Big Post of Magic Rules, SF vs F Categorizations, and Anything Else I Can Cram in Here

  • by Gitabushi

This morning (establishing a temporal anchor that will be overtaken by events soon), my good friend and compatriot Emily30Red (soon to be known as Kikanshabushi) posted these categorizations on twitter:

And:

Those a pretty good definitions/categorizations as far as they go.  She developed them herself from her own readings and analysis, so they are organic and original.

I have a slightly different take, because my set of readings are different, and my analysis comes from a different brain (naturally).  For instance, I think Fantasy is also about what makes us human, but from the opposite direction than Science Fiction.  To me, they are both speculative fiction because speculative fiction is grouped by the question “What does it mean to be human?”, as explored through “What if humans were in this sort of society, or encountered that scenario of events?”

So with that common starting point for speculative fiction, I divide SF from F thusly:

Science Fiction is about normal people doing great things, and Fantasy is about extraordinary people chasing mundane goals.  There are probably lots of holes you can drive through with that formulation (for example, Frodo is nothing special, but achieves a great success through sheer, dogged determination, which fits more under Science Fiction), but I think it works fairly well for a rough starting point to divide the two.

But another difference is the way the fantastical elements are handled.

This is something I’m a stickler about.

Arthur C. Clarke famously ruined everything by saying, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

I say “ruined everything” because he’s not technically wrong: if you can find a previously-unencountered tribe deep in the amazon, and show them some technology, they’ll freak out as if it is magic, because it is beyond their ken.  In contrast, a 2-year-old exposed to amazing tech will take it for granted, like the baby that thinks a magazine is a broken iPad:

So his formulation is already of limited utility, unless you happen to have some primitive tribes hanging around.  And it ruins everything for writers, because no, significantly-advanced technology is not indistinguishable from magic. To the reader, maybe. But to the writer, they must be handled differently.

Go read this.  Then come back.

And then, I guess you should read the post he was responding to, here. And at this point, maybe the lesson is I repeat myself, because I had forgotten that I had already slagged Clarke for his 3rd Law.

And while you’re at it, might as well read this, too, because I think it captures what my thoughts were on genre early on, before refining the views with challenges.

In fact, you could probably stop there and not miss anything.  However, the value in this continuing post (if there is one), is to sum up some of these views, and go deeper into the difference between magic and technology (in my arrogant opinion).

At one point in my running battle with PCBushi, I referred to magic & tech as furniture, as in, the term gun people use to refer to the things that change the appearance of a firearm without changing its function.  PCBushi correctly countered that another way to put it is like a skin on an app or character.

At one level, technology and magic are like that. This is particularly true in video games or roleplaying games or superheros.  If you blast the bad guy, does it matter whether it is a laser blast or a mana blast? Not really.

Maybe it doesn’t matter much to the reader/audience, either.  No one cares what the tech is behind lightsabers in Star Wars, and you can go round and round arguing whether the Force is magic wielded by Space Wizards or psionics, and it doesn’t matter. It’s just a skin for power.

Except as a writer, it does matter. And to the audience, perhaps it should matter, too, because Lucas doesn’t seem to really be clear what they war, and he made a bunch of missteps as a result.  From my formulation above, Star Wars got worse when it changed from an ordinary farm boy using the exercise of a talent to defeat an Empire to Space Wizards trying to reunite an estranged family.  I.e, a normal person doing great things through effort => special people dealing with normal life problems.

So what makes the difference? How the power is handled.

Orson Scott Card teaches in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy that magic must have a cost to make it be interesting in your story.  I think that’s correct, but I don’t think Card really goes far enough, or explains it well enough.  I have the hubris to think I can.

My notion is that fantasy is about great people (special people, uniquely-powered people) doing mundane things.  To the extent this is correct, it is an exploration of what it means to be human, because it shows that even great people deal with normal life problems.  Magic is part of that, because it is magic that sets them apart, and magic must have limitations and a cost to make the story make sense.

This is because if there are no limitations or costs, everyone will have it, and then what’s the story exploring?  A story where everyone had the ability to make wishes come true would probably be a boring story.  But a story where only the protagonist (or perhaps, only the antagonist) had this power…now that creates some interesting opportunities for drama.

