, impressive salutes, and racial cleansing? PLEASE name a totalitarian regime in history that hasn't met at least two of the previous 3 conditions. And following all 3 isn't exactly rare.

#03: No. Flat out. Louis L'amour's mountains and Forester's sea are NOT equivalent to SF's Science. Space and planets are it, sure, as physical possibilities, as dangerous environments and exotic locales, or course, but not as science. Science can be the set of rules the author limits himself too, but it does not create the atmosphere. L'amour and Forester also respect the laws of physics: revolvers have six shots (five if you keep an empty chamber so the cold Peacemaker doesn't go off accidentally) and sailships depend on the wind (even if you can cut through the wind and cut throuhg the French lines to unload your broadside into the enemy's aftcastle). Science is not atmosphere, since is underlying structure. It should not even be visible, never mind the factor by which it is judged.

#02: So is every other form of literature. Fiction is fiction because it exists in no other place than the author's mind.

#01: All forms of literature has changed the world for the better. All forms of art, science, philosophy. Any human endeavor has. Anything we have ever done has been a single step to where we are. Taking the burden of "furthering mankind" on a single genre of literature is not only immodest, it is so flagrantly WRONG that I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

#00: Read #01

Anonymous said...

Jean-Remy said...

If you really want to know how I feel about those 10 *SNORT* laws
----------

I think you missed the part by the original author explaining they weren't meant to be taken so seriously ---->

And they are ancient internet data far older than Rick thought.

(SA Phil)

Tony said...

FBH:

"The short version is: I don't actually think there's enough really hard science fiction around that worrying about good science is a good idea. Even science fiction that looks very hard (I might mention Alastair Reynold here) often includes a lot of sheer magic."

Of course worrying about good science is a good idea. That's the whole point of the Atomic Rockets website, and a big part of what Rick seems to think is important.

Beyond that, the plausibility of an SF story is dependent on it. Yes, there may be some places where the author has to invoke magitech to move the story along, but for everything else the science has to be right. Even magitech has to be internally consistent enough -- and sufficiently consistent with the physical world we know -- to be a believable technology.

"I think we're getting a bit off the point here though. My real complaint about the statement 'aliens won't be kindly just like we aren't' is it's both highly dubious and highly political."

Who said they wouldn't be "kindly"? I never did. I said that the principle of mediocrity means that they will likely -- very highly likely -- to be as competitive as us, and to put their interests before ours. The principle also tells us that their

That's scientific, not political. It's hardly dubious, since our whole understanding of the universe is based on the understanding that whatever happens here happens over there as well.

"If a human starship saw a comet heading for a primitive alien planet and could prevent it, I think we'd do so for instance. Isn't that a kindly act?"

Once again, kindly and competitive can reside in the same species, even in the same mind. And if we think about it, the impulse to redirect the comet might be as much to asuage the conscience of the ship's commander and crew as it would be out of any truly amgnanimous motives.

"Saying that no alien species will be kindly seems to present a world in which we should meet any alien species not just with the possibility of having to fight them in mind but that it is the most probable outcome. That's not a position that I think is very worthwhile."

I can understand the sentiment. But it's only a sentiment. If it turns out that aliens are just as competitive and survival oriented as we are, that's the way the cookie crumbles. Saying that's not "worthwhile" won't change it.

"Except that's kind of self evidently dumb when talking about aliens. You're potentially talking about a being with different senses, a wholly different body, different brain chemistry and structure. A being that evolved in a radically different environment to us. Then layer on top of that a wholly different history, culture and set of experiences to us.

Frankly I think we'd be lucky to share the same "reality" as such a being enough to comprehend one another even slightly. At the very least the mind of a human and an alien being will be profoundly different. Indeed the very concept of "kindly", of human ethics in general fails even when looking at historical humans. The idea that an alien would be "kind" or "unkind" in the way we're describing is its self probably completely unsound. "


No disrespect intended, but that comes across as a pretty self-evidently incorrect. Once again, applying the mediocrity principle, we should find our environment and evolution to be unremarkable.

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"What is the bigger fallacy...

...That a narrow subset of SF fans get to define what Science Fiction means to everyone.

...Or that a much larger group of people (include most SF fans) define what the general use of the term is.

?"


If everybody calls a deer a cow, does that make it so? Is a bear a dog? Even though they are pretty closely related, and exhibit similar behoviors in certain circumstances, bears are still bears and dogs are still dogs.

"It might be more useful to define sub-genres of Science Fiction to include fantasies like Trek and Star Wars, and then harder stories like Space Odessey."

Well, considering that the use of "science fantasy" to describe Star Trek and Star Wars has never been objected to in the past, why all of a sudden must they be science fiction?

"In the end if we were to use your version potentially no story is science fiction because we can always find some fan that has a higher minimum scientific plausibility bar."

Of course we can always find some fan with a higher threshhold. That has nothing to do with what I personally think.

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"Is 'Ringworld' allowed to be a Science Fiction Classic?

How about Blade Runner?

Alien?

Fallout?"


Ringworld? It's a Larry Niven classic. I don't think you'll get enough SF fans together on anything to declare it a classic by acclamation. That was the point I was making earlier when commenting on the nature of the Nebula and Hugo awards.

Blade Runner and Alien? Very much film classics. Also very good examples of Riddley Scott filmmaking -- the juxtaposition of light and dark, strong female characters, and the individual against the system.

Fallout? It's a video game. I wouldn't call a video game of Dune or Ringworld science fiction in and of itself. It would be a video game based on an SF work.

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"For example wherever the Angel Aliens show up - 2001 a Space Oddessey isn't very plausible.

In fact the sufficiently advanced alien thing is potentially a lot of bunk.

No technology is going to allow any species to bypass the laws of physics.

And then there is the AI portion, which is completely implausible.

So I could frame 2001 .. as fantasy."


As previously pointed out, the Monolith Makers started out as biologicals just like us. They aren't aliens, just highly advanced.

