Tag Archives: SciFi

Christians in a SciFi world

Just a few days ago one of my student brought this up at our faith and science discussion. I had never heard of it, but the story is so tragic and yet God used the Gibsons to do something incredible. It is so odd and yet such a powerful story that it is hard to place the emotion it produces.

The Gibsons had Emma through the National Embryo Donation Center, a faith-based embryo adoption program in which couples hoping to conceive are paired with embryos that will not be used by their genetic parents. The NEDC said in a news release that it has received donated embryos from all 50 states, as well as foreign countries.

A “baby counter” on the NEDC website tallies its live births at 686 babies.

Emma was frozen in October 1992, when Tina Gibson, 26, was 18 months old. The embryo was thawed in March of this year and implanted two days later. “Emma is such a sweet miracle,” Benjamin Gibson said, according to the news release. “I think she looks pretty perfect to have been frozen all those years ago.”

Science Fiction almost never includes believing Christians but here we get a weird, uncanny view into how Christians behave in a Science Fiction wor

The Swansong of SciFi

It has been a very long time since I have posted. I have been ridiculously busy writing my dissertation etc, in preparation of defending in July and graduating in August. Therefore, I will likely not post much in the next few months either. That doesn’t mean that I wont be back when life settles down a bit.

Meantime, contemplate with me on the death of Science Fiction. SciFi  is fundamentally humanist. It is the glorification of human achievement and technology – it is a monument to the human spirit. But it is (almost always) without God… and therefore SciFi is dead (or at least mostly – dead). It died upon the birth of post-modernism. Recently I re-watched the scene that I think cut the heart out of SciFi, and I thought I’d share it.  The pointlessness of human innovation, summed up in the Replicants, and yet the only character with a poet’s soul is a replicant. Yes, its Blade Runner. Dark and nihilistic Blade Runner. Here, watch the scene and try to tell me how anyone in and of the world could write quality SciFi afterwords.

It is the most abandoned parts of Ecclesiastics, taken for life’s governing philosophy. Meaningless and chasing after the wind in SciFi speak is ‘lost in time, like tears, in rain.’

Well, if you haven’t read my short story where I try to have SciFi be something meaningful again, do give it a try: The Final Crate

Danger: Humans

Its a PSA for spacecraft passing through the area that humans have been detected… Also, if you havn’t read it yet, do read my SciFi short story The Final Crate too 🙂

Magneto and Two Rules for SciFi

So, here is some more unsolicited advice to potential entrants in ACM’s annual novel contest which is now accepting submissions through September 1st . Of course, the advice can be useful for writing any kind of fiction and for any contest or purpose, and also, of course, you as the author has every right to ignore it just as I, as a reader/contest judge have every right to think the product is flawed if you do :).

As I sat in my rocking chair, and enjoyed a little Wild Turkey bourbon (101 proof…) I stumbled upon a tragic realization, Magneto should have died in the latest X-Men film, X-Men: First Class. He should have been shot, just like that at the end. Shot dead.

You see, we all know where Magneto’s ability comes from, magnetism. Wikipedia states this (based, no doubt on observation.): ‘The primary application of his power is control over magnetism and the manipulation of metal – ferrous and nonferrous.’  This makes a sum total of no sense at all. Magneto is not telekinetic, he uses magnetic fields. So how does he manipulate the non-ferrous metals such as… bullets?

That said, I am not really here to complain about Magneto, I am sure there is some ultra-complicated and dumb sounding rationalization of why he can manipulate non-ferrous metals. (Oh, there it is… in Wikipedia again… something about manipulating a unified field both gravitational/magnetic…. Which I guess begs the question why isn’t he telekinetic.) The important thing here is that this brings up a rule that is super-ultra-mega important for the science fiction genre. This rule is that everything must be self-consistent, and make sense for the world you (if you are an author) have created. If magneto uses magnetic fields, he cannot make bullets swerve (although he probably can move the guns themselves). However, if he manipulates a SciFi style unified field, he should be telekinetic and be able to manipulate plastic, wood, water and so forth. Since he cannot, his powers do not play by ‘the rules’. By all means, make the rules whatever you want them to be, but do not break them once made. If you need to change a rule for one scene, make sure it is changed for all scenes.