The counter to this argument is possibly: well, technology has a cost, too. It’s just the cost was paid in development, or in the expense (not everyone can afford body modifications that include hardwired reflexes?).  But that counter doesn’t work for me.  Televisions provide a communication ability that would be magic to a primitive culture, but what cost is there to the average person in the US?  It’s factored into life.  US cultural statistics went from Zero Anywhere to how many families have one to how many per family.

So while the difference between fantasy and science fiction settings may just be a skin, technology should be something everyone in your science fiction world should have, pretty much without any significant cost or sacrifice.  What makes the story in science fiction, then, is how the main character uses that technology differently to resolve the central problem of the story.

Example, Larry Niven wrote Neutron Star, a story that included an alien-made indestructible spaceship. Magic! Except that anyone with enough money can have one, and so the main character is given one to explore a scientific phenomenon and discover the answer to a mystery.  The answer to that mystery is actually an application of a scientific principle regarding gravity and orbital mechanics. Thus, it is a Hard SF story, despite the potentially magic elements.

Magic, in contrast, should have a cost, or a sacrifice, or a limit of some kind.  Not just everyone should walk around your story with magic.

So you have to consider the nature of your magic.  Is it something anyone can have with enough effort, but to perhaps varying levels of skill?  Compare to playing guitar or basketball.  Literally anyone of sound/whole body can play guitar or basketball.  What makes a basketball or guitar wizard is the years of study put into it…although someone with greater talent may achieve that mastery with less relative effort than someone else with less talent but more drive.  And voila! you might have a story right there.

But mostly not.  In most fantasy stories, the magic character is just special, and it often isn’t explained.  Harry Potter was just a wizard. He had to work to get better at it, but either you had magic or you were a muggle.

The Force started as a talent.  Before the family bloodline storyline entered in later, Obi-Wan Kenobi had no reason to think Luke might not be able to do the Force.  It was something to be taught, and you could take it as far as the combination of your own talent, teaching, and effort took you.  Everyone had some measure of it, but most just didn’t even try to develop it, possibly because most didn’t have the talent or interest to gain any real facility with it.  Like guitar.

But then it changed to a power that ran in the family.  Because Luke had it, and Leia was his twin sister, she has it, too. As did their dad.  As will their kids, if they have it.  I haven’t paid much attention to the reboot sequels, but apparently Rey blows up the blood theory…except that she thinks she’s Luke’s kid because of her power with the force, which just tends to reinforce the “ability by blood only” theory, just her parents were a previously-unknown Force-enabled bloodline.

One theory about magic (to the extent there can be something theoretical about something completely unreal and made up) is that magic should be calibrated so the cost/sacrifice is just slightly greater than the the amount of effort it would take to achieve that goal through mundane means.  So if you want a million dollars, the magic it takes to get it with a snap of fingers should have a cost/sacrifice just slightly greater than it would take to compete for a good college and complete a difficult major and work the drudgery job for enough years to get that million dollars.  The interest would then be why this person wants the money now, instead of putting in the normal effort. What does that say about his character, good or bad? It should always be a slightly higher cost then the mundane path, to balance out the immediacy of the magic.  But this is just a theory of a way to balance magic. I don’t know if I read it somewhere (was it Card?  I haven’t read that how-to book in over a decade) or if it is my own sense of proportion.  But let me know if you try it.

However, that theory aside, this goes back to Emily’s view of Fantasy: what does it do to the Self if you have power beyond that of the people around you?  What if you can snap your fingers and have a benefit or a good that would take others years of hard work to achieve, if ever?  Character questions are absolutely about self, the corruption of unique power is absolutely a common theme in Fantasy, in contrast to the SF common theme of overcoming due to unique force of will (which is how Beowulf survives in Neutron Star, btw).

So to sum up: magic should provide benefits that allow the avoidance of effort. As such, magic ability should be unique and have a cost, or it will be imbalanced in your story, and probably damage the enjoyment of the reader.  The exact same power can appear in science fiction, but the focus is different: the focus is on the unique application of an ability that anyone else could do, but doesn’t; or the focus is on the unique determination of the individual to overcome, in a high-tech world where everyone has pretty much the same physical ability and powers.

The lesson to you is (should be?) that if you are considering including a power or ability in your story, consider whether you want it to be unique or common.  If unique, you might want to write it as a fantasy.  If common, you might want to write it as a science fiction story.  And then further subdivide from there.