Hal is indeed an invocation of magitech, and not credible today, to either side of the strong AI debate. Yet I think it's excusable, in the same way that a lot of Heinleiniana is excusable. It's a matter of time and place.

WRT to sufficiently advanced technologies (not aliens) being indistinguishable from magic, well, I think we should remember that it was advice about writing, not an observation about reality. Technology, after all, isn't magic, by definition. What Clarke was saying is that you can't predict how a sufficiently advanced technology will work in detail, don't try to justify it with technobabble -- just use describe its effects.

Tony said...

In previous, the sentence: "They aren't aliens, just highly advanced." should read:

"They aren't sngels, just highly advanced."

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Tony:

"Well, considering that the use of "science fantasy" to describe Star Trek and Star Wars has never been objected to in the past, why all of a sudden must they be science fiction?"

I would say science fantasy is a subset of science fiction, just as fantasy is a subset of fiction.

It's soft science fiction, yes, but still science fiction.


"Fallout? It's a video game. I wouldn't call a video game of Dune or Ringworld science fiction in and of itself. It would be a video game based on an SF work."

I take issue with the claim that video games are an inherently inferior medium. Yes, many video games focus less on plot and more on gameplay, however some video games have very involved stories.

To dismiss the artistic merit of a video game simply because it is a video game, without considering the specific content of that particular game, is bigotry.

(And no, I am not interested in talking about any particular video game that I feel is valid science fiction. I'm just defending the medium as a whole.)


"Technology, after all, isn't magic, by definition."

A definition many writers disagree with, as magic is often described in modern works as a scientific discipline which can be experimentally analyzed.

Anonymous said...

Tony,


If everybody calls a deer a cow, does that make it so? Is a bear a dog? Even though they are pretty closely related, and exhibit similar behoviors in certain circumstances, bears are still bears and dogs are still dogs.

------------

No but if everyone calls a deer a deer then it is a deer.

If you call it a cow instead, it is still a deer.

If most call SF X .. and you say its not .. who is wrong?

(SA Phil)

Anonymous said...

Tony,

Of course we can always find some fan with a higher threshhold. That has nothing to do with what I personally think.
-------------

I think this might be the problem.

The tone, the voice you are writing with doesn't come off as "what you personally think" at all.

Instead it comes off as if the definition of SF you are giving is uncompromising fact.

I don't anyone claims you aren't allowed to have a personal opinion on what you think is Science Fiction.

I think though there are some that think declarative statements like "Dune is not a Science Fiction Classic" really goes against the norm. Especially when to most of us Dune is one of "the" Science Fiction classics.


(SA Phil)

Anonymous said...

Tony said...

In previous, the sentence: "They aren't aliens, just highly advanced." should read:

"They aren't angels, just highly advanced."

-----------

The angle moniker was in reference to the Clarke quote "we will find apes or angels, but not men."

I wasn't referring to the judeo-christain monotheism workaround.

(SA Phil)

FBH said...

Of course worrying about good science is a good idea. That's the whole point of the Atomic Rockets website, and a big part of what Rick seems to think is important.

Beyond that, the plausibility of an SF story is dependent on it. Yes, there may be some places where the author has to invoke magitech to move the story along, but for everything else the science has to be right. Even magitech has to be internally consistent enough -- and sufficiently consistent with the physical world we know -- to be a believable technology.


It's good if it gives you new ideas and helps your story. That's really the most important thing in any kind of SF, that you tell a good story. I think the kind of analysis this website and atomic rockets does is incredibly helpful for that, but at the same time if you need magitech to make the story work you should have it.

Internal consistency is always good though.

Who said they wouldn't be "kindly"? I never did. I said that the principle of mediocrity means that they will likely -- very highly likely -- to be as competitive as us, and to put their interests before ours. The principle also tells us that their

I think you lost a word there. Note that while you may not have said kindly, the article did.

That's scientific, not political. It's hardly dubious, since our whole understanding of the universe is based on the understanding that whatever happens here happens over there as well.

That's fine when you're dealing with natural science, but it's a dangerous cognitive trap when you come to social science. Even with human civilizations their views are not necessarily like ours. Especially if you analyse them to a degree that's actually useful.

Once again, kindly and competitive can reside in the same species, even in the same mind. And if we think about it, the impulse to redirect the comet might be as much to asuage the conscience of the ship's commander and crew as it would be out of any truly amgnanimous motives.

Or it could be pure ultraism. It depends on the person.

I can understand the sentiment. But it's only a sentiment. If it turns out that aliens are just as competitive and survival oriented as we are, that's the way the cookie crumbles. Saying that's not "worthwhile" won't change it.

Right, but until we meet them we can't actually know what they're like. Assuming they must be competative in the same way we are (which way is that?) is a pretty huge assumption.

No disrespect intended, but that comes across as a pretty self-evidently incorrect. Once again, applying the mediocrity principle, we should find our environment and evolution to be unremarkable.

Let us conduct a thought experiment. Imagine a burrowing worm. On the dry region of its home planet that it lives large plants are rare. The worms have no eyes, but navigates through a highly developed sense of touch and ground vibration sense. They also has a magnetic sense like some turtles have that allows it to avoid crashing into the veins of harder rocks.

The worms live by eating the tubers of small plants that grow in the dry, arid regions that are there home biome. Some are poisonous, and the worm's species has learned to avoid those.

Let us imagine that these worms evolve to sapience, and over time gain technology. This is, overall, a not particularly strange alien race.

I would still not expect to be able to say what they'd be like when we meet them.

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"No but if everyone calls a deer a deer then it is a deer.

If you call it a cow instead, it is still a deer.

If most call SF X .. and you say its not .. who is wrong?"


We've been very happily referring to Star Trek and and Star Wars as "science fantasy" for quite a while, righ here. If that's the consensus here, what does it matter what others think? And why change it all of a sudden?

"I think this might be the problem.

The tone, the voice you are writing with doesn't come off as 'what you personally think' at all.

