What is Science Fiction Anyway?

Aspiring SF writer

I get asked this a lot. One person even asked me if it was a kind of religion (I think he once heard the term Jedi and figured that was all he had to know) .  At first, I was puzzled by the question. I mean, really…isn’t it obvious? Then I realized how little I know about football, and it made sense from there. For instance, I know there is such a thing as the NFL, but why are the rules different in college football, and why do the women in the Legends Football League wear bikinis?

So, for those who want to give a good answer to your football friends or to those new to the game; here’s what science fiction is all about:

A dictionary definition may read- Science Fiction (noun) -A form of fiction that draws imaginatively on scientific knowledge and speculation in its plot, setting, theme, etc. That definition is kinda’ flat so I’ll give you better.

The first science fiction novel is considered to be Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published in 1818. True, it’s considered horror by most folks, but because the monster was brought to life through science (not magic) it’s considered science fiction as well. Shelley was inspired to write her story-in part- because she heard that scientists in her day were running electric current through dead animals and watching the dead muscles twitch. Today, we now know why this happens and that simply running a current through a corpse will not re-animate it. But to the science fiction writer, what science can do is not as important as what it might do.

Jules Vern and HG Wells took up Shelley’s banner in the late 1800s and marched on. Trips to the moon, voyages under the sea, and powered flights through the air were all penned in books long before they were ever accomplished in fact. Does this make science fiction a predictive tool for seeing the future? No. But it can point like an arrow in the direction mankind is already headed. And, perhaps, it can even warn us to get off a path before it’s too late (as Gorge Orwell’s 1984 did for us back in 1948).

True, not all science fiction is created equal. Much of it is simply written for fun and entertainment. I posit that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that; because science fiction is also an ascetic. Do you like stories with sailing ships or starships? Do you enjoy a scene where the hero rushes in with a broadsword or a blaster?

At some point it’s just a matter of taste. I never cared much for football. Not because there’s anything wrong with football. It just doesn’t appeal to me personally. I enjoy science fiction because it forces you to exercise your imagination into the possible and see the world through the eyes of tomorrow. I also like starships and blasters…a lot.

Conspiracy Theroies = Bad Science Fiction

  • Alex Jones, asshole

    Okay, so I write science fiction. I try to come up with fantastic yet plausible futures to say something insightful or funny about the human condition. It’s a thing that’s made me some money and folks often enjoy my stories. Unfortunately, these days I am frequently exposed to fiction that is designed to cost folks money…and nobody seems to enjoy it.

    These stories might make good science fiction, but instead are custom designed fear…not entertainment. A popular version of this genera involves the 133 secret underground bases scattered across the country, where “the government” is staging forces for our enslavement. The plan is to first give us health care and then eliminate the dollar to put the US on the One World Currency. Next, the government (I suppose they mean the federal government but they seldom name a department) will take away our guns. Once the populous is disarmed, UN forces will invade to round up all dissidents and put us in concentration camps run by FEMA. In this Dark Age, our only hope for freedom will be the right wing militia groups who will wage heroic guerrilla war against the New World Order.

    Seriously, as science fiction goes, this could be a good story (black helicopters and all). Unfortunately, nobody is finding it entertaining or insightful. They are finding it terrifying. Folks are stockpiling guns and ammunition for the day they “know” will come. After all, they herd it on Alex Jones Infowars or maybe on Glenn Beck’s radio show, and those guys have never been wrong about anything…right?

    Sadly, it’s not just yahoos that are taking this sick fantasy seriously. Political leaders from state to the federal level are going off halfcocked on all manner of nutty conspiracy theories. They re-re-investigate Bengasi, deny climate change, block any real discussion on gun policy and prevent immigration reform; all the while justifying their failure to solve problems with some crackpot conspiracy theory.

    The real problem is not the New World Order or any other imagined boogieman. The problem is our new inability to reason with each other. We simply can’t seem to have intelligent discussions about how to solve our real problems in this fantasy-laden environment. Every new idea put forth is a leap down that “slippery slope” that ends in fascist-communism (whatever that would look like, I don’t know). This means as our imaginary problems grow, our real problems fester– a perfect lose-lose for the whole country.

    Nobody can predict the future. As a science fiction writer I’m just guessing and having fun with “what-ifs.” Anybody who tells you they know the future is lying to you, plain and simple. Instead of gorging ourselves at the troth of paranoia, let’s work together to solve the real problems we face NOW.

    Then let the fear mongers die a natural death from lack of attention.