You don’t have to do this, of course.  But I’d be interested to hear from those who did, and had it work; those who did, and had it not work (and why); those who didn’t start with this decision and eventually realized they were writing the wrong sort of story; and those who didn’t start with this decision and made it work (not just a random/happy accident).

 

 

 

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A Few More Thoughts on Writing

  • by Gitabushi

I *think* I have it all put together now.

flat lay photo of hands typing on a typewriter
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I’m not sure how I got here, exactly.  Big influences were Lawrence Block’s books on writing, “Telling Lies for Fun and Profit” and “Spider, Spin Me a Web,” and Orson Scott Card’s “How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy.”  So maybe you need those as background to find the following advice helpful. I hope not, or else this post will be a waste of your time.

The first key was The Plot Machine.

Oh, boy, does it make plotting machine-like.  The heart of a good story is a person overcoming obstacles to succeed. Or, if you want to write a cautionary tale, a person failing to overcome obstacles (most likely personal flaws) and failing horribly.

I used to think that once I thought of an interesting starting point, that I had a story idea.

But my failure point was always getting to the climax of the book.  And I’d read something like CJ Cherryh’s Morgaine Cycle, and see someone go against their demonstrated character to do something heroic, and get ALL THE FEELZ, and I’d wonder how I could ever write something equally surprising-yet-plausible-in-hindsight that could move someone.

So the Plot Machine recommends starting with the climax of the book, and then writing backwards from there, adding in the obstacles, then setting up the problem, then writing the final resolution.

And to heighten the tension to make the climax of the story better, you make sure you have a a false climax where it looks like everything is going to work out, and then everything goes wrong and it looks everything is going to fail.  But then the hero resolves their fatal flaw, and succeeds.  It makes the story seem worthwhile to read and enjoy and remember.

It makes sense.

But then a friend (who will hopefully be soon joining the blog) pointed out something else in a story idea I was explaining: what is the emotional conflict between the characters I had?

They were in opposition, so of course there was some inherent emotional conflict, but I had described them as friends, so how did the main character feel about winning the conflict?

Boom.  That’s a great point.  That’s one of the ways you can give your reader ALL the feelz.

I dunno. I claim to have it figured out now, but I have no time/energy to write.  So you can take all that with  grain of salt.  Or we can talk it out in the comment section.

But if nothing else, I thought I’d point out a few books that I’m considering buying next.  But I need to finish two stories before I do, because the point will be to make my writing better.  If I buy them and read them before writing anything, I’m just finding another excuse to put off writing.

Still, here are the ones I’m considering:

“How to Write Pulp Fiction,” by James Scott Bell (who has a number of How to Write books).

“Elements of Fiction Writing: Conflict and Suspense,” also by James Scott Bell.  This one seems interesting based on the “start writing from the Second Act” recommendation of the Plot Machine.

And finally, a book I’ve purchased but haven’t read yet, “Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere).”

If you have writing figured out, or if you merely think you have writing figured out, what are the key elements for you?

Plotting: A Suggestion

  • by Gitabushi

I recently “purchased” (it was free) and started reading an e-book on how to plot.

“The Plot Machine: Design Better Stories Faster,” by Dale Kutzera

For the most, it was worth what I paid for it.  Many of the points it made were obvious to anyone who has done any reading at all, much less writing.  Several other points were among the first, and most basic, techniques any writing book will mention.

Since it was free, I didn’t expect much from the book.  Even if free, there is still a time cost, and I invested that cost to get some additional insight into how to effectively plot a novel.

One point it made changed my viewpoint, and I think will have a deep and profound impact on my writing.

The book pointed out that while a novel is more complex that a short story, both should follow the Three Act format. In this format, the First Act is setting up all the pieces. The Third Act is resolving all the conflicts and returning all the pieces to their resting places.

The book says the Second Act: *that’s* what makes or breaks a story.

What makes a story good is what obstacles have been placed in the path of the protagonist, and how the protagonist resolves them. These obstacles make a memorable story. This is where most of the action occurs.  This is where the protagonist’s character is honed or revealed.

The book when on to explain that, in fact, it is the Second Act that defines your characters.  You want to put them through hell to make an interesting story, but they need a *reason* to go through the hell instead of just giving up.  They need a *reason* to be in the position to go through that hell.

