My ongoing discussions on the ways science fiction (and fantasy) can be improved -- how "mainstream" literature and fiction can improve it; how SF&F can return the favor as well; and occasional forays into how individual works of SF&F could be improved.
Also in this category will be some writer's resources:
Why was 'Justice League' only okay instead of epic? How could it have been made epic? Here's my plan.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017/11/20 08:00
I've written before how I felt let down by Justice League. Now, I'm going to take the time to spell out what I think was specifically missing — and how to fix it.
Take a book that's not SF. Imagine it as SF. What would it be like?By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017/08/05 19:00
One of the games I enjoy is to take a novel I admire or outright love that isn't science fiction or fantasy and try to imagine what an SF&F version of that story would be like. The easy way to demonstrate this game is by way of an extant example: If we turned The Count Of Monte Cristo (paid link) into an SF story, what would we have? Easy: Alfred Bester's (paid link)The Stars My Destination (paid link).
The game becomes harder, but also more rewarding, when you turn towards other books which SF&F readers (or even SF&F authors!) might not know as well.
By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017/05/19 10:00
Last updated: 2017/05/19
I'm surprised by the number of would-be writers I meet who never read outside their comfort zones. If they write SF, they tend to read a lot of it — which isn't bad by itself, just self-limiting. It's never a bad thing to know the parameters of the very field you want to write for, but to be habitually locked inside of it is a formula for self-starvation.
In no way should this list be considered canonical or otherwise absolute. It's simply a series of suggestions from a tour guide, someone who has been over this territory and come away with a few words about the sights. It's a way to know what else is out there, and to have it suggested to you in a way that ought to be appealing. Expect additions to the list over time as well.
"We expect more change than actually happens in the future because we imagine our lives have changed more than they actually have."By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/09/14 09:00
... when I took a subway to a café to write this article and electronically transmit it to a distant editor, I was doing something I could have done in New York City in the 1920s, using that same subway, the Roosevelt Brothers coffee shop, and the telegram, albeit less efficiently. (Whether all that efficiency has helped me personally, or just made me work more for declining wages, is an open question). We expect more change than actually happens in the future because we imagine our lives have changed more than they actually have.
Emphasis mine. Such dilemmas manifested, in my case, in the form of questions about what kind of human behavior to depict in a story about the far future. I decided the best thing I could do, in the case of Flight of the Vajra, was not try to predict too much, but instead to do what any decent SF book does: take what we have now and comment on it by using SF as an interpretive filter.
Vajra was already bordering on obsolete, at least in terms of its technical predictions, by the time it came out. Right in the first sec tion, the main character users a disposable personal drone, and the way I wrote it I implied that this sort of thing was a) common and b) something of an arms race between the people who made such things and the people who try to defend against them. This has already happened, so the future in question already starts to look a little quaint. Ditto the way things like 3D printing or self-assembling materials figure into the story as local color and backdrop. All this stuff just seems hopelessly obvious now, and not very boundary-pushing in terms of asking hard questions about what our lives are going to be like in any number of years. (This isn't why I would want to revise the book, either. Rather, that was more around cleaning up the text itself, on a simple mechanical level.)
But then there are all the things that wouldn't change, most of them rooted in deep-seated parts of human nature. Rather than pin my hopes for the story's success on any one technological prediction, I decided the smarter thing to do would be to make the whole thing revolve around human desire: the impulse to move forward versus the urge to cling to what's familiar. That became the real axis for the story.
I don't think I was completely successful there either, but I hope that element of it has a better chance of meaning something to readers later on down the line than tech gimcrackery already dated by the book's release.
How did this astonishing little miracle of a movie -- easily the best adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein's work to film yet -- pass without leaving so much as a ripple?By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/08/02 10:00
Stop reading this. Go to Netflix, your local video kiosk, wherever you can get your hands on a copy of Predestination. Watch it first, because I can guarantee it will be one of the best things you've seen all year, and odds are you might never have run into it if someone else hadn't told you about it. I want to put all this up front, because this movie deserves discussion and thought, and yet it is absolutely impossible to talk about this film without treading into complete spoiler territory. Those are just the facts. Go no further unless you are prepared.
Predestination is nominally science fiction, adapted from the Robert A. Heinlein short story "'All You Zombies—'", but like all the best SF, it doesn't stay stuck inside that container; it batters its way out and leaps towards bigger things. It deals with a man (Ethan Hawke) who appears to be some kind of spy in the employ of a nebulous organization, working behind the scenes to stop a terrorist named "The Fizzle Bomber" from destroying several square blocks of New York City. There's only one curious little detail, one that scoots by quickly enough that you might not catch it: the bombing hasn't happened yet. It's to happen at some point in the future. The spies are time travelers, fixing history when it breaks.
People are watching SF and reading comics! And taking them seriously! The horror!By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/05/19 10:00
"...part of me looks at society as it is now and thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. We’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes… Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously!"
Goodness, imagine that. People consuming works of the imagination, and having the nerve to take them seriously.
I leave myself open to the possibility that Brother Simon was grossly misquoted — note that ellipsis — or that the emphasis on his words was shifted to make it sound like he was condemning something he wasn't. But really, this is about as awful a piece of journalism as it gets. [Addendum: Pegg supplies more context on his own.]
Putting that aside, the idea that SF/fantasy/comics are infantalizing forces is beyond dumb. Why do they get singled out, and not stuff like Pitch Perfect 2 or Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, arguably many orders of magnitude worse in such a vein? Because they come from that well of goodies we have tarred with the brush of being "kid's stuff", and because we reserve a peculiar sort of horror for socially retrograde behaviors that's out of proportion with their actual impact.
If anyone is likely to talk about infantilization around here, come to think of it, it's me, but I don't think comic books/SF/ponies are the culprits here. That they have manifest popularity is a symptom, not always of bad things. I grouse about how the recent wave of popular stuff is not the greatest creative role model, but I know better than to think it's a symptom of total societal decay or something. For that I would sooner look to the loathsome and violent behavior of mobs at sporting events or fraternities, which don't earn a fraction as much of the hand-wringing, pearl-clutching flabbergast as people dressing up as Tony Stark or Black Widow (or, for that matter, Inuyasha). And again, why? And again, because the former is allegedly "normal", and the latter not, and better the devil we know than the devil we don't know.
Scarlett Johannson does so much with so little, in this minimalist story of questioned self-identity.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/05/01 10:00
The easy, and wrong, way to talk about Under the Skin is through analogy and metaphor: it’s The (Wo)Man Who Fell To Earth by way of David Lynch, or something like that. I resist this approach, because it reduces any discussion of the movie to outside references, and threatens to do a disservice to what the experience of watching the film is actually like. Talk about something only through the lens of something else and you end up not talking about the thing itself at all. The thing itself works very hard to not be pigeonholed, not merely in the sense of “is it SF or not?” but “what is it, really?”
Even a simple description of what happens in Under the Skin is likely to disappoint. After a sound-and-light show that implies birth or creation or both, we meet two people, sort of. One is a man who rides a motorcycle and rescues what appears to be the dead body of a prostitute from the bank of a river. The other is a woman (Scarlett Johannson), who strips off the dead woman’s clothes and dons them herself. This, the movie implies, is not the only disguise she wears.
Science fiction, rebooted.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind