Nine Sci Fi Questions

Here are a few science fiction questions I’ve answered over on Quora, the crowd-sourced question and answer site. Click to follow the questions and answers in more detail:

What are some great less known science fiction movies for those who feel like they’ve seen them all?

moviesA few science fiction movies that have been particularly memorable to me:




Dark Star.

See also a more extensive listing of my favorite science fiction films.

What are the best action sci fi adventure books?

Almost anything by Poul Anderson, especially the Flandry series. Some older authors folks tend to forget: Keith Laumer, H.Beam Piper, and Andre Norton.

What is the most relevant type of science fiction story?

61olauv4syl-_sx331_bo1204203200_I believe that the most important kind of science fiction is the “self preventing prophecy” that helps stop its own tale from coming true.

The most blatant being George Orwell’s powerful dystopian novel  1984 for its portrayal of Big Brother — and the unforgettable movie Soylent Green, based on Harry Harrison’s book, Make Room, Make Room for its portrayal of overpopulation and ecological collapse.  I discuss self-preventing prophecies on my website.

What if machines created humans in the first place?

We are exactly what they’d need, to colonize a moist and uncertain environment like a planet.

In my novel Existence, I talk about alien probes that intend to make bio-beings to land on such a world.

Sci Fi novels often depict an impoverished overcrowded earth. Is such a future inevitable?

There is a very great value in sci fi dystopias. They are our early warning system. Indeed, I go into the value of Orwell, Huxley, + Soylent Green and the lot in my essay, George Orwell and the Self-Preventing Prophecy.

clicheBut for every valid and scary and useful “self-preventing prophecy, there are a hundred drooling stupid sci fi dystopias that cast gloom on the future for one reason and one reason only, that I reveal discuss in my article, Our Favorite Cliche – A World Filled With Idiots.

Having said all that, your question is truly whether humans are doomed to the logic of Malthus, to breed till we outrun our food supply or destroy the ecosystem. To the amazement of everyone, this does not seem to happen. Everywhere that women are empowered with safety, education and rights and where their children are expected to live, in those places most women choose to have two, maybe three kids.

It is a bona fide miracle, the greatest on the planet. And not one SF story predicted it.

As a novelist, how difficult was it to have your manuscripts heavily edited?

The “heavy editing” should come in phases during your apprenticeship, while workshopping , ideally with other would-be authors of your same level . If a professional editor is doing heavy changes then either (1) you weren’t ready or (2) the editor is meddling way too much.

Naturally I am pleased you are writing and offer my encouragement. Still, there is good news and bad news in this modern era. The good: there are so many new ways to get heard or read or published that any persistent person can get out there. Talent and good ideas will see the light of day! The bad news… it is so easy to get “published,” bypassing traditional channels, that millions can convince themselves “I am a published author!” without passing through the old grinding mill, in which my generation honed their skills by dint of relentless pain.

Alas, fiction writing is a complex art that involves a lot of tradecraft… as it would if you took up landscape painting or silver smithing. It is insufficient simply having ideas and being skilled at nonfiction-prose, nor does a lifetime of reading stories prepare you to write them.

Story telling is incantatory magic and there are aspects to the incantation process that are mostly invisible to the incantation recipient (reader). Skills at rapid-opening, point-of-view, showing-not-telling, action, evading passive-voice and so on are achieved by studied workshopping — and as in most arts, the whole thing is predicated upon ineffable things like talent. e.g. an ear for dialogue that only a few people have. Indeed, point-of-view is so hard that half of would be writers never “get” it, no matter how many years they put in.

advicetowritersThis is not to be discouraging! It is to suggest that extensive workshopping and skill-building are as important today as they were 30 years ago.

What I can do is point you to an “advice article” that I’ve posted online — A Long, Lonely Road — containing a distillation of wisdom and answers to questions I’ve been sent across 20 years. (Note, most authors never answer at all.)

Then there is my advice video, So You Want to Write? One Author’s Perspective.

What does a writer need to do to win a Hugo Award?