As such, deciding on the conflict first can make it clear who your character should be. And deciding the conflict first makes it more obvious how to make the resolution more dramatic and effective.

Okay, maybe I’m reaching with this by embracing the book’s suggestion. Maybe it won’t work for you to write the conflict first. Maybe it won’t end up working for me to write the conflict first.

But too many of my stories have foundered when they reached the conflict stage.  I had a great beginning. I had a decent ending. I couldn’t get through the middle. Too often, the conflict didn’t match the motivations I established at the beginning. Or the method of overcoming obstacles didn’t match the character I established at the beginning.

You could say that this just because I write poorly, and I’d have a hard time arguing that. On the other hand, I think of a character and a starting point, and think I have a story idea.  Perhaps, instead, I should think of the conflict a character is going to go through, and think I have a story idea.

Looking at this from a different direction: I love twisty, complex plotting.  I have a “story idea” right now that I want to turn into a twisty, complex plot.  So I’ve come up with all my main characters, the universe, the starting motivations, and now I want to add complexity.  I can’t really get started on it. I can’t figure out how to put these characters into seemingly no-win situations where they have to dismantle the Destruction Engine piece by piece to avoid their destruction and win the story.

My plan was to start writing and add complexity.

I now think a better idea is to start with a complex, seemingly no-win situation and write backwards, figuring out how the protagonist got into this situation.

For example, I’ve been watching a few Chinese Spy/Suspense television serials.

In one, Protagonist 1 is drawn into the spy world to work for the Chinese Nationalists (who are resisting the Japanese occupation), and from there, gets drawn into being a Communist spy inside the Nationalist organization…because of the temporary partnership to resist the Chinese.  His older brother (Protagonist 2) is a collaborator working with the Japanese government…but is actually a Nationalist spy working to undermine the Japanese, and is Protagonist 1’s superior in the National spy organization. At one point, Protagonist 1 is given the order to assassinate his older brother, Protagonist 2, for being too effective as a collaborator. He didn’t know at that point that not only his older brother a Nationalist spy, but the order itself came *from* his older brother (who, having ordered it, knows how to avoid it, but it helps him gain additional credibility with the Japanese). When it is all over, however, Protagonist 1 learns that his older brother is actually his superior in the *Communist* spy ring that’s inside the Nationalist spy ring that’s resisting the Japanese.  He’s been acting according to his training and character, but he’s been moved around like a chess piece, based on his older brother knowing him, and being his superior two layers deep.

weizhuangzhe2

I don’t think you can build in that sort of complexity as you go.  I think you have to start with that incredible situation, and then work backwards, adding layers to the complexity as you move earlier in the story.

In another, the protagonist is just a normal Nationalist officer in what seems to be a National Guard/Reservist unit.. They are getting ready to go to the front line to fight the Japanese. His unit’s commander is out of action while recovering from surgery, and the 2nd-in-command is leading a cabal of the top few officers to surrender and collaborate with the Japanese.  The traitor has one week to do it, before the Commander recovers and returns to duty. A junior officer (not the protagonist) discovered this, and formed a group of officers and NCOs to resist (the Iron Fists). The protagonist joins, making 30 in all, and they are set to meet at 9pm on a certain date.

At 8:30pm on that day, the protagonist is getting ready to leave for the meeting when the 2nd-in-command traitor locks the HQ down. He then orders the protagonist to lead the arrest of the 30 cadre members who are mutinying. Meanwhile, the Iron Fist group, lacking two members, decides to start the meeting with the 28 who are present.

The protagonist arrives on the scene, and tries to make noise to alert the Iron Fists inside. It doesn’t work. With no other choice, he leads the charge. But the first thing he does is shoot out the light. With the lights out, he trips a few of the capturing force, throws a bench out the window to help the Iron Fists escape, etc. But it is all for naught, all 28 are captured.

The traitor officer knows two people didn’t arrive, and knows the protagonist did some weird stuff. Plus, there’s another officer who isn’t in his cabal. So he sets the 2nd officer to torture a confession out of the protagonist. The 2nd officer is, of course, the 30th Iron Fist (who was also locked up in the HQ building and couldn’t go to the meeting, and so was spared). He finds out that the protagonist was Iron Fist #29, and vows to help him.

