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GrinReaper
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« on: March 02, 2006, 02:23:52 AM »

I find I can often come up with some far-out premises for sf stories, but then I lack the science knowledge to back it up. Or, I come up with a premise, then get disheartened when I can't make it sound plausible.

However, after reading 'Cell' by Stephen King, I wonder whether I'm worrying about it too much. Yes, I know I'm not SK. But he has a premise in the story -- I won't spoil it for you -- but because the whole novel is from the POV of characters who have no idea what's going on, or why it happened, you never find out what caused the catastrophic incident. Thereby saving SK from having to provide the science.

I didn't mind the fact that it wasn't explained -- it was reminiscent of the George Romero zombie movies, in that there's never any explanation of why the dead are coming to life -- but I was wondering what others think.
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doolols
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« Reply #1 on: March 02, 2006, 02:37:38 AM »

From what I've read about 'Cell', it sounds like the main cause of 'The Pulse' is never explained - just that it happened. Maybe it's like ghost stories - no one can ever explain why ghosts appear and do what they do, and to most right-thinking people, it sounds just too ridiculous. But I think that 'Cell' is tapping into people's fears and anxieties, like most horror stories. Yes, we know all about mobile phones, and we hear reports of the damage they can do, but nothing ever gets done, and there's a suspicion that it's all a gigantic cover-up. Or is that just me?  scratch

I think your premise has to be believable - you don't need to explain everything in great technical detail. If you think "it could happen", then maybe that's enough. Could you give us an example?
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Geoff_N
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« Reply #2 on: March 02, 2006, 02:58:59 AM »

Many inexplicable things happen, so that's not a problem. But many readers might feel cheated if they think the writer has "copped" out by not thinking through the plot sufficiently to provide a satisfactory solution. However, I am happy to write stories from the POV of characters who really don't know where the aliens come from, why they're here and exactly what they're doing. In fact I'm in the middle of a trilogy of something like that! Parts of the jigsaw of ignorance fall into place but you can provide a lot of interesting dialogue with humans and their conjectural debates.

Grin, if you are unsure and want scientific explanations, try the Expert is in section in Reseach thread at http://www.speculations.com/   it is free to register - and at the moment you dont even need to register.

Geoff
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Ed
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« Reply #3 on: March 02, 2006, 04:35:43 AM »

I think you're on to something there, Grin - where a lot of beginning sci-fi authors go wrong is getting hung up on the technical explanations.  Lets face it, most of it's not as relevant to the story as what's happening to the characters.  The 'whys' can often end up as boring 'info dumps' if you're not careful.  I also think the mystery adds to atmosphere and tension. smiley
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GrinReaper
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« Reply #4 on: March 02, 2006, 04:54:40 AM »

Quote
Could you give us an example?

Okay, I went to a workshop with my story 'Black' http://www.cafedoom.com/black.html one of the views was that the science didn't make sense, because you can't have a total absence of everything, which was what happened in the story. The example given to me was that even black holes emit heat. So even though in the story I had words to the effect that the phenomena was beyond the understanding of current science, it still didn't 'ring true' for this particular reader. I took the criticism on board, and since then I've been trying harder to try and explain the things that happen in my sf stories. Which, as blunt notes, can bog the story down.

Geoff, thanks for the link -- I'll check it out.
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Ed
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« Reply #5 on: March 02, 2006, 05:29:18 AM »

This is why workshops can be a bit hit and miss - if you take everybody's advice, no matter what their background and level of knowledge is, you usually end up even more confused than when you started.

This guy might be right, but it's easily cleared up by a line of dialogue like, "Even black holes emit heat... but this doesn't."  Whether they do or not, I don't know, but it seems the whole point of the story is there's a phenomenon that defies scientific explanation - something that's never been seen before.  Hence, if you explain it, it ain't much of a mystery anymore - just another day at the office grin

I think it's a moot point, but that's just my opinion, and I don't read a lot of sci-fi smiley
« Last Edit: March 02, 2006, 05:36:41 AM by blunt » Logged

Planning is an unnatural process - it is much more fun to do something.  The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression. [Sir John Harvey-Jones]
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« Reply #6 on: March 02, 2006, 05:59:56 AM »

I sort of think the key is to provide some detail, and introduce some sort of exotic factor that gives you some leeway. eg, I vaguely remember in HG Wells's The Time Machine there was some sort of exotic crystal - a substance that doesn't actually exist - which enables time travel. But it's hard to know how much detail to provide, and I guess that comes back to your audience, which I guess comes back to knowing which mags to submit to!
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doolols
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« Reply #7 on: March 02, 2006, 02:43:36 PM »

It's definitely a balance. One of the first sci-fi books I read was "The Classic Lensman" series by E.E.'Doc' Smith. Basically, the lensman was  a person who had extended brain functionality. The first lensman was a quirk of nature, being endowed with powers of telekinesis and other stuff.  At the end, there was a whole family of 'em, joining their brainpower together. All unlikely tosh, but there was enough realism and 'hooks' into real life to make it believable.

