Month: January 2018

Gender and Age

Gender and age effect everything about almost every human interaction. This is not something you can get around, well unless your writing about people who are not human, or who have been altered or something of course. If that is what your doing feel free to ignore me in this case.

First I am not saying your can’t or should not have one gender doing things they normally don’t (say a women become infantry in the army, or a man become a daycare worker), or go against the norms in some fashion. You can and often should do that, characters in books tend not to be typical. It does effect things, same as if your characters was albino would effect things. But that is hardly a reason to not do it.

What I am talking about is how characters interrelate and interact. Even a man who is happily married and has no wish to cheat on his wife will treat attractive women differently then he would a man.

Think of a simple scenario, like a person stopping you on the street by gripping your arm tightly and asking directions. You would respond differently if the person was a old vs young, and male vs female. It may not be much differently, but it will be there.

Ideally you want things like age and gender to be ingrained into the characters such that you could remove all direct callbacks to either age or gender and it would still be clear (at least if you knew the POV character well enough). This in fact is one subtle way to character build, how they treat various kinds of strangers.

Importance and unimportance of older stories

One thing every writer should do is read outside what they write, if you write hard science fiction you should read more then hard science fiction published recently.

This is important first to give you a deeper bag of tricks, similar to how knowing history is important. You don’t want to just repeat what all your direct competition is doing after all.

I have always loved mythology, one thing I find fascinating is how different the themes are. The theme of the Odyssey is humility before the gods. That is not a theme your likely to find in modern books in the west. Nor for example would a book where the message is that you should trust the government.

All of that said, you do need to keep in mind you are trying to sell a product. You don’t want to model your book after one published fifty years ago, even one that was a best seller.

I love the Lensmen books, but I would never try and sell books that short today.

Review: World Swappers (4/5 stars)

World Swappers is an early work by Brunner. It is short and dense in the same way a lot of books written in the forties or the fifties tend to be. It has several threads, and a fast pace but does not leave you behind.

I will say that the characters do sometimes lack depth, it is definitely an early work, none the less it is a good book that I have re-read a couple times over the years.

The book is set several centuries past us developed the first FTL ships, and when dozens of worlds were colonized.

It’s about two people/organizations who are both trying to solve the same problem, even if one does not realize it.

The first is Bassett, a business man who under normal conditions would be the top guy on earth after he puts in his time (a few more decades) he could then spend the latter half of his life as the de-facto ruler.

The second is Counce, centuries before the book started, just as humans were going in the stars, he discovered how to build the Transfax by accident. The Transfax is a teleporter then can go between stars, and can even change matter to other forms. It could end hunger, and disease, providing anything anyone ever wanted for practically nothing.

However he realized quickly after he build the first one that it could also end mankind, even in theory you could not shield from someone sending a bomb to you via Transfax. So long as you know where your enemy was you could kill him, and once the Transfax was out you could easily make more of them. To let everyone have it could mean the end of mankind, to let no one have it would be a breach of his duty to his fellow man.

He decided to compromise. He founded an organization, selecting the best people he could find to use the Transfax to help in what ways they could without revealing that it exists. They could play the long game because they could use it to come back from death and to reverse old age. They also used psychological modeling to make sure they got no bad eggs.

It is a very interesting book, partly because it has such a optimistic view of mankind via Counce and his people. Yet on the other side you have Basset and other such horrible people. It shows that a book does not need to be wholly optimistic or pessimistic, it can be both.

on Goodreads

Human Aliens

One thing that was much more common in the fifties then it is today, at least in books, is what I call human aliens. These are aliens that look and act human to a degree that they could easily pass as one.

In TV and movies this is done for practical reasons, even Babylon 5 did it. Any number of good stories would not work if every alien was so different that it took years to understand them, and years longer to have a real conversation.

To that end if you do use it there really are only two ways to have it make any sense.

First, convergent evolution. This means that if you have two planets with the same conditions, and both develop intelligent life, they would look and act the same.

From a current science point of view, this just does not work. It would require EVERYTHING about us to be forced that way by evolution. There are just too many things that could have gone any number of ways. For example, do we really need five toes? Why not six? If aliens on a very earthlike planet also had five that would mean there was a strong evolutionary reason for exactly five.

That said the storyteller in me does like the idea, it means you can find aliens that might as well be human on the other side of the galaxy.

I would note that you should not make any two races EXACTLY the same, have at least some difference between them, even if it’s just skin or hair color.

Second is a common origin.

This one has less use by far, and is generally the center of a book, rather then being background info inside it.

This could mean that humans did not come from earth or that humans left earth before and we lost all of our technologies and had to start over.

To be honestly, neither of the above holds much water scientifically. It would take a VERY long time for the signs of a space faring society to be removed from a planet, like well past what it would take to make those technologies again.

If we did not come from earth you would almost have to have earth’s whole biosphere (maybe even including fossils) be transplanted too.

A much better way, at least in keeping with what we know scientifically, would be to have a third party involved. Meaning someone came to many planets and nudged life in the same direction, making it look like evolution. Or maybe they took humans from earth and planted them elsewhere, if it happened before written history then we would not know.