But the issue facing them both is, “Who betrayed the Iron Fists?”  All 28 in captivity are executed within a day (to silence them), so Iron Fist #30 begins to suspect the protagonist, despite the protagonist being Iron First #29.

The Traitor officer has two military representatives in custody, one Nationalist and one Communist.  He finally decides (for a couple of reasons not worth explaining now) that *they* are the two missing Iron Fists, and so stops worrying about the protagonist and the other officer.  Except these two officers aren’t part of his cabal, so he doesn’t completely trust them.

To strengthen his position, he decides to get a hostage: the Commander’s mother. So he sends a team to escort her from her home (a day away) to his location.  He puts the protagonist in charge, sets the 2nd officer to watch him, sends one of his cabal officers along to watch them both, and sends along the two military representatives as hostages. They will go near a Japanese stronghold, and the cabal officer will give the Japanese the two military representative hostages to seal the deal that allows the traitor cabal to deliver the entire unit to the Japanese.

So along the way, the protagonist is trying to help the two military representatives escape without letting the other officers know he is doing it. At the same time, Iron Fist #30 officer is trying to help them escape, but not letting the other officers know he is doing it, and doesn’t see the protagonist doing anything to help, which deepens his suspicion that the protagonist betrayed the Iron Fists.

Everything that happens puts the protagonist in a no-win situation.  If he does anything to help get the word out, the cabal officer will kill him as a traitor. If he works too hard to follow his orders, the unit will be handed over the Japanese, and he betrays his fellow Iron Fists.  But when he helps the military representatives escape, he can only help by throwing some things through the window to them, and pre-positioning some escape aids, which they attribute to Iron Fist #30 who was actually able to make contact with them and tell them he was going to help them escape.

I hope that’s clear.  It’s pretty twisty to watch, and hard to explain. Basically, because the protagonist is trying to remain undercover, all his very risky attempts to help get attributed to other officer, so he is still considered a traitor by the people he supports, yet if he is any more overt, the cabal officer will kill him.

Again, I don’t think you could add in this complexity as you go.  The best way to write this (I think) is to start with a no-win situation: your protagonist is in a situation where if he acts overtly, he is killed; if he doesn’t act overtly, he betrays his principles.  What does he do? He tries to act *covertly*, right?  So how can we make those efforts not help? Add in another person who gets credit for it, *and* that person suspects him.  Okay, what kind of person would have the freedom to act *and* be in a position to matter in this sort of betrayal drama? A young officer who is the Commander’s favorite, highly principled and motivated.

Then  you just add in misunderstandings from there, working backward.

Well, time to see if it works.  I’ll report back in a later post, either way.

 

 

Upcoming release: Cirsova #9

I’ve got another project in the works and so I lost track of this, but better late than…too late. Glad HP reminded me.

Cirsova #9 and #10 are up on Kickstarter, and the funding project is in its final days. I’m taking this particular opportunity to plug because I’ve got a short story dropping in #9. It’s the tale of a pair of reptilian searchers, who must brave the perils of a dead city in the hope of unearthing ancient weapons and technology to aid their struggling tribe. If that sounds at all interesting to you, and/or if you’re curious about the kind of fiction that oozes from a mind like mine, be sure to get your claws on this.

e1af4d3f71f9c34677732332bdec3214_original

Now I’m a Cirsova fan (though I’ve made some perhaps harsh remarks about issue #1). I love what Alex is doing in fostering this kind of publication, and I’ve personally bought every issue that’s come out thus far. I admit, I’m behind in the actual reading (that reminds me that I also need to read more of Cirsova contributor Sky Hernstrom’s stuff in light of the praise he’s been drawing). So certainly, I am plugging this Kickstarter because I’ve got a stake in it. But rest assured I’d be buying issues #9 and #10 even were that not the case.

One last note – these issues are already funded and already happening. Backing the Kickstarter just gets you the next two issues and serves to fund the next round of Cirsova issues (should he raise enough cash). So backing doesn’t just mean buying these zines; it means supporting a budding scifi/fantasy publication amidst the decay of a dying industry.

-Bushi

bushi

Appendix N Review

It’s been a couple years now since my Epiphany. Voices from the Internet issued forth and said:

“Bushi. Much of the scifi and fantasy you have read has been comparative garbage.”

“Comparative to what?” I asked.

SLAH-WHAMO came the reply.

