Month: July 2017

Government structures are reactionary

One thing you will be doing when writing Science Fiction is creating governments, something that I think is not done as well as it could be. Often writers just take current governments, scale them up then transplant them. This I think is a wasted opportunity.

One lesson that history teaches is that when a people are writing a constitution, and deciding what basic shape their society should take it is almost certainly going to be reactionary. People are going to see the problems they had with the previous government and want to avoid them. The entire US Bill of Rights is written in this way, each one is something that the British did that the colonies did not like and did not want to happen ever again.

That in fact was why the US’s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, gave the federal government almost no power. It could not even tax, the only source of income it had was from selling land it owned.

To understand the reasoning for the new government all you have to understand is what the sentiment is for the old one. This is why I say that government structures are reactionary, they almost always reflect what the people don’t want to see again.

The point of the post is this; If a people were starting a colony and were mostly happy where they were from I would expect to see them create a government similar to their home. However the odds are they would not be, you don’t become a colonist if you’re happy and content with life were you were born. If your leaving everything you know you have to have a good reason, it could be anything from too much religious freedom (pilgrims) to wanting more upward mobility (much of the early American immigrants) to almost anything else.

So when your talking about setting up a new government think about what problems the first generation had with its previous government, think about what they disliked and why they left. This is where you can get a lot of drama and some real world building.

Religious colonies are nothing new, all you have to do is open a history book to see examples, I think going in directions that are new would be more interesting. Even within the confines of a representative republic there is a lot of room for new and interesting governments.

Maybe a nation was founded by people who hate large corporations and don’t want them to form. How would they do that? And just as importantly what problems would that cause? How do they deal with colonies from other systems?

Or a colony was founded by the super rich who want a place away from taxes and oversight. They might create a system where bills are voted on by money, or your vote counts for more if your richer.

All government systems are flawed, no matter the one in place a large number of people will dislike it. And never forget your a writer, you want problems, even small ones can be useful.

REVIEW: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (6/10 stars)

First the effects are amazing, both from the technical point of view and the artistic. You really do get the sense of a whole world that is only somewhat like ours.

The best analogy I can think of is Jupiter Rising, except it was done much better.

The basic plot does meander, several times the main characters veer to an area that had no effect on the main plot and does not tell you anything you have to know. This is done because the movie obviously values world building as much as it does plot. Despite this it does not and probably could not explain everything, or even most things.

For example it is never explained how Valerian could be a major with at least nine years of experience. It is implied at one point that they can put you in a box and de-age you but it is never said. The way the main characters are treated also implies this, their age is never remarked upon, they appear to be normal agents from how others interact with them. It could be that age is cosmetic, you are literally as young as you want to be.

The world that the movie builds is very large and complicated with a large amount of technology that is so far above us it might as well be magic. Trying to tell us what they all are and what they all do would not be practical.

Honestly the main problem I have with the movie is with the chemistry between the main characters, or the lack of it. It was established that Valerian does value his partner and would risk anything to save her just because she is his partner. At best it comes as more of a intellectual attraction then anything else.

When all is said and done however I just don’t think the whole romance sub plot was needed. The purpose of romance in such a movie is normally as a driver for the plot, to provide a reason for the characters to be moving in the directions they are moving. In this case it was not needed.

I would recommend that you see the movie if the art and world building look interesting. If you looking for a character piece or a logic puzzle then I would probably wait for it to come to Netflix.

On IMBD

Aliens

Often what writers do when they try and make aliens really alien is to make them incomprehensible, they act is ways that don’t make any sense to the characters. This will often fall flat, there are certain things that even aliens must have if they have a technological civilization (Note that if a race was uplifted these need not apply).

First they must have a survival instinct, if they give up on life too easily they would hardly still exist.

They also must have a sense of community, a need for social contact. You can’t build a civilization working by yourself. They would almost certainly have to raise their kids.

