1. The Bee
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    The Bee New Member

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    Things You Do and Don't Want to See in Sci-Fi

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by The Bee, May 28, 2013.

    Okay, I'm attempting to outline a Sci-Fi story. I'm unsure of what my plans are with it currently since I'm in the beginning stages of planning. I'm not, by any means, an expert on writing Sci-Fi. So I figured that while I'm in the early planning stages, I might ask you guys a few questions to help me along, and give me ideas on what I should and shouldn't put in my story.

    So: What are some things you don't want to see in a Sci-Fi story, and what are some things you do want to see?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    What I don't like in Sci-Fi

    1) Magic. Magic is why Star Wars is not really sci-fi.
    2) Too much gloss. Back in the golden era of sci-fi it was fine to create quantum drive engines and magic replicators. The reader is more savvy these days. They want realism.

    What I do like in Sci-Fi

    1) There was a time when the purpose of sci-fi, outside of its pulp fiction form, was as a venue to discuss parts of the human experience in a tightly focused fashion because the venue allowed you to step away from 'reality' and distort certain aspects of the story into a lens to view the concept up for discussion.
     
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  3. Kingtype
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    Kingtype Always writing or thinking things XD Staff Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    There's magic in Star Wars?

    Then again I've never read the EU or watched the movies in years.

    But the force counts as magic?
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Replace C3PO and R2D2 with an elf and a dwarf and it's LotR in space. Swords, sorcery, knights, princesses in distress... It's a high-fantasy story that walked into the wrong wardrobe department. :) And yes, the Force is totally magic. ;)
     
  5. The Bee
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    The Bee New Member

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    Wow, I never thought about Star Wars that way. Interesting!

    And thank you for the pointers, too. It's giving me a few things to think about.
     
  6. TheLeonard112
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    TheLeonard112 Sūpākūru Senpai

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    Yeah magic in sci-fi is somewhat out of place to me.

    Other things I don't like seeing is generic, copy and paste stories. But that applies to every genre.

    As for realism, yes. Trying to get as much realism as possible in there. Whether it is according to popular belief and actual science, get it somewhere in between.

    But in Sci-fi as in fantasy, make your world feel expansive. You always want it to feel like you could go somewhere and be part of the same story.
     
  7. Kingtype
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    Kingtype Always writing or thinking things XD Staff Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    Oh

    I guess it could be viewed as such :D which I see now.

    But um princesses, swords and knights (space knights or something) aren't allowed in Sci-Fi? I could understand the sorcery part making something not Sci-Fi but the other things not so much.

    I'm just trying to form a distinction of when things stop being Sci-Fi and starts being fantasy. I mean if Star Wars is high fantasy what else is?:confused:

    I don't do a lot of Sci-Fi genres unless Quantum Leap and Doctor Who counts as Sci-Fi (Which I thought they did until now)and I'm a massive fan of those two shows.
     
  8. Allan Paas
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    Allan Paas Contributing Member

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    Sci-fi must have things explained to a sufficient level. Saying "it simply is so", or having things working, guess what, as if by magic is not enough - that's fantasy's department.
    One that annoys me the most is anything that involves time-travel... because it is not sci-fi, it is fantasy. Every time I see time or time-travel mentioned I get slightly pissed at how dumb some people can be. Sci-fi is supposed to be, when talking scientifically and technologically, about possibilities not impossibilities.
     
  9. Kingtype
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    Kingtype Always writing or thinking things XD Staff Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    Oh.

    I get it thanks for the explanation. :)

    I guess this probably means I'm a fantasy writer (And crime on the side). Oh well that was a fun lesson.
     
  10. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Disclaimer: these are just personal preferences/subjective opinions, no intent to insult anybody.


    Don't like:
    -Aliens (except the aliens from the Alien and Aliens movies). They're practically always these cheezy mixtures of humans and animals/insects/plants, i.e. stuff we have here on Earth. Boring. Why can't people come up with something original for a change? Something we don't have on Earth? Is that too much to ask? We don't need another half-spirit, half-snake, half-man-bird.
    -Faux-science. Self-explanatory.
    -Resurrection technology/magic/whatever: please, when you kill a protagonist, kill him/her, don't be so hung up on them that you always resurrect them just because you can't let go of them. It drains all the excitement from the story because the reader then knows the characters are essentially invincible: if they die on a mission, they'll just be revived later on. Boring.