Since then I’ve grafted together other important lists and tables into something that’s pretty handy when rummaging through old books in secondhand shops. After all, Appendix N is only D&D’s list of inspirational reading, not an exhaustive list of all good classic SFF.

Has it really been only two years? I’m not nearly as prolific a reader as some of my blogging fellows, but it just feels like I’ve read more than two years worth of stuff.

Let me take this opportunity to look back on what’s now under my belt. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to limit myself to Appendix N here. Stuff I’ve read is in red, with some other notes included.

Anderson, Poul: THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS; THE HIGH CRUSADE; THE BROKEN SWORD

Bellairs, John: THE FACE IN THE FROST
Brackett, Leigh (I’ve covered three of the Stark stories and a number of assorted other short stories)
Brown, Frederic
Burroughs, Edgar Rice: “Pellucidar” series; Mars series; Venus series (I’ve read the first Pellucidar book and the first three Mars books; also Tarzan, which interesting isn’t included here)
Carter, Lin: “World’s End” series
de Camp, L. Sprague: LEST DARKNESS FALL; THE FALLIBLE FIEND; et al (Also read the Tritonian Ring)
de Camp & Pratt: “Harold Shea” series; THE CARNELIAN CUBE
Derleth, August
Dunsany, Lord
Farmer, P. J.: “The World of the Tiers” series; et al
Fox, Gardner: “Kothar” series; “Kyrik” series; et al
Howard, R. E.: “Conan” series (I’ve gotten to a lot of Conan, but not all of the stories yet. Huh. Another author with a lot of great stuff, and yet no Solomon Kane or Kull or Bran Mak Morn, which I also covered)
Lanier, Sterling: HIERO’S JOURNEY
Leiber, Fritz: “Fafhrd & Gray Mouser” series; et al (Check – Swords Against Death and Swords and Devilty)
Lovecraft, H. P. (What SFF fan worth his salt hasn’t read at least a few of his short stories?)
Merritt, A.: CREEP, SHADOW, CREEP; MOON POOL; DWELLERS IN THE MIRAGE; et al (I color him orange because I’ve only read one of his story stories in its entirety. Need to get to more)

Moorcock, Michael: STORMBRINGER; STEALER OF SOULS; “Hawkmoon” series (esp. the first three books) (Read Elric of Melnibone)
Norton, Andre
Offutt, Andrew J.: editor of SWORDS AGAINST DARKNESS III (Maybe I need to hunt down this magazine? Anyway I read his novel My Lord Barbarian)
Pratt, Fletcher: BLUE STAR; et al
Saberhagen, Fred: CHANGELING EARTH; et al (Have read Berserker)
St. Clair, Margaret: THE SHADOW PEOPLE; SIGN OF THE LABRYS
Tolkien, J. R. R.: THE HOBBIT; “Ring trilogy”
Vance, Jack: THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD; THE DYING EARTH; et al (Ah yes. These plus the first three Demon Prince novels, the first Alastor book, the Blue World,  the Grey Prince, and a number of miscellaneous short stories)
Weinbaum, Stanley
Wellman, Manley Wade
Williamson, Jack
Zelazny, Roger: JACK OF SHADOWS; “Amber” series; et al (I’ve read half the Amber books plus Dilvish, the Damned)

So I’ve covered more than half the Appendix N authors, and I’m sure I could have checked out more if I hadn’t been reading so much Howard and Vance. But they’re just so damn good…

At any rate, if you like the Forgotten Realms books and you think Drizzt is cool, go find Dilvish, the Damned or a Conan collection. I can’t in good conscience recommend The Dying Earth. You are not prepared, and your mind may not survive the magnitude of the blowing it will incur.

If you’re into scifi but are starting to feel like the Hunger Games is getting a little stale, try a Princess of Mars. If you’ve dipped 30 or 40 or 50 years back to Asimov and Heinlein, you’re getting close, but it gets even better. Check out Berserker! It’s a story about a fleet of Death Stars that fly around trying to exterminate all life! Pick up a collection of Leigh Brackett’s stuff. Did you know she wrote the first draft of the Empire Strikes Back?

If you think fantasy and scifi have to be separate genres, go read the High Crusade. Knights and footmen lobbing nuclear bombs at aliens — sooo good!

These are the lost classics! Seek them out!