Third and most important they must be curious, if they are not they would never do any science, they might never even get to the fire and wheels stage.

They also have to be both intelligent and rational enough to do the science and engineering needed to get out into space. We may meet aliens that we can’t have a talk about love with, but I doubt we will meet aliens we can’t talk about math with.

The thing is though that your aliens need to be different, but still have the above and still able to interact with humans to some degree (or they would probably not exist in your story).

For my money there are really only two things you need to decide; goals and motives. Everything else will take care of itself.

First give your aliens some goal, something that we can understand, but may not know, something we would not do ourselves. For example the Borg in Star Trek have a simple goal “Multiply” that is really it, everything they do supports that one goal.

Their motive is “To achieve perfection” not that they define perfection like we do, but they don’t have to think like we do.

One of the reasons the borg are so effective as villains is that you know why are doing what they are and that they will never stop. They are a force of nature that you can’t even hope to reason with.

There are any number of motives and goals you could give your aliens but the most important thing is that YOU understand them. You don’t have to tell the reader but if you don’t understand them then they will probably not make any sense to anyone. As a rule simple is best, it should be something that can be expressed in one sentence.

One way to get across this difference when dealing with them on screen is the way they talk. Don’t have them talk like a human, have it clear that whatever is translating is having to work hard. The best example of this I can think of is the Vorlons from Babylon 5. When they speak you hear a set of almost musical notes then something like “The avalanche has already started, it is too late for the pebbles to vote”.

You don’t have to go that far but it should be clear that the person talking is not human even if they are using a translator.

Why are you in space?

When writing a science fiction one thing that has to be addressed is why are people in space? Getting to space is very costly after all.

While I would love to think that we could and will have a large moonbase for purely scientific reasons I doubt that will happen. Given the costs involved too many people would object.

If you want it to make sense for us to be in space and stay there you need to come with a good set of reasons.

The first, and honestly best, would be economic. For example in my book the reasons humans got into space to start with was that the crystals for optical computers could only be grown in zero gravity.

Now the problem with making things in orbit is that it costs a lot, mostly because everything has to be shipped up earth’s gravity well. You also are limited by the bottleneck of earth’s launch capabilities, it could take decades to increase them by a real amount.

That is why past a certain point it would make sense to either set up a moon base or drag an asteroid to high earth orbit.

This brings up the second economic reason to got to space, raw materials. If your in orbit of earth or on the moon it’s cheap to shoot ore down to earth.

You would reach a tipping point however, once you have an easy way to orbit (space elevator, orbital ring, rail gun launcher plus skyhook. Lots of options) and can do manufacturing in space the cost would be cut to almost nothing. At this point the only thing you might bring to space is people.

The second set of reasons would be military. A fact that few people really acknowledge is that if one nation controlled space they could not be fought. If you had a thriving space industry and your enemy did not they would not be able to win any kind of war. You could hit their cities with cheap bombs that would wipe the city out. You would see anything they do coming and they would have to rely on planes for surveillance.

One idea that pops up here and there is that the earth is dying and we need a colony on Mars (or sometimes the moon) to survive. So we put all the effort we can into creating the base to save the human race.

While I have read some good fiction with this idea I think the amount of effort needed to get to Mars is underestimated and the effort needed to survive on earth is overestimated. Setting up a colony on Mars that would be able to survive cut off from the earth forever would require a very large amount of resources. You would not only need to have the base in a location with raw materials, you would need the machinery and expertise to create everything from microchips to rockets. Unless we are talking about thousands of people there would be some specialties that you just could not have.

Think about how big the ISS is, now think about how much material you would need to send to mars. You could burn through a decade of launches just sending 100 people and machinery to mars.

The other side of the coin is how much the earth would have to change for such an effort to be needful. Even if our atmosphere become unbreathable and all the plants and animals died it still would be much easier to live on earth. Whatever happened to the earth it would have to be something that would not even let humans live in reinforced domes using greenhouses to grow food.