A waiter walked up to the table Wearing a suit jacket that was far too small— There was no way he could button it, and the Sleeves came halfway up to his elbows He sported a overlarge red bow tie Black curly hair with oil in it, and A large, obviously fake mustache Which curled in waxed spirals at the ends.
“May I take your order, please?” he asked.
Before we could answer A nude woman holding a pomegranate, with a Bayoneted rifle slung over her shoulder And flanked by two huge yellow and black tigers Complained that she had been stung by a bee And wanted her money back.
We sat for eleven minutes waiting Then realized that ants were eating the silverware.
Now, before you get too excited, there are plenty of arguments that this is wrong — but for the sake of Science Fiction let’s suspend any disbelief and take this paper by Alexei Sharov and Richard Gordon at face value.
Here’s the idea: if you apply Moore’s Law to the demonstrated exponential rise in genetic complexity over time, it suggests that life as we know it formed roughly ten billion years ago. This is significant as the current estimated age of Earth is only 4.5 billion years.
This suggests all sorts of intriguing possibilities. For one, in this scenario, Panspermia is a foregone conclusion. Life did not form on Earth
Sure this is not a new idea, but now Science Fiction as a genre has some numbers to play with. One of them is the possibility that in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, we’re not the backwards baby intelligence in a galaxy teeming with far more advanced races. We could very well be the ipso facto advanced intelligent race.
Consider this: We’ve always assumed that it takes at least 4.5 billion years for an intelligent race to develop. Now there’s evidence it might take as long as 10 billion years. Sure, we are leaving out a lot of factors, such as asteroid strikes and other mass extinction events – that you’d think would throw off the time table – but we’re not looking at that kind of physical history. We’re looking at the uniform rise in complexity of genetic material.
The assumption is that it somehow endures through these disasters and continues progress. After all, it somehow migrated through interstellar space through untold and unimaginable disasters – possibly the destruction and reformation of solar systems – to take root on this pretty little blue orb of ours.
And so, this theory argues, thus explains the Fermi Paradox: We’re not hearing from any other intelligent species because they’re either close to, or behind, our own sophistication. That’s why we’re not being invaded by bug-eyed-monsters, or grey hive space aliens, or multi-trunked Pachyderms from Alpha Centari. If anything, we’d be the invaders, a la James Cameron’s Avatar.
But beyond that lies the really intriguing questions:
Where, exactly, did life begin roughly 10 billion years ago?
Was it localized, as in a star that existed, and then perished, and the material reformed to become our current star and set of planets?
Is it spread through our entire galaxy, which means it permeates space and seeds all other hospitable environments such as Earth?
Are there other, wholly other alien forms of DNA-like substances which formed in a different time and frame, and that seeds other sections of the galaxy?
The premise leads to endless conjecture – which is fuel for good Science Fiction – but more importantly it gives a more solid jumping off point, as – despite the inconclusive and tenuous evidence – it’s really the best we have right now. It’s something, other than nothing. Because before this paper came out, that what there was: nothing. Wide open nothing.
This gives us something to test. Now, if we do finally find conclusive samples of life beyond planet Earth, we can see if it fits this model.
That’s what science is about.
And that is the best fuel for good Science Fiction.
I’m writing a series of realistic fantasy books and one of the characters is the god of chaos. Because of this character, I’ve been studying chaos theory in order to write the character with some intelligence, and I’ve been led to an amazing fact:
We all spring out of complete and total randomness.
Everything that is us and our world, and even our thoughts, are the product of complete and total randomness.
If you can wrap your head around this, you begin to understand that we have a general misconception of what “random” truely is. Apple Computers had to come to this conclusion, oddly, because when they first had a “random” setting on their early iPods people complained that it couldn’t possibly be random because it kept grouping songs together. They had to tweak their “random” algorithm to not be truly random so that it actually seemed random.
What we consider a rational, coherent universe is, at its very heart, complete and total random chaos … and yet, out of it springs order and, dare I say, meaning!
