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Category Archives: Science Fiction

Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #1)Hyperion by Dan Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a little hard to get into, as I had no frame of reference for this universe. But once I got through a few stories, things started to make a little more sense, although I’m still not sure I understand all the factions. Each of the six stories tackles different aspects of interstellar life in some 700-800 years from now. Simmons tackles topics like religion in that time, artificial intelligence, time travel, poetry, and small town life versus globalization (galactification?). For the most part, especially once I figured some things out, I liked it, but some things still took me out of suspended belief. Apparently, everyone in the future is obsessed with John Keats, and almost all the quotes are from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, of which there are many. And then, of course, there’s the cliffhanger, complete with the Wizard of Oz reference. I’m still deciding whether to let myself get sucked into the sequel. But it was a good book.

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superman meme

This is why Clark Kent should not have a Facebook account.

Why do Republicans deny climate change?

It seems strange that presidential candidates, many of whom have created and run successful businesses and maneuvered through politics, would claim that climate change doesn’t exist, or deny the degree that scientists say it is happening. These aren’t idiots, even if the media might try to portray them that way. So what’s behind this, where conservatives go against the majority of scientists and their evidence?

Well, it’s complicated. But it mostly has to do with the politicization of the issue.

This blog mostly deals with fantasy. So why bring this up? I know it’s a stretch, but it has to do with the fantasies we create to fool ourselves. And no, liberals are not immune to this. They just do it on different issues, and in a different way on this issue.

The first reason that many conservatives reject the data is because it doesn’t fit in their worldview. They fear what would happen if they admitted climate change was real. Not so much for the doomsday predictions that many scientists declare, saying the poles will melt, the oceans will rise, and the earth will slowly transform into a place nearly unlivable for humans. No, they fear that if they admit that climate change is real, then the responsibility to fix it will fall to the government. And conservatives distrust government involvement, not wholly without reason. Government programs are generally less efficient and effective than that of private organizations like businesses or churches. And if government does happen to save the day, unlikely when it is so polarized on nearly every issue, then people will feel a debt and vote for the party that brought about the change, which would probably be the Democratic party, just because they’re the ones advocating for change.

The only way the government could do anything would be to pass stricter regulations on emissions, waste, etc. Government by itself won’t innovate a new technology to save us, because it is run by politicians, not scientists. With harsher regulations, many businesses would feel stress to comply, and some will go under. Conservatives who believe in climate change generally believe that a free market solution will go further and be less disruptive than government intervention. But liberals, despite pressuring businesses to ‘Go Green,’ want more done.

Many conservatives are also religious, which affects their worldview as well. Some interpret their scriptures as saying that God has all power, and us humans can’t destroy his creation. But, then again, Christian scripture, specifically Revelation, talks about the last days, how plagues will fill the earth, the moon will turn to blood, the sun will withdraw its light, and other things that could correlate with climate change.

Looking at the issue objectively, it might seem hopeless to find a solution. Have we gone past the point of no return? Will we cause an apocalypse, where many die and mankind has to go back into survival mode? The many movies and shows that deal with post apocalyptic futures, from Mad Max to The Walking Dead, reflects this unconscious belief, or fear if you will, that everything’s going to collapse on itself. And many people, especially the problem solvers like business owners, don’t want to contemplate the idea that nothing can be done. It’s not an immediate problem, so it can be pushed down the line. It’s the same with bloated, unsustainable entitlement programs: keep them up so people won’t get angry, but in the end they will implode.

Personally, I’m pessimistic about this. Everything the government and ‘green’ companies are doing might slow down the acceleration, but it’s like putting a bandaid on a broken bone. We are consuming more and more electronics, with no stopping in sight, even though they rely on rare earth minerals, which, by their very definition, are rare. The climate has changed because of human intervention, if not as a whole, then in pockets (if you’ve been to Mexico City, it would be obvious). We can hope for a technological development, like useful electric cars, with greatly reduce emissions, but there are two problems with that example: the cost of electric cars is prohibitive to most right now, and the fact that many forms of generating electricity still pollute the air.

Hopefully, some new innovation or combination of many will fix the dying earth. But if the solution doesn’t come? If we’re forced to choose between a healthy earth or our iPhones, what will we choose? What are we willing to sacrifice? Or do you cling to the fantasy that we won’t pay sacrifices? That climate change isn’t real? That the government will step in and save us all?

What people call ideology in this case happens to be a fantasy. So which is yours? And can you blame the other side for clinging hopefully to theirs?

via Sage Eyes: Why do Republicans deny climate change?.

via Sage Eyes: Why do Republicans deny climate change?.