This discussion leads rather naturally into a slightly more nuanced rule. Think of it as a practical application of Occam’s Razor. So, Occam made the case that all evidence being equal the most simple explanation was probably the best one. Since in fiction you can make all the evidence equal, you should try to give the simplest explanations. For instance, back to the Magneto conundrum. You could say that Magneto’s power is the ability to manipulate a sort of unified field, but he psychologically cannot move anything other than metal, because of this that or the other reason. However, this explanation is very complicated, with the better thing to do is make Magneto’s power to be manipulation of the electromagnetic field and no more. Hence, he would conceivably be able to move the gun, not the bullet. This is a simpler, better, and more masterful solution so it is more difficult to write this way. It is much easier to give crazy complicated explanations and write like an amateur. It is much more difficult to give simple explanations since they constrain the plot, you cannot do just anything and then wave your hand over it with an explanation.  However, constraining your plot devices to a bare minimum is like constraining your characters to always act in their own personality it makes the novel more alive and less like a Frankenstein’s monster.

SciFi and Demographics (Science)

I have been reading Shadow of the Hegemon recently. (Another library book sale buy.) It has reminded me of a very important rule for writing science fiction that seems often overlooked. This relates back to the idea that fiction should be ‘true’ in many ways like human nature, personalities, how nations respond to things, the causes of war etc. Everything having to do with human nature can be known from a study of history, which leads to books in which people behave convincingly as do countries, armies, leaders etc.

Obviously, Orson Scott Card does not make the amateur mistake of breaking the actual first rule ‘Obey your own rules: make your universe self-consistent’. In Shadow of the Hegemon, however, he does break another rule. (For the Julian Delphiki lovers, this is no indictment of the characters in the story J ) The rule Card breaks is this: ‘If you base your story in the real world, it should be… well… believable. Shadow is sometime in the near-ish future… maybe 100-200 years I guess. Every major country today is still extant in the story, there are no new made up ones… etc. So, when predicting major kinds of conflict likely to be stirred up by Achilles (the villain) and deciding upon which countries will be powerful, the author should at least glance at demographic trends and take that into consideration. Otherwise, one ends up creating a book with a surreal feel where Russia ends up splitting world hegemony with China.

See, the birth rate now matters to the world stage 150 years from now. China and Russia at about 1.5 children/woman leave shrinking and aging populations which are only about 50 years away for China, and I believe already occurring for Russia. To add to the problem, China at least has a deficit of women due to sex-selective abortion and the one child policy.

To forecast into the future is always too simplistic. However, considering that not one nation that has tried to raise its birth rate has yet succeeded, and that virtually every major incident imaginable (Civil war, famine, plague, War war… etc) decreases population faster, it is not unreasonable to guess that every nation with a birth rate under 2.0 (2.1 or so is the ‘replacement rate’) is going to undergo either extinction (breaking up into smaller states, getting absorbed by a larger one, or something of the kind) or massive national instability as immigrants take a large percent of the population. This last effect is only mitigated in America where almost everyone is an immigrant population. (And America’s birth rate is one of the few ‘stable’ ones, right around 2.1)  But in Germany, the German identity is ethnic as well as geographic, the same with Russia, Italy, China… etc. I think it is more unreasonable to assume that China and Russia will have power and influence in 2150 like they do now, than to assume that they will either be non-existent as we know them or preoccupied.

Basically, with trends like this, it seems very strange to set the world up to be dominated by two people groups who basically refuse to repopulate themselves. So this comes back to the most important rule of fiction: your story must tell the truth. This takes different forms in different genres, but the key stays the same. Every major element must ring true with the real world to feel true in the story.

All that said, Shadow of the Hegemon has been fun. However, I have not thought that any of Card’s books set in that universe even begin to compare the first Ender’s Game. Also, for a thorough treatment of demographics and how they affect nations, look at ‘How Civilizations Die: And Why Islam is Dying Too’ by David P. Goldman and ‘America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It’ by Mark Steyn. They mostly deal with the demographics of the Islamic World and the Western World, but the ideas and trends apply elsewhere.

Book List

I generally eschew genre labels, since they mislead and prejudice the reader’s mind. So here is a list of good books to read in the best order I can think of… as they come to mind.