You are a science fiction writer. Your finger is on the pulse of technology and society’s trends. Closing your eyes, you can see the world of tomorrow, and with your talent, you craft a great work of fiction set in this world you envision.
It takes time to craft a novel. Even after you’ve finished the first draft, there are successive rewrites, and publication woes, and printing and distributions lag times. When your readers finally get a hold of it, there’s a problem. The acceleration of technological advancement has overtaken your vision of the future. A good portion of the science fiction in your story has become reality, or worse, invalidated.
How do you avoid it? Plan for it. Deliberately.
Many of the classics have a timeless quality about them. There’s something about these works which sets them out of time’s reach so that they’re as fresh now as when they were first printed. While there’s no sure way to write something that will become a “classic,” there is a way to make sure your writing is timeless.
One way is to write your story as a period piece. This works with SF stories where the events don’t change history as we know it. Think “thwarted hidden agenda.” (Author Tim Powers is especially good at this.) Choose a setting either right now or some date in the past. State the date, the place, and incorporate real historic events – this helps build solid suspension of disbelief, and adds an air of authenticity. By its very nature, this type of story can’t become outdated. It exists in time, as history.
Another method is to use a break in reality. Create a future event, without a date, that resets expectations of what comes afterward. It could be a nuclear war, or plague, or maybe an alien invasion. It could also reset the year counter so that even the date is removed from reality. So if your story takes place a hundred years after this event, instead of being the year 2101, it could be year 100. That puts your story completely outside of time.
Of course, you could also set your story in a place entirely removed from our reality. This could be another world, or an alternate reality, or so far in the future or past that there’s not even a remote connection to the here and now. Remember the phrase: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”
There are always stories that, by their very nature, need to be set in a specific point in the future. Even if time passes them by, the strength of the story itself pulls the reader past the fact that it’s outdated. Look at “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Personally, I don’t care that time has caught up with this classic. So don’t feel you have to try for timelessness in everything you write, but keep it in mind when you feel you’ve come up with your magnum opus.
Not many things suck as much as finishing that big, wonderful, complex story only to have something happen in reality to make what you’ve written completely implausible.
My girlfriend and I went to a drive in theater the other week and saw a double feature:
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
The Big Lebowski
The Monty Python movie was, of course, as brilliant now as it was back then. But when The Dude showed up on screen, I realized I had not seen it since it first came out.
I’m going to assume you’ve seen it. If not, beware of spoilers.
So, there it was, up on the big screen again, and I only vaguely remembered it and had no idea what was going to happen, so it was like watching it for the first time all over again. Apparently, this is one of those movies you either love, or hate. But unfortunately I didn’t get to see the whole thing.
About a quarter of the way through my girlfriend was curled up in her seat, eyes closed. I assumed she was asleep, but she wasn’t. She was tuning the movie out.
“Are you okay?” I finally asked.
“Did you want to go?”
“Do you?” she asked.
“If you’re watching the movie, it’s fine.” She curled up again.
“We can go,” I told her.
“Of course. I take it you’re not enjoying it.”
“This is the worst movie I have ever seen,” she said.
And with that, we left.
Now me, I was totally absorbed because the characters are so completely fleshed out and interesting. The acting is superb. The story extremely quirky, just like I like a story, with all sorts of bizarre twists and turns that keep me guessing all the way through. But I had no idea how it ends.
So, last night, I finally broke down and bought it and watched it again, because it bugged me that I didn’t remember how it all turned out. And I’m glad I did, and I’m glad I bought it instead of rented it, because this really is one of those movies that you either love or hate, and unlike my girlfriend, I love it — and I’ll watch it again.
Some of the things that really caught me by surprise is how the story actually lets us, the viewer, in on some secrets during the movie. It literally stops the story at least twice and says, “Hey, look, contrary to what the characters believe, this is what is really going on.” It’s like the story winks at us and says, “Watch how this messes with the characters.”
Normally this would never work. It would ruin a story. But not this story, because due to all the twists and turns and confusion that the characters are going through, it’s a relief that we’re let in on a couple of the major secrets.