    Do like:
    -Realism. The author knows their physics and whatever science they include in the story.
    -Non-perfect i.e. realistic characters. The Valor-series would've been better if the MC would've had even one real fault, but she was way too perfect. That's why I could never really relate to her and it also took away a lot of excitement because I knew that whatever obstacles she faced, she would ace it or at least survive with no worse injuries than a couple of scratches and a bruise or two. Ironically, my sci-fi MC I tried to make faulty ended up being criticized for being too perfect. In my defense, at least I put her through hell, and she does get hurt over the course of her adventures, badly.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Arthur C Clarke wrote that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    A corollary to that could be to keep your technology in science fiction within reasonable extrapolations from modern science unless you want your science fiction to be rightly considered fantasy.
     
  12. The Bee
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    The Bee New Member

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    I mean, sometimes when Google brings up exactly what I mean to research without knowing the best way to word the search itself...I think that is magic. ;D
     
  13. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Though Cogito quotes the master to the letter, I can think of few authors who more perfectly epitomize the idea of not letting the science take over the fiction. Clarke was an actual scientist, he invented the telecommunications satellite, and his work reflects a restraint and economy many authors today are missing. His works would be a terrific place to start if you want to get your feet wet in the genre. Larry Niven is another one who used the true limitations of real science to drive his stories instead of inventing farfetched nonsense. Look for his older works in his Known Space era. They're novellas by today's standards, so quick reads.
     
  14. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't like magic (that makes a story fantasy, not sci-fi). I also don't like time travel, and for the same reason: it's an easy way out of anything. Your MC is in trouble? No problem - he pulls out the Mystic Gem of Argleblat and poof! everything is fine again. The world is about to be destroyed? No problem - your MC just goes back in time to before the villain activated the Ultimate Death Bomb and stops him. It's just too easy. Also, both magic and time travel are scientifically implausible.

    Here's what I do like:

    - Scientific plausibility (I don't mind faster-than-light travel, even though it's impossible according to current science. Sometimes you just have to get your characters to an alien planet for the story's sake, and story, in fiction, trumps science.)

    - Human characters dealing with highly-unusual situations. Science fiction allows writers to challenge their own, and their readers', humanity in ways that most available ordinary experience cannot. Often, writers can use science fiction as a shortcut, if you will, to get to human truths in a direct way - a way that might not be possible without what science fiction offers. For example, read "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes, or "The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin. Science fiction, at its best, makes you look up from the page and stare off into space, lost in a human problem humans don't normally encounter.

    - A sense of wonder. I confess to being a traditionalist here. When I was growing up, science fiction blew my mind regularly with dazzling possibilities for the future. Nowadays, I think, there are far too many dystopian visions out there; it's as if science fiction is just telling us we're all doomed. I prefer the kind of science fiction that presents positive futures, science fiction that says our best days are still ahead.
     
  15. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    Some of what I'm going to say are things that have already been said but I figure I may as well give my two cents since I like scifi quite a bit.

    Realism- I think for science fiction to be good there has to be some basis in reality and the realm of what is scientifically possible. I don't think it's a bad idea to bend the rules though. ;)

    No magic- Magic is fantasy not science fiction. Science fiction is crazy tech that we could only dream about at this point.

    Loopholes- Tech that can get you out of any bad situation is not something I like. It's too easy and it lowers the stakes. Give some checks and balances. Say if time travel is possible that there are strict rules around it or you could collapse reality if you change things too much.

    Unusual situations- I enjoy scifi because it gives you an opportunity to see people in some really strange situations your average person would never dream of encountering.

    And definitely A sense of wonder- This is one of the things I enjoy about scifi the most. I love seeing what could be. What could be is full of potential whereas what may have been is not.
     
  16. ProsonicLive
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    ProsonicLive Senior Member

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    My Hat is off to you in your en devour. Sci-fi is one of those things that can be either epic or falls on it's face.

    The Juggling act- Sci-fi requires explanation nowadays. That said, do not bore us with something too long winded and tech sounding. An example is this: The Thanix canon was develpoed by the Tera-novan colony Barkresh in 2248. It has a maximum yield of 320 megatons of force per round. It's projectile travels at 12.8 times the speed of light. Most people that have seen the Thanix cannon assume that it is a laser canon. In fact, It's projectile is that of molten tungsten alloy. Its size and power require that nothing but the most powerful of vessels with the most efficient of cooling systems use it. The Thanix can be fire up to once every 30.3 seconds. The next drawback of the Thanix is that it requires so much of a power draw that using secondary weapons is not recommended due to heat expenditure. Use while in any condition that is not in space, is a definite risk as the thanix has been know to ignite entire atmospheres