You can't just say "this black hole doesn't emit heat", but you might need to have a character discovering this, not believing it, gathering evidence, explaining it to others, etc etc. You have to understand your readers, and try to imagine how they're going to read the story.
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Geoff_N
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« Reply #8 on: March 02, 2006, 02:44:17 PM »

It's  not just heat that is emitted from the long axis of a black hole but jets of radiation along the whole of the Electromagnetic Spectrum from X-rays to radio waves (heat = infrared is in that range).  See http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/black_hole_011003.html 
Further reading in that site will show you that there are black holes defying theory -- so there you go.

But I agree with Ed, if you want mystery then don't try to explain too much. It's the magic of weaving the near-possible in science and discovery that ofen lead to the real thing. We writers do the world a big service here!  dance

Geoff
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GrinReaper
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« Reply #9 on: March 08, 2006, 04:47:52 AM »

I've been reading some sf shorts and there's one - can't think of the title and I don't have it with me - that features time travel. It introduces it by saying "...and when time travel came in..." in the same way you'd say "...and when the internet came in..." and then a couple of hints about how it works. But the actual premise of the story is someone from the future meeting Orson Welles. So I think that's the key -- the the story is based on the science then you need the science. If the story is character-driven, and the science is just a way of making the characters meet, then you can gloss over the science. I didn't express myself very clearly there but it's clear in my head. smiley I think my problem is that my ideas are about things/concepts rather than people. But I think character-driven stories are generally stronger.
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doolols
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« Reply #10 on: March 08, 2006, 04:28:43 PM »

But I think character-driven stories are generally stronger.
I think you're right, Grin. But when the stories are novel-length, you need good, strong characterisation, but you also need something for them to do. You can create short stories on character alone, set in a few scenes, but novels need a solid plot. And I suppose if the science doesn't exist, then introducing a quantum-knurdle pin from the future sounds like a good idea. It's like you're saying: "Hey - I don't understand it either. It's from the future." Again, a few smatterings of real science is good, but you can base the premise on exotic materials. Think of superman and Kryptonite. No one knows why it had the effect that it did, but no one questioned it.  afro
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Geoff_N
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« Reply #11 on: March 09, 2006, 03:58:13 AM »

The difference is between Fantasy -- so that Superman is allowed to fly, have super strength and other unnatural things we need not question  - underpants outside his tights, etc, But with science fiction -- especially, as Gerald says, of novel length -- you need feasibility. The added weird stuff needs to be believable. This doesn't mean you have to give the equations and PhD thesis, but enough not to spoil the reader's absorption.  There are problems even so. For example some readers, especially those with science backgrounds, do want more reality than others. I enjoy journey space travel themes, but I know that FTL is not feasible, and that anything zipping through a wormhole would end up as a quantum string. However, I allow the invention or discovery of a yet-to-be-invented phenomena as long as it isn't too fantastic.

But there is a growing group of SF writers who are insisting on greater realism. The Mundane SF Manifesto sets out what they believe to be unachievable "facts" such as being visited by flying saucers, travelling to another Earth-like planet, time travel, faster-than-light, giants (a human bigger than, say, 15 feet tall would overheat and die if they moved - we cool via skin, which is 2 dimensional whereas muscles and mass increases 3 dimensionally etc) and more. They insist that proper SF should be realistic and that there are plenty of odd but real science happening in labs and in the solar system to satisfy readers.

I don't sign up to their manifesto.

Geoff
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doolols
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« Reply #12 on: March 09, 2006, 05:02:33 PM »

Yet another genre-busting category! I find it fascinating that writers create stories which may or may not be any good, but wihch don't fit into 'traditional' publishing categories. I read some of the stuff on MSF, but I can see the problems writers have with getting published. The reading public is used to fairly strict categories, and buy within those categories, and they feel comfortable buying, knowing what they're going to get. It needs to be a strong-willed publsiher who takes a punt on an unknown outside-genre author. Do the customers make the market? Or do the publishers dictate what we are to read?

I suspect big-name publishers monitor trends in online fiction and the small presses, looking for anything which looks like it might take off.

I suppose the moral is: if you want to be a commercial author, stick to what sells initially, and then gently veer off towards what you want to write once you have made a name for yourself. The danger is that your readers spot your shoft, and stop buying you. Oh, the problems, the problems ....
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My name is Gerald, and I am a writer (practicing for AA - Authors Anonymous)
GrinReaper
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« Reply #13 on: March 10, 2006, 02:49:10 AM »

Geoff,

I wonder what the Mundane SF Manifesto signatories make of multiverse theory, in which (as I understand it) basically anything goes.
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Geoff_N
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« Reply #14 on: March 10, 2006, 03:23:10 AM »

Geoff,

I wonder what the Mundane SF Manifesto signatories make of multiverse theory, in which (as I understand it) basically anything goes.

They say No to multiverse and parallel universes. I don't know how they can be so sure with the many discoveries being made and tentatively on the verge with regard to quantum physics, and the fairly certain notion that 95% of the universe is made of stuff we can't see or detect!

This is one of the reasons I don't sign the Mundane SF manifesto. Let our minds fly!

Geoff
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