And it’s safe to say that none of the characters really know what’s going on. That’s a fun takeaway and one I hope to remember in my own writing.
I found it fascinating that they pulled this off so well. It’s also fascinating that The Dude has most of it figured out at the very beginning, though not quite, but as the story unfolds he doubts it and starts believing other scenarios, only to find out he was almost right all along.
And a note about the characters: I found them so fully realized that it was easy to suspend my disbelief despite some of their over-the-top actions or dialog. And some of the characters who you think are going to be major players turn out to be very minor, and some of the minor characters turn out to actually be major. And it’s all okay, because the story itself is so well crafted.
And so it’s no shock that, in the end, The Dude abides, and also does the movie, even after all these years.
I have used just about every word processor ever made, going all the way back to WordStar on DOS, and WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, Scrivener, etc. (even one called IBM Writing Assistant on a PCjr), but over the last several months I’ve rediscovered Apple Pages, especially the iOS version that I use on my iPad Pro. This is one word processor I tried briefly years ago and dismissed, moving on to Scrivener.
But, as nice as Scrivener is, it’s a pain in the butt, and I’d always end up moving the project over to Microsoft Word for the finishing touches to get the manuscript ready for publication.
So one day I took another look at Apple Pages, because the one feature I knew about it was it outputted an absolutely beautiful final product.
Once I re-familiarized myself with the minimalist user interface I began to really appreciate the fine balance of simplicity and features. It can be used as a simple writing tool, but dig deeper and you find most of the controls you’d consider standard in a word processor.
It has a few quirks, but once mastered they are not a problem. It’s not perfect, but no word processor is. It doesn’t try to do everything for everyone — that’s the main flaw in Microsoft Word. It isn’t overly complex — that’s Scrivener.
I’ve found that if you split a screen and have Notes on one side, and Pages on the other, you have a nice and simple replacement for Scrivener that gives you just enough features but not too much, and the output is beautiful and ready to go without bogging you down with settings.
Add the new iPad Pro magic keyboard and you have one of the nicest writing machines I have ever used.
Plus it syncs nicely to the desktop version, and … one of the best features: it’s free.
Oh, hello! Hey there! Yes, I’m still alive. I hope everything is going okay with you. Having grown tired of taking pictures of birds and squirrels, and having lost interest in the new Animal Crossing game, I’ve doubled down on my first love: fiction writing.
Also, feeling somewhat nostalgic, I’ve invested in a couple of typewriters. Not for any real use (besides jotting an odd note here and there). More for inspiration and, well, for the current work in progress: research.
First, I lucked into the purchase of a pristine example of the favorite typewriter of both Ernest Hemingway and James Bond author Ian Fleming: the Royal Quiet Deluxe.
What a machine. A perfect example of how people used to build things to last and last. This typewriter is over 70 years old and still works perfectly. It’s as solid as the proverbial tank.
But why a typewriter? What the hell?
This is why: it’s basically a character in my newest novel. Or, for those familiar with Alfred Hitchcock’s terminology, it’s the “McGuffin” for the story.
Not to be confused with a “McMuffin” which is what my word processor’s spell checker keeps trying to change it to.
The fantasy, set in 1982, features a protagonist who is a typewriter repairman, and is fated to fulfill a part in the gods’ plan to fix a problem created years before.
Let me just leave it at that.
But, if I’m going to write about a Royal Quiet Deluxe, I need one in my hands. I need to know what it feels like, how heavy it is, what all the parts do, how to change the ribbon, how to set the margins, etc. So, in my mind at least, I needed the genuine article in my possession for the sake of the story.
But that purchase sent me going further down the nostalgia rabbit hole. You see, way before word processors I used to write on typewriters, and for the longest time I used the venerable old IBM Selectric. But even before that I had the typewriter my parents gave me for my 12th birthday, way back when I had first announced to them that I was going to be a novelist. And that was…
I thought, hey, if I can buy the Royal Quiet Deluxe, just for fun I should see if I could get my old original typewriter as well. Not the exact one, mind you, but one exactly like it. The actual make, model, year, and even banana yellow color. However, this turns out to be a rather rare typewriter, probably because it didn’t hold up that well.