    2 Colin walked into the room with sharp. "I picked up something planetside."
    "oh yeah? whats that?"
    "a Thanix"
    "a What?"
    "big Boom boom"
    "okay now you have my attention. what is it and why should I give a damn?"
    "Developed on Berkesh During the gooseneck incident. The Vaylens had sheilds that could withstand multiple hammer strikes. So they came up with this and called it 'the suicide canon' because you only got two shots per minuite and during that period you were open wider than Titan's rift until you cooled down. But it packs a Hell of a punch."
    "how big of a punch?" Colin asked, now sounding concerned for the saftey of the crew
    Sharp look blankly at Colin trying to emphasis the grandure of what he was about to say.
    "The bombs used in World War 2 together only equated roughly 26 KILOtons You are looking at a non-nuclear weapon that has a 'make you shit your pants' factor of twenty four times Hiroshima twice per minute. Put another way, if you are above earth and shot this thing, you would give some poor bastard on Titan shell shock. If you ever wonder why Venus is mostly black now, its because someone fired this damn thing inside the atmosphere."
    cole thought for a second, then looked at Sharp and in a dismissive tone commented
    "I think I will call her 'Betty"
    The difference is telling a story while being informative.

    The "hu?" factor- Sci-fi is best when it breaks precidents and challenges perceptions. For example; Is it possible there is a benift to using a regular gun over a laser? the answer is yes. REAL lasers in any form emit heat and no light unless through smoke. would produce no recoil and would be VERY accurate. This is actually a simple concept and the more simple you can make things
    the better they read. when you reach to far to be "spacy" we loose touch. so stay away from using too many self-defined words.

    Depth- Both in charachter depth and story scope, i have seen too many writers fall into the void by not giving their characters personalities that are believable. Write these characters as fallible. No character is a real Paladin, and evil does not know when it is evil. Recognize that no story is one-sided.

    humor-I do not see a lot of humor in sci-fi. It really detracts from the story. you can have a serious story and a serious character do or say funny things without breaking the serious feel.

    stay away from corny- Stargate beat that horse to death with a mace

    add politics- a great way to add depth
    dont get wrapped up in politics- a very good example of a bad idea see "dune"
    try to stay away from calling any current religion as "was proved wrong" or referring to them as "myths"-
    you have no way of knowing what faith your reader is and how much they may get upset. Additionally, It does not add that much to a story.

    Verse yourself in military tactics that are used now. Odds are, they do not change much.
    Do not totally re-write the periodic table of elements-its a cheap way of saying "I have no idea how this is happening"
    It is okay to add a few if you REALLY need to.

    if element in your story has no practical application or no downside...there is something wrong.

    these are just my opinions, I just happen to get very passionate aboutthe current state of sci-fi.
    I wish you the best of luck and thank you for suck an awesome thread
     
  17. Michael O
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    Michael O Contributing Member

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    Hmm...Totally magic he says it is. Only Sith Lords deal in absolutes.

    Seriously, I see your point, made for the young at mind and no doubt saw a take-off of the 7 Dwarfs going to work in one episode. Almost expected to hear them whistle Hi-Ho.

    But must now test you...What's Dune? (The trilogy only)
     
  18. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm sorry, but don't you find asking this a little... limiting? You ask what we do like and don't like, as if you were catering your story to us instead of writing what you like yourself. What if you wanted to write a space opera with something like artificial gravity, and a bunch of people here say they don't like magic and non-realism? What are your options, then, if you want to be realistic but because of that your characters end up hanging around in zero g, which may lead to unpredictable changes in their cellular and bone structure, and the heroes suffer of Osteoporosis before they get to fight their first aliens. If I knew that a bunch of people would think my story has ridiculous elements -- even if I like them myself -- it would gnaw at my confidence...

    Anyway.

    As for what I think is a big DO in sci-fi, whether it takes place on Earth or in space, whether you use "magic" or not, is being concise. If you come up with some fancy new piece of technology, think carefully how it's made and what kind of other technologies it allows. It will be strange if you have, like, quantum computers, but quantum technology isn't used anywhere else.

    I don't personally like Artificial Intelligences if they are too intelligent. The human brain is a funky thing, and I don't think you can just go and replicate it and stuff it in a factory-made robot body. How will the AI learn, for example? And if it can't learn, how will it get by, especially if your world is dangerous (danger being rather elemental in sci-fi)? What if humans came up with a new parking rule for their hover-cars, you forgot to update your android, and it brings you a hefty fine back home with the groceries.

    Then again, I do like it when the wonder of sci-fi is rooted in science. That's why it's called science fiction, you expand the possibilities of the science we have nowadays to tell a wonderful story. But people have their pet peeves, and to me AI is one. There's a bunch of other stuff I'm willing to give leeway, like machine-generated gravity, cyborgs and faster-than-light space travel.
     
  19. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    1. A good enough writer should be able to make almost anything sound believable

    2. Most readers won't know the difference between Jargon and real science, anyway. Even if you're a professor of say, biology, you can't presume to be an expert in, say, physics. There are simply too many routes to get to a particular invention, including phenomena we can't understand.