Earth Afire (The First Formic War, #2)Earth Afire by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book, along with Earth Unaware, is an interesting read, but not so much for the characters, but for the situation. It is interesting reading about plausible technological advancements and their usage, like mining asteriods for metal in deep space. Some of the technology isn’t as believable as other, like the gravity laser that can disrupt the gravity of any object, like a planet. Mini Death Star, right there. But none of the ships can go faster than the speed of light, including the aliens, so that’s a refreshing change from a lot of science fiction. It begins with a family of deep space miners who see the alien vessel coming to earth and want to warn people about it, but because of technology limits as well as bloated bureaucracies, plus the radiation the alien ship emits, no one gets the message until the aliens are nearly there, and no one believes it until the aliens actually do come. Once they do come and start invading, no one can agree with each other and it just becomes a big mess, which the aliens take advantage of, to an extent. It’s like politics today. The characters didn’t really feel strong to me, just representative of different factions on Earth, trying to cooperate for a common goal. My biggest complaint would be about the aliens, the formics, or better known as the buggers by those who have read the Ender books. There wasn’t much description of them, but I was hoping for something more original. Basically, they are ant men, who swarm in hordes but don’t seem to be that smart, despite advanced technology. The comic book versions don’t get props for original design, either. But the book still makes an interesting read, especially since Ender’s Game is coming out as a movie soon.

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Image So normally this blog is for things dealing with fantasy. Of all the superheroes, Batman and Iron Man are the most plausible, relying on technology more than superpowers. But they are still fantastic (as in related to fantasy, not necessarily wonderful). Heck, Iron Man was with the Avengers, which includes Thor, the Norse God of thunder, and they fought aliens. Of course this is fantasy. And the enemies in Iron Man 3 were more fantasy based than previous entries, even if they were still supposedly based on technology.

I saw it yesterday when it came out, being a fan of most comic book movies, and liked the first two. This one doesn’t disappoint. I don’t want to get too critical on this, since there are going to be a wide range of opinions on the movie, whether it was better or worse than the previous two. I think it is about the same, maybe a little better. The last fight was certainly more climatic than Iron Man 2, where fighting Vanko in the end went really quick. This time, the villain just refuses to die. There are some interesting twists, although it does feel like on one plot point, they give away too much near the beginning. But another twist with the Mandarin really changes things. Seeing Tony Stark use his head to solve things like in the cave of the first movie is nice, although a little prolonged. For supposedly being more focused on the relationship with Pepper Potts, she seems to be absent for large parts of the film. The movie is dark, but Tony lightens it up with his humor. My biggest complaint would be that the first third of the film feels disjointed, especially the messages from the Mandarin, which don’t seem to relate to the rest of what we’ve seen so far. Overall, though, these issues don’t bog it down, and it is enjoyable. It might even be my favorite of the three. I’d give it 3.5 stars out of 4.

In my last post, I talked briefly about worldbuilding in general. There is so much involved that no one post can cover it all. But I did mention one thing I would like to expound on. I talked about how video games benefitted in the early days because of their limitations, as far as creativity goes. As for me personally, by the way, I was a big gamer when I was younger, but am starting to lose interest now. There could be several reasons for this: I’m getting older, more mature; I can face my problems instead of turning to video games to numb my problems; I don’t have as much free time, etc. But one thing is that they don’t interest me as much. They are all starting to look the same, losing creativity. Not to offend anyone, but first person shooters all appear to have the same game mechanics; sports games seem to be depersonalized, focusing on a team instead of a player; and rpgs, especially online ones, are full of petty quests where you have to defeat a certain monster or fetch a certain object. I want a game with more substance, or at least something I can enjoy playing. But the games I’ve played recently start to blend together, and seem more formulaic than creative. I worry that now with the current graphics, the big teams, the long standing series, the video game industry overall, with some exceptions, has lost the ingenuity that earlier games had, because they can make pretty much whatever game they want.

Limitations make things better, despite the counterintuitive reasoning there. For example, I am a graphic designer. If I have a project that was completely open ended, I would have no idea where to start. But if given strict parameters (I want this logo in this color, to represent this, etc), within reason, I find myself testing the limits, trying to get around something, or taking one of the requirements, fulfilling it, but doing it in an unexpected way. Creativity comes when getting somewhere after funneling through a small opening, not when floating around in the air with no direction. Taking this example further, when someone decorates a cake with frosting, in order to get the intricate designs of flowers or whatever else is wanted, the frosting is squeezed through a narrow tube in a specific way. If it was slopped on, it would never become so pretty. Graphical limitations for early video games forced developers to come up with new ideas. Now, that might not be so true.

Many people complain that a movie based off a book is not as good as the book, especially if they read the book first. Why? A movie is similar to how we experience things in real life, as spectators. We see things, we hear things. We try to read minds, but the closest we get is reading expressions. Books, however, are just a bunch of words printed on a page (or tablet). There is no direct visual representation, nor audio. The scene is broken down into imperfect words and conveyed to the reader through language, a purely abstract form. The reader has the responsibility of reassembling those words into a mental picture and playing it out in the mind, with visuals, audio, even smell, touch, and taste. But none of that is driect, it has to go through brain filters. That’s a lot of work, and there are many limitations to language. So why do people curl up with a good book? While not true of all, there are many great works of art that come from books and words. The bible, Shakespeare, Swift, and many others have changed the world with their writings. Video games, nor even movies, have not yet achieved such a high status.