Because, you know … plastic.
My search turned up nothing, but at the very least I did set up an automatic search on eBay, just in case one ever did turn up. And didn’t cost an arm and leg.
About three COVID-19 seclusion weeks trundled past, and suddenly I get this pop up message on my phone from the eBay app. “Hey, we found your typewriter.” (It didn’t say that, exactly, but that was the gist of the message.)
I looked at it. Amazed. It was exactly like my original typewriter. It was in pristine condition. And it did not cost an arm and a leg.
Boom. Sold. Bought it on the spot. (eBay is dangerous that way.)
This is a pure nostalgia purchase. I made sure it works (to my surprise it types nicer than the Royal Quiet Deluxe), but UPS was not kind to it during shipping, and I had to gingerly piece parts of it back together. Still, it works, and it’s mine, and now it sits next to the replica of my original Canon FTb camera.
So, guess what I did? I wrote it into the story as well. After all, the protagonist is a typewriter repairman, so why wouldn’t he have a Montgomery Ward Escort 55 typewriter sitting on his workbench?
As a bonus, that makes both of them a tax write off as well.
So like many of us all around the world, I am confined to my home, and I thought I’d be okay with this because I am far into the introverted side of the social spectrum. Being that my primary job is to update things on the Intranet, working from home has always been an option, but this is the first time it’s ever been mandatory.
I find that when it’s an option, it’s a pleasant treat. When it’s mandatory, it’s suffocating.
Here’s what I’m doing to keep sane:
Taking a lot of pictures of birds and squirrels out my home office window.
Watching the backlog of movies that I’d bought but never watched.
Finished the third draft of my latest novel.
Played a lot of Animal Crossing: New Horizons
But, mainly, I’ve been taking pictures of birds and squirrels.
Half the people I know are secretly convinced they have Covid-19. Everyone around me seems to be sick. Hell, I’ve been sick for the past 9 days. However, in all the cases (including mine) it’s mild. Whatever it is.
Still, I am caught up in this collective feeling that this may be the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it. And then I remember that every other year for the past 20 something years have felt that way.
And so, life goes on.
I’m most of the way through a rewrite of No Such Thing as Mermaids and kind of stumbled and fell on my face during the last two chapters. They simply don’t work, and so I tossed them out and am rewriting them from scratch. It was far too glib of an ending. The main character has gone through some major shit and he needs to be suffering from some PTSD.
This is a “realistic fantasy” I’m writing, after all, so it needs to be fairly realistic.
I think another thing that gives me echoes of the end of the world is this election we’re about to live through. People are so deeply divided that I feel that is the biggest problem facing us. Not health care, not taxes, not housing prices — the us vs. them mentality with no middle ground.
Yes, I lean very hard to one side, but I am still going to be friends with, and love, people who lean the other way. If we can all do that, then we can all maybe see our way to compromising, no matter who wins the elections. Compromise is the foundation of the United States of America. That’s why we have the word “United” in the name of the nation.
Without that keyword and concept taken to heart, I am afraid that the Divided States of America is headed straight for it’s second Civil War.
And my friends, that is exactly what certain other countries of this world really, really want to happen to us. They feel it’s time for this brash, blustery nation to get its comeuppance. They’re tired of us being “Team America, World Police.”
So that is the hard question this nation has to ask itself: do we want to be a divided nation — or a united one?
Because I’m horrible at keeping secrets, here’s the tentative first draft of the cover design for the book that hasn’t even seen a second draft yet.
After getting his dreams crushed in Silicon Valley and losing almost everything to patent trolls, entrepreneur and hacker Jack Gilmour takes what he has left, and goes back to his roots to open a small computer repair shop in a rural coastal town in Oregon.
He never imagined he’d fall in love with a witch, and he never dreamed he would see what he thinks he saw out in the stormy ocean outside of town. Because he knows … those don’t exist.