Well it helps to tell a cracking good yarn! Of course, science fictional exploration and storytelling should be central. Alas, yes, there are now very active in-groups, some of them motivated by personal likes/dislikes and some by strong political fetishisms. I don’t disagree with all of them! Indeed, a tilt toward increasing the presence of all kinds of backgrounds in SF has enriched and broadened a field that should be diverse and broad.

Could biblical stories like Adam and Eve and Noah be Iron Age mistranslations of interplanetary travel?

shaggy-god-storiesThis is the oldest cliché in science fiction. From Twilight Zone to The Outer Limits and One Step Beyond, they all did takes on the story of Adam and Eve — always ending with a male and female astronaut stranded on a planet. As have a number of science fiction novels and stories. And yet every single thing we know in science and history proves it wrong. Author Brian Aldiss has a name for it: Shaggy God Stories — tales which invoke science fictional tropes to try to explain biblical stories.

The biblical story of Noah though…  Around 10,000 BCE the strait of Bosporus opened, flooding the Black Sea Basin. Could that event have echoed down 8000 years in legend? Hmmmmm

What is your estimation of whether we have already hit the tech singularity and why?

The apparent steep decline in IQ of the American and other electorates would appear to indicate that intelligence has already moved to artificial matrices.

Check out Quora for more questions and answers…



Filed under science fiction

2 responses to “Nine Sci Fi Questions

  1. sgbotsford

    On good yarns:
    * All of the Heinlein books. Ok, the last few weren’t prime.
    * Larry Niven
    * Jerry Pournelle
    * S. M. Stirling
    * David Drake
    * David Weber
    * Timothy Zhan
    * James H. Schmidt
    * Christopher Anvil
    * Mark Clifton

    A few touchstones for good stories:
    * The science has to be integral: If you can change space ships, to sailing ships, change aliens to pirates and still have a good story, then it’s a conventional story, but in costume.
    * There needs to be at least the implication of a working economy. The lack of an economy is very common in fantasy works. How did Sauron feed all those orcs? Where did Rivendell get their raw materials. Cities in the middle of deserts.
    * The implications of technology have to be followed through: The existence of pattern buffers in Star Trek implies that you *should* keep the buffer until you have brought them back. Then you could be quite casual about the away team dying. You only remember your successful trips, so you become quite daring. Similarly, if you have replicator technology, then what is the purpose of Gold Pressed Latinum. The federation should become a fully service economy. And why can’t sufficiently large replicators do a whole starship at once?
    This is true of good fantasy too. There are limits. Superman was boring until they invented a multitude of different colours of kryptonite. He had no limits, hence no challenge. The Mccaffrey’s dragon books fail in a different way — the numbers don’t work. How large is a Hold? Even with thread falling in clumps, how can 3000 dragons cover a planet? (We will ignore that there is little reason for them to clump in predictable pattern.) How many ‘drudges’ in a dragon hold does it take to support 500 active dragons. This sort of info doesn’t need to be explicitly stated, but an author needs to work out the details of the world to avoid inconsistencies.

    A classic example: When America started falling in love with the Automobile, people predicted accidents. And close encounters of the equine kind. And the decrease of road apples. A few figured out the possibility of suburbs. Some of air pollution. NO ONE predicted the change in courting rituals.

    Larry Niven in either N-Space or Playgrounds of hte Mind has an essay about Transporter Booths, and the possible impact on society depending on their capability. One of his better insights was the concept of a “Flash Crowd” An event picked up on the news attracts people faster than they can dial out.

    If a story has aliens, then they need to be similar enough to understand, but different enough to excite wonder. One of the best of these, is Paul Chafe’s book “Destiny’s Forge” a good yarn in Niven’s known space about the Kzin. Niven does a good job with the Protector’s too, and with Pierson’s Puppeteers.

  2. “The apparent steep decline in IQ of the American and other electorates would appear to indicate that intelligence has already moved to artificial matrices.” No, I didn’t LOL, since that is pretty dry humor (dry as toast as people used to say), but it was pretty damn funny.

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