As far as worldbuilding goes, limitations are important as well. Take fantasy. Magic can be powerful, but it can’t be all powerful. There needs to be limits. If not, either the villain would take over everything, or would be stopped easily by the hero. Limit what magic can do, and be consistent with it, even if the reader doesn’t know exactly what the limits are at first. The limits can inform about the magic. Example: Magic in one world can only be cast in daylight. Why? Because magic comes from the sun. Humans on this world have adapted to use the sunlight to perform tasks humans on other worlds wouldn’t have been able to. What story elements can come from this? A powerful sorcerer becomes just like everyone else at night, easily assassinated. There could be a group of nomads who are trying to travel as fast as their world spins, so they never taste the sunset. Space travel could be a goal, to escape the dark side of the planet and have unlimited magic. Giving a story some limits makes it more interesting.

Science fiction benefits from this too. Pretty much every technology ever created has its tradeoffs. New York streets used to be covered in horse poop until the automobile came out. Now the streets are safe to step on, but there are more people killed by accidents and the air is polluted. Each new technology has a bigger impact on the environment. What would the fuel for a sublightspeed space ship cost? Recently I saw Jurassic Park, and they talk about the unintended consequences of using science that we don’t fully understand. Having a moral issue that makes using a new technology suspect makes for a more interesting story than just having some scientists discover something and congratulate themselves.

Creating artificial boundaries can improve not only the world, but can be useful in writing exercises or creating a unique writing style. In the end, the boundaries don’t limit a story, but give it more focus.

ImageWorld building
One of the most important parts of any story is the setting. A book set in modern New York should feel a lot different than ancient China. A movie set in South Africa should look a lot different than one set on Coruscant. Middle Earth, while based somewhat on medieval Europe, is still much different than Europe was. Our world helps define us, culturally and individually. Living in freezing Russia will make a different person out of you than sunny Hawaii. Making a work of fiction based in the real world needs to have some accurate details and feel of what the setting it based from, otherwise it will feel fake. This can take a lot of research, which can be hard to make sure there is no mistakes. Fantasy and science fiction writers have a different, but just as hard, challenge, in creating a world for the setting. Making up a world, whether an alternate earth or a different planet, is called world building. There are different levels of world building. Some use settings that haven’t been thought through very well, or a generic setting, like a pseudo-medieval setting so commonly used in fantasy. Others make changes to their worlds, making it something foreign to us. Science fiction often does this, with worlds covered in volcanos or with lower gravity. Unfortunately, many of these don’t follow through. If you make a world significantly different than ours, especially in science fiction, which should be based somewhat in science. One interesting book, What if the Earth had Two Moons? is a good reference for scientifically based worlds. It also makes you realize that little changes in one thing would make big changes on the world’s lifeforms. So the more foreign the world, the more needs to be taken into account. The best worlds built take elements of our world, make some changes, and explore those changes to their logical end. One of the best examples I’ve seen is The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson. His world, among other things, has terrible storms that often thrash the world. The plant life there has adapted to these storms, able to retract into the ground when the storms pass by. But in an area where the storms don’t hit, blocked by mountains, grass grows normally. The details of this world are consistent and make sense.
One place where worlds need to be created completely from scratch, even if based on our world, is in video games. The programmers usually can’t rely on vague words to represent their world; it needs to be programmed down to each detail. They need to make it consistent and follow the internal rules. Often, realism isn’t the main objective, so any rules can be applied, as long as they stay consistent. Strange settings are most accepted in video games than any other medium: books, movies, and TV, all are held to a higher standard of realism than video games, which allows developers to be truly creative. Part of this came from the technical limitations of early games. Why could Mario only go around in two dimensions? Why couldn’t he walk around the bottomless pits instead of jumping over them? We all know it was because the graphic capabilities for 3D weren’t available. These limitations influenced the later games that were in 3D, and made them something that wouldn’t have existed without it. Where else can you find an italian plumber, created by Japanese programmers, who runs and jumps in a 2D world, eats mushrooms to grow, shrinks or dies when someone touches him, jumps on walking mushrooms and turtles to flatten them, throws said turtle shells that act like hockey pucks, travels through big green pipes that sometimes are home to giant mandating plants, and can kill enemies by shooting fireballs after eating a flower, always jumping over bottomless pits and breaking bricks with his head, and sometimes calling in his brother to help rescue the princess who was kidnapped by a giant turtle with hair and spikes? You won’t find that in any movie (an attempt was made to bring this world to the big screen, but tried to use other logic, like evolution and dinosaurs and everything. If you haven’t seen it, consider yourself blessed).
Basically, as far as world building goes, the details, well thought out, are the most important. But the world needs to be built up naturally. Infodumping at the beginning of any story is a big turn off, especially if the main characters are citizens of that world, since anything different that happens will seem as natural to them as nature appears to us. Little explanations over the course of the story can build up a world in the audience’s mind better than a big explanation at the beginning. There are many aspects of creating a world, from the physical environment to the cultural divides. It all needs to be thought through, but probably the best part to begin is the physical environment as cultures will be formed in reaction to it. I’ll probably talk more on some of these aspects in later posts. Remember, there’s almost nothing more interesting than a well realized world that affects everything in the story.

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