Lisey’s Story, Stephen King
War in Heaven, Charles Williams
All Hallows Eve, Charles Williams
The Sands of Mars, Arthur C. Clarke
Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
Youth, Isaac Asimov
Phantasties, George MacDonald
Lilith, George MacDonald
Perelandra, C. S. Lewis
That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis
Out of the Silent Planet, C. S. Lewis
Desperation, Stephen King
The Worthing Saga, Orson Scott Card
Salem’s Lot, Steven King
A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor
A Sense of Reality, Grahame Greene
In Freedom’s Cause, G. A. Henty
Roverandum, J. R. R. Tolkien
The Smith of Wootton Major, J. R. R. Tolkien
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale, Robert Lewis Stevenson
Kidnapped, R. L. Stevenson
The Lady of the Lake, Sir Walter Scott
The Ballad of the White Horse, G. K. Chesterton
The Napoleon of Notting Hill, G. K. Chesterton
The Man Who Was Thursday, G. K. Chesterton
The Flying Inn, G. K. Chesterton
Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis
The Red Rover, James Fenimore Cooper
The Pilot, James Fenimore Cooper
The Deerslayer, James Fenimore Cooper
The Winter of Our Discontent, John Steinbeck
If I Forget Thee, O Earth, Arthur C. Clarke
The Green Mile, Stephen King

Of course, this list is not exhaustive at all, I just felt the need for some list making…

Treason: Orson Scott Card

This is actually a story of honor and fidelity, despite perception of treason. The obvious reason the book is called Treason is that the planet on which it takes place is known as Treason. The more subtle reasons for the name treason come in the plot of the book. The main character Lanik Mueller, is believed to have been more than treasonous. Various people throughout the book believe he has committed treason. Later it is believed that he did worse, that he actively lead armies that pillaged and destroyed his homeland (due to a look-alike…). Another good reason is that the book is actually about the opposite of treason.

The simple cause of the planet’s name was that millennia before the book takes place, the best and brightest families in the galaxy were exiled to this planet for staging a coup against the government. Ostensibly because they were tired of having their great intellect and abilities being used by the masses without having a say themselves, however it revealed later that they may have all been deceived. How this is revealed, I will not say (it gives away major plot) but it is so.

On this planet, there are no hard metals that would enable these really smart people to build spaceships or weapons, they can only acquire iron through the ‘Ambassadors’, machines in each family’s (read kingdom) capitol that will trade iron for things the great people think of. Since small amounts of iron go a long way in battlefield dominance, the great families become basically idea slaves, though they do not realize it.

The major SciFi catch in the novel is that, in order to get enough iron to ‘build a spaceship and leave’ (never is enough sent, just enough to make the wars between families bloodier) each family perfects what it originally did. The story revolves around a young man named Lanik Mueller, whose family has perfected genetic engineering and breeding, making themselves able to regenerate whole limbs and survive almost any injury. Lanik, however, is a radical regenerative which means he grows back even things he doesn’t need, extra arms, legs, breasts… etc. Even though he is the king’s son, he is exiled.

Lanik learns many things, learns skills of other families (especially ones thought to no longer exist) and discovers the horrible plot planned by a race of deceivers. These people can make people think they see whatever they (the deceivers) wish. Lanik who has learned to adjust his time flow goes around the whole world and exterminates them.

I perhaps have gone too far into the story, although I do not think I have given anything away. The most important things I wanted to bring up required this much information. Namely, there is a great debate about Lanik’s final actions, of exterminating an entire race. However this is not phrased correctly. The true way to describe the different families is the ideas, and the battle of those ideas. All the different groups that Lanik meets are defined by their ideas and their moral fiber (or lack thereof). As such, when Lanik exterminates the ‘race’ of deceivers, it is much more like he is killing the ideas that motivate them, and the horrible powers they have.

Many other deep and difficult ideas are explored in the book, but I do not want to emphasize them too much. I often write about the ideas in the fiction since many readers miss the fact that ideas and philosophy are vital to the story they are reading. However, this book was a fantastic read. The language control that Orson Scott Card displays is really impressive, and the story is tightly knit, without any flab or distraction, just story. Treason is a great book to spend a few days with (or an afternoon, if you read fast and without breaks) and it also grapples with difficult ideas. I would complain that Lanik is not a believable hero, that he is too much like the ubermensch,  except that enough of the people in this world have ‘superpowers’ that claim would be false. In fact, so others are powerful that Lanik’s only claim to be better than others is his determination, and his desire to do what is right and best for his home. Quite an impressive feat of imagination of OSC’s account, making a super powered man like a humble hero, impressive indeed.