    Clayton J. Callahan

     

L. Ron Hubbard, Evil, Evil Science Fiction Genius…of Marketing

Evil Genious of Marketing

When the great authors of science fiction are discussed by hard core SF fans, certain names are almost always mentioned. Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, CJ Cheryth, Andre Norton, Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clark rise to the top like bubbles in a glass of fine Champaign. They are the bright luminaries of the art, who’s work is never out of print because they contributed something truly fresh and insightful into the world. Many of them started in “the pulps.” Cheaply produced, short story magazines that were popular from the mid 1920s to about the early 1950s. In these little gems, one can see the beginnings of  a writer’s greatness to come. These early stories were often more about  intriguing situation than characters,  but they still managed to build our understanding of what science fiction can do. For instance, All You Zombies by Heinlein was a break through in time travel fiction as great as HG Wells’ book, The Time Machine.

Alas, for today’s writer, the pulps are gone. Now we live in an age of digital fiction where everyone can become an author…and so everyone does. Now, some pulp authors were clearly better than others, but at least they all had to pass through the hands of a professional editor. These “gatekeepers” could insist that the science fiction they paid for met some kind of minimal standard. But the gatekeepers are now mostly gone, and it’s pure chaos out there. Self published authors are a dime a dozen, and many produce books that use a great cover to hid the terrible prose within. The challenge for the reader then is to find an author who’s work stands out from all the crap  in the market today.

Since the reader can’t go to the pulps anymore to sample their choice of authors, writers are encouraged to “build a platform” to reach the reader. By this, it is meant that the writer should start a blog, a facebook page, a twitter account, anything that will spread the word and create a fan base. This kind of marketing would have boggled the minds of the early masters, who  needed only to concentrate on writing good fiction and let nature take its course. But one man was a pioneer in this field. True, he was a poor writer, condemned to forever toil over pulp stories that were barely acceptable to the editors of the time. But as the pulp age grew to a close in the late 1950s (and his livelihood dried up) his true genius bloomed. There was no facebook or twitter in his day, but that didn’t stop him from successfully creating a platform that would create a large and fanatically devoted fan base; he started a religion. Or, as he sometimes called it, “an alternative to psychiatry.”

Through Scientology, he created a flock of mentally vulnerable people (who probably would have sought psychiatric help if not for his luring) and convinced them to spread the word for him. Only after the creation of his religion did L. Ron Hubbard become a best selling author, not of mere short sorties mind you but of books! As the 1950s became the 60s, he finally had a platform sufficient to push his lack-luster talent into the wide world of slick publication.

What are the results of his evil little marketing ploy?

Well, years after his death his books are still in print, but only his religious zealots speak well of them. I’ve been going to SF conventions since 1985, and not once have I ever heard his name mentioned. By this I mean not at all, even when bad writers are discussed–his name has never come up in my presence. Critics ether deride or ignore his work, and classes in SF literature forget his existence completely…unless the class is being taught by a Scientologist.

My name is small in the world of science fiction authors, and it may never be big (who can tell?). If my work spreads far and wide, I want it to be because it actually makes people happy when they read it. I do blog and facebook, as well as buy the occasional magazine ad, but I will never stoop so low as to abuse and manipulate vulnerable people into thinking I’m some kind of messiah just to sell my books.

Perhaps I’m no genius…but nether am I evil.

A Shout-Out To Star Pilot’s Lament

 

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While I was in Iraq in 2011, my daughter sent me a CD by a guy I had never heard of.  Kielen King is a Portland, Oregon based artist who specializes in science fiction hip hop music.  Yep, SciFi hip-hop.
To be honest I didn’t expect to be impressed.  My musical tastes fossilized around 1982, but anything my daughter would bother to send 3,000 miles I was definitely going to listen to. I was, and remain, impressed.  Kielen King has a clear voice and a knack for storytelling.  His smooth, jazzy melodies tell an exciting tale of a space bounty hunter on the chase.

If Star Run ever has a sound track, this guy ought to write it.  “One warp drive, two force pistols and a weapons bay full of pissed off missiles.  You better leave now or kiss that ship good by, ’cause I’m here to help you die…”Awesome stuff.  If an old curmudgeon like me likes it, the younger audience he is aiming for should love it.

I highly recommend you go to his site on our LINKS page, and check out Star Pilot’s Lament.

Why Steampunk?

Well…lots of reasons.

Lindsey

I was inspired to write this post after watching a Lindsey Sterling video. If you haven’t heard of her, she’s this spunky kid who does some very contemporary and creative things while plying the violin. Her latest video (that I’m aware of) is called Roundtable Rival and can be found at, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvipPYFebWc

As the video opens, we see its obviously taking place in a wild west setting, but soon we notice the goggles and, bam! its steampunk. Frankly, there’s no reason for the video to be steampunk, per se. The music could be set to many eras, and if you have all these wild west sets; why not just set your story in the historical wild west?

Easy answer; although we love cowboys, we don’t like the historical wild west.

