Good games have replay value, do books?

William Burroughs once said, “If writers are to describe the advanced techniques of the Space Age, they must invent writing techniques equally advanced in order properly to deal with them.”

Back then, 60 years ago, SF was still emerging from its ghetto; characterisation was wooden, moral choices were cartoonishly portrayed; one universe shattering threat replaced each other with monotonous regularity. The only thing it did do was provide pat answers to questions proposed by the plot: a magic bullet that kills all bad, a magic device that right wrong, a special word that banishes the bad parts of dream…….
The medium has progressed, though some (including me) take the view that progress has been patchy. Wooden characterisation has evolved to a point where it could be called mechanical – virtually formulaic. There are plenty of clunky stories out there. This isn’t surprising as our knowledge of important aspects of the subject matter: the future / outer space / aliens etc, is a big fat unknown. We are midgets writing on the high perches created by the giants of the Golden Age.
What could be improved?
The limiting factor is story design. It’s fair to say that most genre novels slavishly stick to linear plots because that’s how it’s driven by traditional publishing. The key here is a potted answer for every story question.
But in SF (& Fantasy) the BIG question: Have you made the reader think? Not forced, but given him / her the opportunity.
Pat answers are a fail; they are a mere side-step from information dump. A universe with smoothly defined edges holds no mystery yet the one we inhabit keeps changing; sometimes radically. How long is it since we had nine planets? What happened to Pluto? How long since the accepted view that only our solar system had planets? There are big changes all the time – I have a Teach Yourself Geology book from the 1970s where Plate Tectonics barely gets a mention; then the idea was still radical. Yet pat answers are necessary for the biggest market of all: Detective Fiction. However, SF & Fantasy need different rule books. Robert Conquest argued this in Spectrum and it still holds true.

Aristototle makes the case for works to be plausible and authentic¹. That’s the prompt to go back to the real world and note how new belief systems take hold as new discoveries displace the old; all in accord with what better fits our observations. The biggest discovery is life out there. We know from what drifts to Earth that there must be plenty of the building blocks of life, hanging about. Worldbuild that!

Will we meet aliens in our lifetimes? The odds are low unless they’re more advanced than us (another building block). Intelligent aliens, by definition, ought to be light years ahead of us in intellect etc. There’s a whole series of consequences inherent to such a situation that are begging to be explored – which I did in A Guide to First Contact ² – but, taking in the way our scientific beliefs have changed and, going back to William Burroughs point, the genre should develop ways to deal with ideas that lie beyond our ability to grasp, whether or not they are too alien or complex.

This isn’t a new concept; it’s a core part of the Sufi function – dealing with ossified belief systems. I’m not advocating Sufism (though I’ve followed it for 30+ years) – the point is: the universe is not only stranger than you think, it’s stranger than you can think; a point well made before.

Back to advanced aliens. They’ll have better technology as well as more sophisticated ways of handling complex matters. They ought to be able to handle us like rats in a maze. Maybe they do. Secrets and conspiracies. Mmmm.

And give the reader some mental exercise. Bring the aliens to life – layer them and their schemes – more advanced intelligences should find it convenient to conceal themselves from run of the mill space faring species. Why? Because they handle stuff that answers questions that the movers and shakers don’t want answering.

Anything else? Complexity suitable for big, brain-box aliens. Enough complexity to hide what’s going on in plain starlight. And of course a design so that what might look a random walk makes sense once the larger picture is grasped. Naqshbandia we say for the People of the Path. I prefer Design, the larger, the better.

The hard shiny edges of world building need fuzzy areas from which new challenges and threats (i.e. new ideas) can emerge, otherwise the whole set up will become sterile. There’s a lot more that can be said but who will listen?

¹ my blog notes

• invariably the best results are bad stuff happening in a plausible way
Poetics 7) The Best Kinds of Tragic Plot | 7.2 First Deduction
• In all things: is this plausible? probable?
Poetics 8) Other Aspects of Tragedy | 8.1 Character


My book A Guide to First Contact is self-published on Kindle and Lulu.

After the apocalypse the French control everything, but why?

Kindle edition – ebook

Standard paperback – Print on Demand only

Large paperback edition – Print on Demand only

Hardcover edition – Print on Demand only

Like a good little Earthling I hope it presents a challenge to all, whether human, post-human, alien or merely god-like being of the Great Out There

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Kindle – Free Book Promotion

A Guide to First Contact
by Terence Park
ASIN: B00EUI42U2

Kindle Free Book Promotion

July 31 2015 – August 1 2015

Guide image for Kindle

What is Guide?

SF with bells and whistles, Realistic, Researched, Works on different levels

For example?

Post-Apocalypse (the apocalypse is spelled out), Different kinds of First Contact, Different orders of alien, the Rapture, What comes after human, Conspiracies, Weird Science, Sex, Horror, Gore

Who’s it for

Those who want a thoughtful approach to the genre that considers the issues in a realistic manner.

Feedback

—A rewarding read
—Some similarities to <em>The Road</em>
—The exploration of God has a new twist to it
—There’s a point where the social pecking order is underlined by access to pre-apocalypse gadgets that no longer function – it’s at that point you realise mobiles don’t work any more

More information

About
Author
Book
Editions
Excerpts
Resources
blog

Gun Law

Added another extract: Gun Law, which is set in a post-apocalyptic Crimea.