Instead it comes off as if the definition of SF you are giving is uncompromising fact.


I don't think I ever gave a definition of what is and isn't science fiction. I said that Dune wasn't a classic. I didn't say it wasn't SF. I also stuck to the science fantasy label for Star Trek and Star Wars, which hasn't been objected to here before now, AFAIK.

I think the disconnect here is that I expect everything a read or see to be an opinion, unless someone establishes it as a fact, with evidence. So I don't think it makes much sense to go around saying "IMO", or "if you ask me", or whatever. I guess I'll have to.

"I don't anyone claims you aren't allowed to have a personal opinion on what you think is Science Fiction.

I think though there are some that think declarative statements like 'Dune is not a Science Fiction Classic' really goes against the norm. Especially when to most of us Dune is one of 'the' Science Fiction classics."


In my opinion there are a lot of science fiction "classics". It really is a matter of opinion. And I doubt that Dune would come out the winner in a survey of "the" SF classic. I'm not sure there's any work that would gain even five percent.

"The angle moniker was in reference to the Clarke quote 'we will find apes or angels, but not men.'

I wasn't referring to the judeo-christain monotheism workaround."


I knew what you were talking about. I just think the term "angel", even though Clarke used it himself, doesn't really describe what we're talking about here. Angels, after all, are understood to be agents of the Supernatural. Yes, the use of "angels" enabled a handy alliteration, but I think Clarke may have been more apt to say "wizards".

Tony said...

FBH:

"It's good if it gives you new ideas and helps your story. That's really the most important thing in any kind of SF, that you tell a good story. I think the kind of analysis this website and atomic rockets does is incredibly helpful for that, but at the same time if you need magitech to make the story work you should have it."

Nobody said don't use magitech. The point is that everything around the magitech needs to be consistent with what we know about the natural world. Also, the magitech it self has to be internally consistent, and interface with the non-magitech world in a plausible way.

And all of that is necessary. It's what puts the "science" in science fiction.

"I think you lost a word there. Note that while you may not have said kindly, the article did."

And? I've been talking about competitiveness and survival orientation.

"That's fine when you're dealing with natural science, but it's a dangerous cognitive trap when you come to social science. Even with human civilizations their views are not necessarily like ours. Especially if you analyse them to a degree that's actually useful."

We're not talking about civilizations. We're talking about natural qualities of a species. Humans are competitive and have a survival instinct for natural science reasons. The superficial qualities of their civilizations don't change any of that.

"Or it could be pure ultraism. It depends on the person."

You mean "altruism"? It's certainly present in individuals. Kinda hard to get the captain of a spaceship, who has to answer to his superiors, tho do anything he doesn't have a practical reason for.

"Right, but until we meet them we can't actually know what they're like. Assuming they must be competative in the same way we are (which way is that?) is a pretty huge assumption."

Not a huge assumption at all. It's based on mediocrity, not exceptionalism.

"Let us conduct a thought experiment. Imagine a burrowing worm.

...

I would still not expect to be able to say what they'd be like when we meet them."


I wouldn't expect to meet an intelligent species. Burrowing animals don't live in a challenging enough environment.

FBH said...

Nobody said don't use magitech. The point is that everything around the magitech needs to be consistent with what we know about the natural world. Also, the magitech itself has to be internally consistent, and interface with the non-magitech world in a plausible way.

And all of that is necessary. It's what puts the "science" in science fiction.


That's fine then. At least as far as it goes.

We're not talking about civilizations. We're talking about natural qualities of a species. Humans are competitive and have a survival instinct for natural science reasons. The superficial qualities of their civilizations don't change any of that.

Sure it does. Civilization has previously made men sacrifice their children to the gods, commit suicide in the cause of ideals, and give away many comforts for others.

Your whole argument seems much to predicated on the idea of simplifying incredibly complex forces. It maybe that evolution forces certain things, but the evidence we have from humans say it doesn't force them very strongly. . . and if it doesn't force them very strongly why should we be more than minimally interested?

You mean "altruism"? It's certainly present in individuals. Kinda hard to get the captain of a spaceship, who has to answer to his superiors, tho do anything he doesn't have a practical reason for.

Yeah, sorry. Dyslexia came out there for a moment.

Also he might well have to answer it if his superiors aren't in direct communication and nobody expected intelligent life.

Not a huge assumption at all. It's based on mediocrity, not exceptionalism.

Well yes I do assume exceptionalism when cases are different.

I wouldn't expect to meet an intelligent species. Burrowing animals don't live in a challenging enough environment.

Perhaps it's under evolutionary pressure from predators or many of the tubers it could eat are poisonous so it needs to find the right types. Perhaps there's some kind of major environmental problem in the area that forces selection for pattern recognition. This is an alien planet, all of these things could be present. That's kind of the point here.

The only other species we've met with agriculture is nothing like us. Indeed, it seems unlikely they're in any way sapient as we understand it. Is it really too much of a stretch to imagine that another tool using species might also be very unlike us?

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Your worms, given their different senses, would have very different forms of art than we do.

As long as they are a social species, however, I expect their morals will resemble ours more than their art does.

And many of their interests - food, curiosity - will be things we can understand.

Anonymous said...

Tony,

I just think the term "angel", even though Clarke used it himself, doesn't really describe what we're talking about here
-------

Oh come on - he used the term himself and I was referring to one of his works, and you admit you knew what I meant.

Sometimes your apparent need to be the local contrarian gets to be more than a little silly.

(SA Phil)

Anonymous said...

Tony,

In my opinion there are a lot of science fiction "classics". It really is a matter of opinion. And I doubt that Dune would come out the winner in a survey of "the" SF classic. I'm not sure there's any work that would gain even five percent.
--------

I did say "one of the"

Not "the SF Classic"

If most SF fans over a certain age made a list of SF classics it would be on it.

-------------------

Tony,
In my opinion there are a lot of science fiction "classics". It really is a matter of opinion. And I doubt that Dune would come out the winner in a survey of "the" SF classic. I'm not sure there's any work that would gain even five percent.