First off, I need to be clear on who is “we.” We are the Americans of pop culture circa 2010. We were raised on cowboy movies and television shows as a part of our cultural education and we found that learning was indeed fun. We also have enjoyed Sherlock Holmes novels, Lovecraftian horror, and bold tales of great white hunters searching the jungles of Africa for lost cities of gold…and we have felt incredibly weird enjoying all this stuff.

Ever read the original Dr. Fu Manchu novels by Sax Rhomer? Racist as hell, aren’t they?

Today we are repulsed by the racism, sexism and rampant homophobia that saturated the Victorian age. Between 60% and 75% of us cheered when gay marriage became legal nationwide (and many others grudgingly admit gays have rights, they just wanted it to be done by the states or whatever). How can people of such a socially enlightened age enjoy a good Victorian tale where the white male hetero characters do all the cool stuff and everybody else is just a servant, a native guide, the girl to be rescued, or the villain? Heck, we see white cop on black citizen injustices on our television screens and we want to scream. How can we read that in our fiction and not be legitimately repulsed?

And yet, the Victorian era was so cool in so many other ways. It was an age of invention, exploration and expansion into the unknown. The costumes, the music, the architecture and even the weapons offer an extremely rich pallet for fiction. Remembering a time when people didn’t need spaceships to go exploring, two good boots were all that was needed to find the source of the Nile, is very appealing. Yet as frontiers were expanded native peoples were exterminated; a legacy we are dealing with still.

So, we find our salvation in the works of Jules Verne and HG Wells. True, they were men of their times but they were certainly more benign than the monsters of that day. We take their leave to re-imagine the Victorian era as something less ignorant and mean than it actually was. Put some googles on and the woman becomes the hero, the black character the aviator, the inventor a homosexual, and the story flows from there. And if the steampunk author includes the ugly side of that time he or she can show it to us as the injustice it was and not white wash it and pretend it doesn’t matter.

Let me be clear, I am not opposed to steampunk and may even write a story of that ilk someday. However, I do request of my contemporary Americans that we remember the past for what it was as well as for what it could have been. That way we can take today’s world for what it is, and work to make it what it should be.

Neil deGrasse Tyson- Science Hero.

One cannot write science fiction without the inspiration of real space adventure. I aplaud Dr. Tyson for his efforts to move us forward as a nation and as a species.  Cut and paste this address to learn more.

http://www.upworthy.com/do-you-know-the-silly-reason-why-america-put-a-man-on-the-moon-do-you-know-why-we-stopped-going?c=gt1

 

Science Fiction Writer, Game Designer & Renaissance Man

Of course, there is only one guy I could be talking about; H.G. Wells.

hg-wells

Born in 1866, just a year after the American Civil War ended, he was doing his thing until he passed away in 1946, just after World War II ended. Many consider him the father of science fiction, and in many ways they are right. Of course, Mary Shelley wrote what is considered the first science fiction novel, Frankenstein. But unfortunately Ms. Shelley only had the one bestseller  in her. After that, Jules Verne and old H.G took a good look at her science fiction football and ran farther and faster with it than anyone had before.

H.G. wrote the first book about interplanetary war, about time travel, about air warfare, about genetic manipulation and about the power of invisibility. And get this, he also wrote the first miniatures wargame.

While playing with his children and their toy soldiers he devised a set of rules for “floor games.” He called them that because that’s where the games were played, on the floor.

The set ups were huge by our gaming standards. Using 3” tall figures, the game consisted of infantry moving one foot per turn and cavalry two feet. In his game, casualties were determined by shooting wood pegs out of spring-loaded cannons or simply by rolling a ball into your opponent’s troops.

The game was quite popular at the time. In fact, if you watch the old movie Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang by Walt Disney, you can see the game being played. After all, the movie takes place in H.G. Well’s era, and at the end you see the character Grandfather playing it on the floor with one of his old army buddies.

The rules became refined over time and wargaming societies and clubs sprung up the world over. In America a young enthusiast of miniatures wargaming started reading J.R.R Token’s books. This American kid was of course named Gary Gygax, and he used miniatures rules as the starting point for what eventually became Dungeons and Dragons.

With steam punk fiction currently in ascendance, I think it proper to remember the man who gave geekdom so much. As long as nerds gather over gaming tables, we will never forget you Mr. Wells.

By Clayton J. Callahan

Amazon’s New Offering

Cover Screaming Eagle

GREAT NEWS!!! My first book, Tales of The Screaming Eagle is now available on Amazon as a paperback for $16.99. Previously it was only available as a paperback through Lulu.com and the Amazon offering is about four bucks cheaper. This took a mountain of effort as Amazon couldn’t figure out that my publisher had the rights to do this until I sent them a copy of my contract. Enjoy the book, everybody.