    3. The amount of technical explanation required to thoroughly explain something would be lost on most readers. Throwing around terms, like megaton, or ion jet drive, doesn't make the story any more technical.

    4. Science describes the observed laws of the physical world. In fiction, you have the liberty to add whatever premises you want, but as long as you work with those premises systemically, I don't see any other limitations on what you can and cannot write about that can't be categorized as science fiction. The Time Machine by H.G Wells IS science fiction, imo one of the greatest.\

    Just like in real science, you have to keep an open mind. After all, Nikola Tesla wasn't referred to as a wizard for nothing.
     
  20. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    My likes/dislikes:


    Dislikes:

    1. Regurgitation of technical jargon, especially in military sci fi. Jump drive. Got it.... -_-
    2. I think even harder than predicting new technology is predicting biology. Therefore, I see no scientific reason to create the most grotesque, inhuman alien life forms you can think of. I like to be able to eat when I read, thank you.

    Likes.

    1. Like some of the posters above, I think the single most important thing about science fiction is its speculative nature. We can explore profound questions regarding humanity in all its many facets. To be honest, I'd say stories that lack a speculative nature are more like fantasy than anything else.

    After all, if I write a story about awesome space ships by slinging together some jargon, does that really make my story science fiction? Even its "scientifically plausible ", if I don't delve deeply into the mechanics, don't speculate on the profound effects of the technology, but instead merely exploit it for spectacle, what exacly am I offering to the reader that's so scientific? That's fantasy.
     
  21. ProsonicLive
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    ProsonicLive Senior Member

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    Micheal O, Dune is a long winded (very long...oh god is this over yet?) version of D&D as well because look at the core elements with star wars. important dessert planet, strangely-still-pale white kids living in said dessert who hale from an important dad. A princess. a sorcerer. space battles, a 'chosen one' concept. giant worms who look identical. the only thing missing from dune is the force and Han solo who I suppose you could make an argument that could be Duncan Idaho. and if I am not mistakken the bene gesuites used magic.
     
  22. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Hahaha! :) Though I see the point you make with your questioned comparison, this is apples to oranges, for me. Star Wars started life as cinema, and though it has attempted to find a theme as it has grown, juggernaut of the galaxy that it is, it has never really found a framework and the latest batch of films only served to Hasbro-fy the franchise. It is Space Opera at it's melodramatic finest, so it's inclusion of magic as a diving element was not excusable. For me.

    Dune, on the other hand, has a true theme. It's about resource allocation. The haves, the have-nots, the arbitrariness of value and the value of arbitrariness. The series that Herbert wrote contemporary with the Dune cycle, the Voidship novels, are also very much about resource allocation. He was all up in it at the time. Is there magic in Dune? Of course there is. Was I willing to forgive it? Of course I was. Bene Gesserit Reverend Mothers do what they do based on training and elements belonging to the physical universe. The Quisatz Haderach, not so much, but representation of Religion as an epistemology to be valued (or not) was crucial in the complete layout of this story. And, you know, he can't just be a dowdy priest. Gotta' trick'im up! :) Hell, I was even willing to forgive his heinous treatment of Baron Harkonen, the baddie of the book. He just haaaad to be the one gay character in the story, and a rather disgusting stereotypically lecherous one to boot. As a gay person myself, that kind of forgiveness is not easily had from me.

    And though Star Wars is cinema, under no circumstances am I using the cinematic version of Dune in my comparison. That film was an abomination. Lynch got the tone and color right, but he blew the story line right down the back of his leg.
     
  23. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It's known territory that Star Wars ripped a bunch of elements from the Dune, which had been published 10 year prior. The elements they thought they could make into neato plastic toys for kids. ;)
     
  24. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is what I was trying to get at in my long winded posts.

    Unless the proposed technology/phenomena is explained extensively and explicitly, from theory down to its actual fabrication, and all those details are at least somewhat acknowledged by the scientific community, it might as well be magic.

    What distinguishes sci fi from just fantasy is that sci fi exploits an imaginary technology/phenomenon either as a lens with which to view some aspect of humanity or as a vehicle to conduct a particular thought experiment.

    Even without those scarce magical elements in Ice and Fire series, George RR Martin's books would still be fantasy. Why? Because, like in many sci fi stories, the setting, time period, and characters are imaginary, but, the story is told for pure entertainment. There is not so much of a philosophical value with which we can apply to our own lives.

    From the beginning of the Time Machine, the reader is made aware that something profound and important has happened to the main character, something pertinent to our world. Though the future in the story is imaginary, it runs with a basic truth about human society in general, the dichotomy between the haves and have nots.
     
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  25. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    See how we are on the same page, you and I? ;)
     

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