-------
We've been very happily referring to Star Trek and and Star Wars as "science fantasy" for quite a while, righ here. If that's the consensus here, what does it matter what others think? And why change it all of a sudden?
========================


What gives - first you say the generalized opinions of others don't matter - then you use two arguments referring to opinions of others.

So what if we have been calling Trek and Star Wars "Science Fantasy" - does that mean they are not Science Fiction? I realize we prefer "hard" Sf here - but does that mean "soft" SF doesn't even get to be Science Fiction? There are Trek pictures on a sizable portion of the blog posts for crying out loud.

Do your other comments mean you don't think Alien and Blade runner were not Science Fiction? or Ring World?

And how is it - if a work is both Science Fiction and a literary/film (insert one) Classic ... it is not also a Science Fiction Classic?

If you had a film classic that is also a Western - is it not generally seen as a "Classic Western" ?

Is the John Wayne version of "True Grit" a classic Western?

Im back to thinking you just like to argue.

(SA Phil)

Tony said...

FBH:

"That's fine then. At least as far as it goes."

"[A]s far as it goes"? I'm having trouble imagining how it could be taken much further. The point is that you can't play fast and loose with the natural world and be taken seriously as SF. Where else is there to take things?

"Sure it does. Civilization has previously made men sacrifice their children to the gods, commit suicide in the cause of ideals, and give away many comforts for others."

You're confalting individual acts in the interest (or at least perceived interest) of the community, with the purposes of the community itself. Individual humans can place their communities above them, from and infantry squad to a whole nation. Humans as communities will compete with each other in very selfish terms. Communities that fail to compete either get absorbed or exterminated.

"Your whole argument seems much to predicated on the idea of simplifying incredibly complex forces. It maybe that evolution forces certain things, but the evidence we have from humans say it doesn't force them very strongly. . . and if it doesn't force them very strongly why should we be more than minimally interested?"

See above. Competitive and survival drives do affect how humans behave towards each other. Humans in barbarism want to survive and achieve as individuals. Humans in civilization may get along better with membrs of their own communities, and even sacrifice in their community's interest. But in groups, civilized humans are if anything more dangerous to other human communities than barbarians.

And that's the least complex, most easy thing to understand about humans. They compete because it is necessary for survival, in either the civilized or barbarian context.

Intraspecific competition is in fact quite a common thing. The most interesting thin about humans in this regard is how unrestrained they are. The animals tend not to kill each other, except by accident. Humans don't seem to care how many other humans they kill, and they do it quite deliberately.

Now that may mean nothing. But taking mediocrity at face value, it suggests that ruthless competitiveness may just be a feature of intelligent civilization. That's definitely the way I'd bet until things are proven otherwise.

"Also he might well have to answer it if his superiors aren't in direct communication and nobody expected intelligent life."

He'd still have to justify his actions at some point, even if his immediate situation is his alone to solve. Age of sail captains, for example, certainly weren't given a pass on things they did out of contact with home, if those actions were judged wrong upon his return. It's extremely hard to imagine how a temporarily out of touch starship capatin would be treated differently.

"Well yes I do assume exceptionalism when cases are different."

The whole point of the principle of mediocrity is that humans and their environment -- their "case" if you will -- is just not at all very likely to be different in broad strokes, and quite possibly not even in much detail.

Throughout the history of science, every time humans have thought themselves or their situation special, either especially bad or especially good, it's proven not to be the case. Going on that record, I simply can't credit any supposition that alien intelligences would be particularly different from us.

Tony said...

FBH:

"Perhaps it's under evolutionary pressure...This is an alien planet, all of these things could be present. That's kind of the point here."

No, that's precisely not the point. The point is that we're not exceptional. We're just like everyone else. And everyone else is just like us. The only differences are in details.

"The only other species we've met with agriculture is nothing like us. Indeed, it seems unlikely they're in any way sapient as we understand it. Is it really too much of a stretch to imagine that another tool using species might also be very unlike us?"

If you're talking about certain species of ants and termites, I think it would be hard to refute lethal competitiveness, howevermcuh else they may be different from us.

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"Oh come on - he used the term himself and I was referring to one of his works, and you admit you knew what I meant."

Yes he did. And I stated why I thought he was wrong.

"Sometimes your apparent need to be the local contrarian gets to be more than a little silly."

Just because my opinion doesn't agree with yours, it doesn't mean I'm adopting it as a nothing more than a pose. I never say something I'm not convinced of.

"I did say 'one of the'

Not 'the SF Classic'"


You're right. Fair enough. But I do wonder at this late date if Dune even makes a lot of people's Top Ten.

"If most SF fans over a certain age made a list of SF classics it would be on it."

Then it's a judgment only relevant to to that age cohort, isn't it? That's why I have doubts about the term "classic" as applied to SF. The audience has changed too much over time, as has the science on which science fiction is based.

"What gives - first you say the generalized opinions of others don't matter - then you use two arguments referring to opinions of others."

When refering to two different groups of people, i.e. the general public and much smaller groups of discussion participants here, there are big differences in consensus. I implicitly recognize that in all that I write.

"So what if we have been calling Trek and Star Wars 'Science Fantasy' - does that mean they are not Science Fiction? I realize we prefer 'hard' Sf here - but does that mean 'soft' SF doesn't even get to be Science Fiction? There are Trek pictures on a sizable portion of the blog posts for crying out loud."

I think of science fiction and science fantasy being two separate genres, just like most people, I think, would think historical fiction and alternate history are two separate genres. It certainly seems to be treated differently here.

WRT to Trek pictures, working backwards through the history of the blog:

Enterprise firing phasers, to illustrate the blog's "Continuing Mission" -- basically a play on a pop culture trope to celebrate an anniversary of the blog's existence.

Enterprise and Kahn's ship at different Z coordinates, illustrating one of the few times Terk got space comat kinda sorta rite.