Do it for Dejah Thoris, daughter of Jeddacks

.dejah-thoris-1-333x500

-Bushi

bushi

 

“Salad Undressing”, Intermittent Short Fiction by Gitabushi

  • by Gitabushi

Originally done live on Twitter. I came up with the idea, a few tweets in the middle, and an ending, and then just went with it.  I kinda like Twitter for short fiction.  Dividing ideas up into individual tweets certainly paces the unfolding of information, and it can be used to good effect, I think.  But I’m not sure if it works as well out of Twitter.  I’ve added the breaks to try to give that same feel.  Without further ado:

 

I finally developed my Mutant Superpower.

After reading the X-Men comic books, and Spider Man, and the Fantastic Four, I had yearned for my mutant awakening.

Something to confirm my uniqueness in the world, something to justify my sense of isolation.

The day has finally arrived. The moment I’ve longed for and dreamt of for so long is finally here.

Unfortunately, my superpower is the ability to put just the right amount of vinegar-based salad dressing onto a salad so that there is enough flavor while eating, but isn’t a pool of dressing at the bottom when you are finished.

man holding clear glass bottle
Photo by Peter Fazekas on Pexels.com

When my parents found out, they threw me out of the basement. I lost my job. I was shunned. My friends laughed at me, but I could see the terror, lurking in their eyes, behind the rictus of mocking smiles.

My dream had manifested, but at what price?

I struggled. I tried to find other, more socially-acceptable applications of this superpowered curse. I tried to match the right amount of chips to salsa. I tried to make sure you finished the shrimp with the last bit of cocktail sauce.

No luck.

I was undone.

Rejected by society, I wandered the streets accompanied by the jeers of the unsympathetic. They threw rocks. Tomatoes. Radishes. Lettuce.

And even bottles of salad dressing.

But never vinaigrette. Never vinaigrette.

I bottomed out. I considered suicide. I turned to distractions, trying desperately to find acceptance among society’s dregs, like Live Action Role Playing groups.

I finally realized that as my life has become hell, I should embrace it. I sought out pain, and frustration, and foul smells, and risked collision, fire, and asphyxiation.

I rode the DC Metro.

They say life is always darkest before the dawn.

The DC Metro never sees the sunrise.

But in this thick blanket of darkness, among this miasma of urine, amid the non-functional escalators, I have found hope.

A help wanted ad.

…for Summer’s Eve.

The End

Forever Warring

I read the Forever War a month-or-two-ish ago and shared a few comments. Although it’s no longer fresh in my mind, I’d like to mention some further thoughts before it all fades beyond recall or desire!

*Spoilers Ahoy*

In a lot of ways Haldeman’s military scifi story reminded me of Starship Troopers. Ironically, though a lot of Heinlein’s work is often weirdly sexualized, I don’t remember Starship Troopers suffering from this problem. I say “ironically” because Forever War does include quite a bit of sexuality.

It didn’t turn me off as much as, say, Glory Road’s sexual stuff did. Maybe this is because in Forever War it seems more intended to serve the story rather than to satisfy some lewd dream of the author.

It was quite shocking, especially considering this was written in the 70’s and not in 20XX.

Eventually everyone on earth is gay and the protagonist and other old war fossils like him are the deviants. Quite a turn. Wonder how far off from reality, though.

Later on he finds even his mother has gone gay. You can see this stuff bothers him, but part of me wanted to see the reaction of a normal, red-blooded soldier without all the hippie “tolerance.” I imagine things would have gotten more explosive and probably not gone so well for him.

An interesting, though somewhat wonky, concept is the idea of a global economy based on calories (k) as currency. There area few points where Haldeman goes back and forth between calories and dollars, so that is a little inconsistent.

Look, Apple Pay!

Ah taxes.

The most chilling part of the story is the result of socialized healthcare operating with limited resources. People become numbers.

Damn.

Well, the story wraps up on a happier note. The war, it turns out, was all based upon a (silly?) misunderstanding! Now the glorious clone empire reigns supreme, and all it wants is to make everyone happy!

Eh, at least the main guy (I’m not sure if he’s a hero) gets the girl in the end.

Not exactly an uplifting read, but there’s a lot to appreciate here, if even just the eerily prescient-seeming dystopian notes it hits.

-Bushi

bushi