Guide is set in a post apocalypse Earth (think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road). The most important thing is that the French control everything. Highly irritating as that might be to Anglophiles, that isn’t where the problems end. In this future the West has fallen and most of mankind has been reduced to the level of sub-human brutes.

Sketches

For a number of years, I have been concerned at the predictability of writing in SF and Fantasy. Typically, after the first few pages you feel you already know how the story will develop and end. This issue is entrenched in the thinking of the agent-publisher model and there are no easy fixes. New Wave SF in the 60s and 70s, despite its excesses, was an early attempt to fix this. The problem was: the resulting deconstructed form took precedence over content i.e. it rarely actually wrote about anything. Four decades on, much in the genre is still deeply unsatisfactory. The formulaic is a comfort zone. Who knows what a publisher might discover if he / she stepped outside?

My answer is a sketch, with, as a nod to literary theory, realism. Guide is a series of interlocking sketches. Since completing it I have worked on the form. Subsequent sketches have multiple storylines: there for the purpose of plot structure, characterisation and world creation. Each sketch contains the seeds of its own resolution – however these aren’t spelt out – and in fact, elements of the story may be obfuscated during editing. Those I’ve done come to around 20k words (novellete-novella sized). These are:

Lucky is also on Kindle and it is free to download on:
01/03/2015
31/03/2015
01/04/2015
30/04/2015
01/05/2015

In due course I will ‘finish’ them. In the meantime I’m developing more.

Readings

Guide is structured into two parts because it is actually two books – The Fécunda and The Xenocotrix which the chapter listing below reflects. To this I have added links to YouTube readings; these being pre-publication (read from a late draft) have occasional differences in narrative (as well as bloopers!) I had intended to provide new readings to Guide, however, as I’ve been busy writing other things, that got kind of neglected. See also here.

Part 1 The Fécunda

→→ Star Crossed
→→ Late Pleistocene
→→ Star Beings
Capitaires
Gun Law
A High Place
Relics
Cat
and Mouse
Bearer Note
→ Cradle Hood
→ BVI
Peer Pressure
→ Observer Effect
→ Poulbots
Misadventure
Berkeley Heights
RUSH
la belle époque
Khwarezm
Manhattan
Trap Door
→ Near Earth Object
→ Xhenogie Corp
→ Flicker

Part 2 The Xenocotrix

Dead City Culture
Bait
Rochester Enclave
Ticket to the Ball
Instances
Child Speak, Child Spark
→ Checking Service
→ émetteur passif
→ Bahati’s Journal
Façades
Interruptions
Decoded
Memory
→ Keeping in Touch
→ Wahchinksapa
→ The Unveiling
→ Back in NYC
→ Rapture
→ Welcome to Earth
The Xenocotrix
Backwash
Shadows and Light
Coda
APPENDICES
Appendix I – Pronunciation
Appendix II – Deposition
—Communards
—Bahati’s Papers: The Nature of Civilisation
—Bahati’s Papers: Why Khwarezm?
Appendix III – About Star Beings
Appendix IV – Yshierl’s Song

DNA Can Survive Re-entry Into The Atmospere

“DNA can survive re-entry into the atmosphere, raising the possibility of extraterrestrial life molecules arriving on Earth from space, research has shown.
The discovery came as a total surprise to scientists”
The Daily Telegraph 27, November 2014

This was discovered by a mission launched from the European Space Centre at Esrange in Northern Sweden; the TEXUS 49 mission. A ‘total surprise’ is overcooking things. Still, events have conspired to prove / disprove the hypothesis and we have a result. Space Daily (your portal to space) is somewhat less sensational: DNA may survive suborbital spaceflight, re-entry according to a study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Cora Thiel and Oliver Ullrich from University of Zurich and colleagues. See their article here.
The TEXUS 49 rocket mission was March 2011, nearly  four years back.
ref: 10.1371/journal.pone.0018754


The idea of outer space biological contamination has been in the SF domain for years and in one form or another, it continues to fascinate writers. James White’s Sector General series (a hospital lab in space dealing with human and non-human disease) anticipates the mechanics of managing this. James White wrote his 12 ‘Hospital in Space’ themed books between 1957 and 1999.

Hospital Station by James White
Hospital Station by James White (part of Sector General)

The very first SF book I read Invader from Space (1963) by Patrick Moore had alien microbes as a theme

Dust jacket to Patrick Moore: Invader from Space
as did Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain (1969). In War of the Worlds (1897), H.G. Wells turns this on its head; alien invaders are defeated by Earthly bugs.

In Andre Norton’s works, plague space-ships are a must-avoid. Harry Harrison did Spaceship Medic (1970) – I confess to not having read it. The opening paragraphs of The Boosted Man (1974), see Tully Zetford’s anti-hero, Ryder Hook, escape a frenzied mob, desperate to flee a planet infected with alien disease. Tully Zetford was also know as Kenneth Bulner.

Hook: The Boosted Man by Tully Zetford (aka Ken Bulmer)
Hook The Boosted Man by Tully Zetford (aka Ken Bulmer)

At a macro level, this is what Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye (1974) deals with – an alien race that expands aggressively to fit the available space, at a high level is similar to fungus in a petri-dish, growing on a damp slice of bread. We all did that experiment in school. There are other variations on this, for example the energy forms in Peter F Hamilton’s The Reality Dysfunction.


Alien bugs coming to Earth is one of the ideas I explored in Guide (plus mutations, energy forms…)