Another "Continuing Mission" post, same (or very similar) picture as the latest one.

And...that's it. Rick has used the ISS and even covers of Heinlein juveniles more. You were saying?

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"Do your other comments mean you don't think Alien and Blade runner were not Science Fiction? or Ring World?"

Filmically, both Alien and "Blade Runner" were genre exercises. Alien is a monster movie, and "Blade Runner" is film noir. I think of them as being much more genre exercises than science fiction, because that's certainly what Scott concentrated on in his filmmaking and storytelling.

Ringworld is of course science fiction. But by now I think we all know what I think about the concept of SF classics. The genre is just to diverse and fractured by very real fault lines. I know you've been around when we've discussed that.

"And how is it - if a work is both Science Fiction and a literary/film (insert one) Classic ... it is not also a Science Fiction Classic?"

"Blade Runner is almost a prototypical example. It is a film classic for doing what it did with the noir genre. But the SF novel it is based on (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) was not too widely recognized until the movie, and the movie didn't follow it very closely.

"If you had a film classic that is also a Western - is it not generally seen as a 'Classic Western' ?"

"Western" is a very well-defined genre which the movies are generally thought to do a creditable job of transfering to the screen. The same cannot be said for science fiction. In fact, the non-fidelity of movie sci-fi to book SF is one of the biggest complaints of SF readers. We even talk about "Hollywood" and "Newtonian" spacecraft maneuvering to make that point.

"Is the John Wayne version of 'True Grit' a classic Western?

Having read the book and seen both of the movies, I would say that the John Wayne movie version is probably the most classically "western" of them all.

"Im back to thinking you just like to argue."

No. I just tend to have my own opinions.

FBH said...

Tony:

"[A]s far as it goes"? I'm having trouble imagining how it could be taken much further. The point is that you can't play fast and loose with the natural world and be taken seriously as SF. Where else is there to take things?

It's fine in that internal consistency is generally a good idea because it makes a better story. On the other hand you're flatly wrong. You objectively can play fast and loose with the natural world and be taken seriously in SF. In fact I would be hard pressed to name a single science fiction writer who doesn't, at one point or another play fast and lose.

You're confalting individual acts in the interest (or at least perceived interest) of the community, with the purposes of the community itself. Individual humans can place their communities above them, from and infantry squad to a whole nation. Humans as communities will compete with each other in very selfish terms. Communities that fail to compete either get absorbed or exterminated.

That's not very relevant when the interests of the community also change over time and by society.

Also the idea that all intercommunity human relations are based on conflict is very popular... and falsifiable. Is the relationship between say, EU members based on conflict? The EU and America? Australia and New Zealand?

Of course all of the above may have some conflicts, but they're at such a low level that it's barely worth talking about them. You're still simplifying.

See above. Competitive and survival drives do affect how humans behave towards each other. Humans in barbarism want to survive and achieve as individuals. Humans in civilization may get along better with membrs of their own communities, and even sacrifice in their community's interest. But in groups, civilized humans are if anything more dangerous to other human communities than barbarians.

Competitive and survival drives do affect the ways that humans relate to one another. So do a lot of things, included but not limited to technology, social norms, intra-social norms, religion etc.

FBH said...

And that's the least complex, most easy thing to understand about humans. They compete because it is necessary for survival, in either the civilized or barbarian context.

Except that level isn't useful for analysing what humans will actually do. Or alternatively, in the context of fiction, it's not very useful for all but a few stories. Usually the one's involving plane crashes.

Intraspecific competition is in fact quite a common thing. The most interesting thin about humans in this regard is how unrestrained they are. The animals tend not to kill each other, except by accident. Humans don't seem to care how many other humans they kill, and they do it quite deliberately.

Now that may mean nothing. But taking mediocrity at face value, it suggests that ruthless competitiveness may just be a feature of intelligent civilization. That's definitely the way I'd bet until things are proven otherwise.


You're stating your conclusion as your premise. "Because humans are a certain way, then aliens must be a certain way, because humans are that way."


He'd still have to justify his actions at some point, even if his immediate situation is his alone to solve. Age of sail captains, for example, certainly weren't given a pass on things they did out of contact with home, if those actions were judged wrong upon his return. It's extremely hard to imagine how a temporarily out of touch starship capatin would be treated differently.

That doesn't change the fact that at that point he's going to have to make a decision. I also notice you seem to be suggesting that humans have a wider group morality which would prevent them from allowing species to be blown up by comets

The whole point of the principle of mediocrity is that humans and their environment -- their "case" if you will -- is just not at all very likely to be different in broad strokes, and quite possibly not even in much detail.

Throughout the history of science, every time humans have thought themselves or their situation special, either especially bad or especially good, it's proven not to be the case. Going on that record, I simply can't credit any supposition that alien intelligences would be particularly different from us.


We're the product of upwards of 4.6 billion years of random mutations, and a particular set of environments and pressures. Just in terms of biology.

I'd say that actually it's the other way around. Through most of history, humans have thought that they were basically all the same. Christians assumed that the practice of Muslims must mirror their own. The Americans assumed in the cold war that Russian strategic posture mirrored their own. In both cases (and there's a billion more) they were completely wrong.

This is a phenomena called Mirror Imaging, and it's one of the most common traps of things like intelligence analysis.

No, that's precisely not the point. The point is that we're not exceptional. We're just like everyone else. And everyone else is just like us. The only differences are in details.

Details potentially including everything from evolutionary path to diet to environment to chemical composition.

If you're talking about certain species of ants and termites, I think it would be hard to refute lethal competitiveness, howevermcuh else they may be different from us.

but you'll admit that they're incredibly different from us.

FBH said...

Tony:

Anyway to condense this argument before it gets too long: while starting from a principle that it's fairly similiar to until there's evidence otherwise is arguably a valid principle in xenology, it's not really a very interesting way to write science fiction. Or rather, you can make up whatever evidence you want because you're writing science fiction

You're basically arguing that aliens need to be historically viable. That's okay, but not particularly incompatible with high levels of empathy. Maybe they have much greater neural plasticity than we do and so are even more able to reprogram themselves for society. Maybe they've actively re-engineered their brains to be more transhuman. Maybe a different evolutionary scenario engendered a mindset that caused them to more wish to trade with people than attack them.

The important thing is what the story needs.

It maybe that Kindly aliens are boring of course, which is IMHO a much stronger argument against using them.

Tony said...

FBH:

"It's fine in that internal consistency is generally a good idea because it makes a better story. On the other hand you're flatly wrong. You objectively can play fast and loose with the natural world and be taken seriously in SF. In fact I would be hard pressed to name a single science fiction writer who doesn't, at one point or another play fast and lose."

Yes, you can invoke magitech. You cannot, however, invoke it in such a way that all of natural science goes out the window, or that the magitech itself becomes implausible as a technology. So no, you really can't play fast and loose. You have to convince your usually well-educated reader that you know how the world really works.

"Also the idea that all intercommunity human relations are based on conflict is very popular... and falsifiable. Is the relationship between say, EU members based on conflict? The EU and America? Australia and New Zealand?

Of course all of the above may have some conflicts, but they're at such a low level that it's barely worth talking about them. You're still simplifying."


I'm not seeing how things get more complex. Large alliances are examples of communities of interest rather than antional communities. These larger communities can still kick the crap out of each other. And they often do, or threaten to.

I can remember very vividly when the world was divided into two large communities of interest known colloquially as the West and East, each made up of many nation states. Things couldn't have been very much more simple -- nor very much more dangerous. So I'm sorry, but I can't accept the assertion that there are so many complications when communities have competing interests, because I have personal experience of time, not so long ago, when the whole world was lined up that way. It was very simple and very stark.

"Anyway to condense this argument before it gets too long: while starting from a principle that it's fairly similiar to until there's evidence otherwise is arguably a valid principle in xenology, it's not really a very interesting way to write science fiction. Or rather, you can make up whatever evidence you want because you're writing science fiction"

No, you can't -- at least not and keep an audience that knows its science. Yes, you do see a lot of books catalogued as Science Fiction that do have bad science amd made-up rules. Some even sell fairly well. That doesn't mean those books are taken seriously by educated people.

"You're basically arguing that aliens need to be historically viable. That's okay, but not particularly incompatible with high levels of empathy. Maybe they have much greater neural plasticity than we do and so are even more able to reprogram themselves for society. Maybe they've actively re-engineered their brains to be more transhuman. Maybe a different evolutionary scenario engendered a mindset that caused them to more wish to trade with people than attack them."

Which societies are most likely to fight each other? Those that trade with each other, because they have more to fight over. Historically, it's never been trade or war, it's been trade and war.

"The important thing is what the story needs."

The important thing is that if your story requires scientific ignorance on the part of the reader, write it up as high fantasy to begin with, or find a way to write it consistent with known natural science, at least mostly.

"It maybe that Kindly aliens are boring of course, which is IMHO a much stronger argument against using them."

They may or may not be boring. My judgment is that they're not plausible.

Anonymous said...

Tony,

Then it's a judgment only relevant to to that age cohort, isn't it? That's why I have doubts about the term "classic" as applied to SF. The audience has changed too much over time, as has the science on which science fiction is based.

------

That applies to any classic.

"A Tale of Two Cities" wouldn't make most 20 year olds' lists as a classic either.

I am taking from this you dont beleive there is such a thing as a Science Fiction Classic.

(or that its almost impossible to meet your criteria)

In which case it means the weight of you saying something isn't a SF classic is obviously a product of that.

It would be like an atheist commenting individually on books of the bible saying they didnt think they belong in the whole because he didnt think God would do that.

While the atheist's opinion is valid- knowing they are an atheist lends some perspective on what they mean.


-------
Essentially you say "X is not a SF classic"

The answer is - "thats nice - but you dont think anything is a SF classic."


-----------

Your personal definition of what counts as Science Fiction also seems incredibly narrow and exclusive.

While you evidently dont place the same granular constraints on Westerns (most of which are no more historically accurate than Science Fiction works are scientifically accurate).


(SA Phil)

jollyreaper said...

I can accept transporters but would prefer they be wormhole devices that send people intact rather than disassemble. I can accept FTL and artificial gravity. I can't accept shows forgetting the implications of their technology and not exploring the consequences. Warp drive ruining space? Brought up and forgotten. Transporter accident ages crew? Fix them and ignore the consequences of immortality. Holo deck is a wonderful idea, now constantly have it threaten the ship. Huh?

If you have humanoid aliens, fine. Just don't have us having sex with them. Don't have the captain of a warship going on combat missions on the ground.

A lot of the complaints are about bad writing and apply in fantasy as well. If you have magic, fine. But don't do an ass pull with something to resolve the problem. Hero dead? Well, did you know his elf girlfriend can resurrect him with a kiss? We just made this up. Kiss resurrection would be valid if it was mentioned earlier in the story and some limits are placed on it like she can only ever do it once or whatever. Otherwise what will happen is we find out all elves can do this and when the sidekick died ten chapters ago she isn't bring him back out of pure malice.

Much can be forgiven by making a story do good problems are overlooked. But still, it's even better not to have problems in the first place.

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"That applies to any classic.

'A Tale of Two Cities' wouldn't make most 20 year olds' lists as a classic either.

I am taking from this you dont beleive there is such a thing as a Science Fiction Classic.

(or that its almost impossible to meet your criteria)

In which case it means the weight of you saying something isn't a SF classic is obviously a product of that."


Y'know, why is it so unbelievable that somebody -- I seriously doubt I'm the only one -- would be skeptical of a consensus about anything (not just identifying classics) in such a fragmented and multipolar community as SF readers? When I lived in LA, I regularly attended the Weekly meetings of the LASFS (Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society -- we'll get into the politics of the name if you really feel the need). You could find anybody from Jerry Pournelle on down (or up, as your values may be) at those meetings. At an average club meeting of, say, 40 persons, if you asked for a Top Ten list of SF classics, you'd probably get 40 different lists. Some would be just books, some would be just TV and movies, some would be a combination of both. That is why I'm skeptical of trying to classify anything as a classic in the genre. The field is just too wide open.

"It would be like an atheist commenting individually on books of the bible saying they didnt think they belong in the whole because he didnt think God would do that.

While the atheist's opinion is valid- knowing they are an atheist lends some perspective on what they mean."


It's not about what I say, Phil. It's about the reality of the genre and its readership. Going back to LASFS, pre and post-meeting there would be arguments about almost every SF-related subject one could imagine. My classic is your dreck. Your classic it worthless sh!t. And on, and on, and on. Niven and Pournelle would try to be magisterial (probably because they didn't want to offend readers) but sometimes even they couldn't avoid strong opinions. (Niven is particularly serious and opinionated about good characterization, for example.)

So what opinion do you think I'm going to have about the subject of classics in SF? I'm far from an atheist where SF is concerned. The more correct analogy is that I'm the guy at the back of the church saying, "All the books of the Bible have value, but none of them is the best, or most important."


"Essentially you say 'X is not a SF classic'

The answer is - 'thats nice - but you dont think anything is a SF classic.'"


See above. I've got good reasons to think so.

Tony said...

SA Phil:



"Your personal definition of what counts as Science Fiction also seems incredibly narrow and exclusive."

I haven't given a personal definition. I've said that I think we've been on the right track to call Star Trek and Star Wars science fantasy, and have no good reason to change that interpretation. I've said -- or at least implied -- that sci-fi films and television are rightly viewed as being poor SF, at best. I've noted that I'm certainly not the only one that thinks so. I've said that I think movies that are thought of as classical SF are really more classical film, and have given my reasons why.

I've just held to the same opinion I've always held -- there is good and bad SF, and that I prefer good SF (as in scientifically and socially plausible as possible). The Devil can take the rest AFAIAC.

But even in that I have not not been narrow or exclusive. I've often argued in favor of FTL in a story, and been told off by people who are more ideologically pure than myself. If you've been paying attention, you can name them just as well as I.

"While you evidently dont place the same granular constraints on Westerns (most of which are no more historically accurate than Science Fiction works are scientifically accurate)."

1. I don't really care about Westerns as anything other than light entertainment.

2. Westerns are mythic to begin with. There's little expectation of realism and plausibility that I can detect. SF tends to want to be legendary more than mythic, in the sense of wanting to have big stories and idea/ideals, but always plausibly so, whereas Westerns just want to have the big stories and ideals, regardless of what ahs to be done to get to them.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"I can accept transporters but would prefer they be wormhole devices that send people intact rather than disassemble. I can accept FTL and artificial gravity. I can't accept shows forgetting the implications of their technology and not exploring the consequences. Warp drive ruining space? Brought up and forgotten. Transporter accident ages crew? Fix them and ignore the consequences of immortality. Holo deck is a wonderful idea, now constantly have it threaten the ship. Huh?

If you have humanoid aliens, fine. Just don't have us having sex with them. Don't have the captain of a warship going on combat missions on the ground.

A lot of the complaints are about bad writing and apply in fantasy as well. If you have magic, fine. But don't do an ass pull with something to resolve the problem. Hero dead? Well, did you know his elf girlfriend can resurrect him with a kiss? We just made this up. Kiss resurrection would be valid if it was mentioned earlier in the story and some limits are placed on it like she can only ever do it once or whatever. Otherwise what will happen is we find out all elves can do this and when the sidekick died ten chapters ago she isn't bring him back out of pure malice.

Much can be forgiven by making a story do good problems are overlooked. But still, it's even better not to have problems in the first place."


+10

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Jollyreaper:

"If you have humanoid aliens, fine. Just don't have us having sex with them."

Actually, while humanoid aliens (to the degree shown in Star Trek) are a scientifically absurd idea, aliens whose bodies are almost entirely human except that they have completely different and incompatible sexual organs are even more absurd.

If you can justify or handwave the existance of aliens that similar to humans, then yes, we will be having sex with them.

Anonymous said...

Tony,

If you had led with something like:

"I dont think Dune is a Science Fiction classic - because I dont think there really are Science Fiction classics"

Which seems to be essentially what you are saying now.

You could probably have avoided the entire disagreement. Not just with me but also with Damien and FBH I expect.

If I am misinterpreting what you are saying now; I would suggest you try and be more concise. The appeal of TBOD's nonwitstanding, they just muddy things.

(SA Phil)

jollyreaper said...


If you can justify or handwave the existance of aliens that similar to humans, then yes, we will be having sex with them.


The fanfic writers would allow for no other outcome.

Tony said...

SA Phil:

"If you had led with something like:

'I dont think Dune is a Science Fiction classic - because I dont think there really are Science Fiction classics'

Which seems to be essentially what you are saying now.

You could probably have avoided the entire disagreement. Not just with me but also with Damien and FBH I expect.

If I am misinterpreting what you are saying now; I would suggest you try and be more concise. The appeal of TBOD's nonwitstanding, they just muddy things."


In truth I hadn't thought it all the way through. I doubt I would have thought it all the way through, absent this discussion. I just know when something doesn't set right with me, and then I speak out. What comes next often helps me define for myself why I think what I think.

IOW, I'm always sure that there's a reason why I think what I think. I haven't always articulated it to myself, much less to others, however.

Anonymous said...

jollyreaper said...

The fanfic writers would allow for no other outcome.

==========
heh

I am not even sure similar to humans is a requirement for that.

(SA Phil)

Anonymous said...

Tony,

In truth I hadn't thought it all the way through.

=======

Fair enough - it all makes a lot more sense to me now.

I expect you can see that for people who do feel there is such a thing as a SF classic, with a fairly broad definition of what counts as Science Fiction - that "Dune" could qualify.

Just a different opinion.

(SA Phil)

Tony said...

SA Phil;

"I expect you can see that for people who do feel there is such a thing as a SF classic, with a fairly broad definition of what counts as Science Fiction - that "Dune" could qualify.

Just a different opinion."


On sales alone I can't fault that opinion. But for me personally what makes the Dune canon readable and re-readable is not so much the SFnal qualities -- which are there, but very uneven -- but the richness of the milieu and the compelling historicity (or maybe historicality) of the back story. I'd rate it classically literary, but not at the same time a classic in an SFnal sense.

Maybe that's a more complex analysis than most people make, but hey, that's what I'm going with.

FBH said...

Yes, you can invoke magitech. You cannot, however, invoke it in such a way that all of natural science goes out the window, or that the magitech itself becomes implausible as a technology. So no, you really can't play fast and loose. You have to convince your usually well-educated reader that you know how the world really works.

You know, I realize that we're all contractually obligated to take a dim view of star trek but I think the show's success says yes. Yes you really can get away with playing fast and loose. You can say Startrek would be a better story if it didn't, but given that it's still the most well known science fiction TV show in existence I don't think the argument can be made that you must have good science. Or even internal consistence.

You probably produce a better story if you go with the implications of your technology though, but a story can be based firmly on magic the way Dune is and still be very viable as a story.

I'm not seeing how things get more complex. Large alliances are examples of communities of interest rather than antional communities. These larger communities can still kick the crap out of each other. And they often do, or threaten to.

I can remember very vividly when the world was divided into two large communities of interest known colloquially as the West and East, each made up of many nation states. Things couldn't have been very much more simple -- nor very much more dangerous. So I'm sorry, but I can't accept the assertion that there are so many complications when communities have competing interests, because I have personal experience of time, not so long ago, when the whole world was lined up that way. It was very simple and very stark.


The Cold War is twenty years gone, yet for all the predictions of the time, the EU and the US still remain partners. Even the sort of alliance between China and the USA sort of endures. South America (some of it) has bound its self together, for now at least in its own international bodies. ASEAN, which once existed to fight communism still endures.

Saying interests still align is all well and good except, you know, conflict is often not in anyone's interest. It's easy to come up with an interest even your human-aliens might share with us. Maybe they want us as a buffer for another alien state. Maybe they want to build us up as a trade partner. Maybe they share a similar philosophy to us and see us as kindred spirits. Maybe all of the above.

Maybe whatever conflicts between us simply are not important enough for them not to be kindly. Perhaps the price of competition, as it is in the modern world is too high and the conflicts not important enough for them to resort to anything violent. Even between nations with quite deep rooted geostrategic conflicts (US and China for instance) have been able to find major common interest.

As an aside I'd actually say things in the cold war where simple only on a surface level. On the surface it was a clash between two ideological blocks. Western democratic capitalism and Russian Leninism/State economic planning.

On a deeper level though, the Cold War was a tale of divided loyalties, of nationalism against the philosophical ideas of Lenin and Marx. It was a story of national liberation movements seeking to gain the favour of whichever super power would give them victory (Vietnam) of third powers using the super powers to settle their own fights (Israel vs. Egypt and Syria). Often it was a struggle in which the super powers where used, mystified by the events they stepped into, or in which they and those through whom they acted where working at crossed, even contradictory purposes.

It could in fact have been considerably more simple.

FBH said...

No, you can't -- at least not and keep an audience that knows its science. Yes, you do see a lot of books catalogued as Science Fiction that do have bad science amd made-up rules. Some even sell fairly well. That doesn't mean those books are taken seriously by educated people.

Okay, so what books do they take seriously? Let's actually define terms here. When you talk about books with good science, what books are you talking about?

Which societies are most likely to fight each other? Those that trade with each other, because they have more to fight over. Historically, it's never been trade or war, it's been trade and war.

So the EU is likely to split apart into Napoleonic Wars part 3 soon?

Not seeing it. Got to tell you.

The important thing is that if your story requires scientific ignorance on the part of the reader, write it up as high fantasy to begin with, or find a way to write it consistent with known natural science, at least mostly.

It requires the reader to accept that, at the most basic level, an organism that evolved in fundamentally different conditions to us may in fact be fundamentally different from us. That's not frankly, much of a stretch.

They may or may not be boring. My judgment is that they're not plausible.

That's your judgement to make, but I disagree.

I also disagree with a judgement humans are not kindly, but that's another argument again.

Anonymous said...

FBH

So the EU is likely to split apart into Napoleonic Wars part 3 soon?

Not seeing it. Got to tell you.
=========

I can see it splitting apart dramatically fast - if they decide to go with a Keynesian approach to their looming recession. Or if Austerity breaks the backs of the current administrations (leading to the same)

Not that that would have to be a bad thing .. but it could definitely destabilize the region.

If European history is any guide it just takes a couple of countries to decide that a military industrial complex is the way out of a depression to make things "interesting"

(SA Phil)

FBH said...

Anon.

I'd say they're more likely to split if they don't engage in counter-cyclical government spending than if they do.

Let's not turn this into an economic discussion though. Europe is and remains a zone of peace, which is the important thing.

Anonymous said...

FBH said...

Anon.

I'd say they're more likely to split if they don't engage in counter-cyclical government spending than if they do.

Let's not turn this into an economic discussion though. Europe is and remains a zone of peace, which is the important thing.

-----------

They have to split to really do Keynesian stuff - because member states have no sovereign control of the Euro.

I am not saying that split would be less stable than their current path. Just that it could easily happen.

It could help their problems a great deal and lead to a better Europe.

Or they could stay together, austerity could fail and they split politically anyway.

Saying that 60 years of peace out of >3000 makes Europe a peaceful place seems a bit premature.

Especially when for most of that time half of Europe had weapons pointed at the other half in a cold war.

(SA Phil)

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