Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Science Fiction that Kids Love

Not that I'm an authority on what children love about sci-fi adventure, but it's one of those global phenomena that bears closer inspection. My main sources of data are my two sons, aged 7 and 9, who have been Star Wars(r)  fans for as long as they could lisp 'Pew, pew!' and wave a piece of Duplo Lego (r) .

Yes, it has a lot to do with those annoying little  (r) symbols - the commercialisation of playtime. But look at it through the child's eyes without so much cynicism: 'It's so cooool! I am only a fairly small person, but here I am swept into a huge adventure where giant-sized heroes and villains battle it out - and in space! With loud laser bolts, huge spaceships and stuff.'

A scene from the latest epic the boys and I are producing: "Too Many Droids" !!

But is it so different from swords and dragons? Is it actually 'science' fiction at all?

There is still quite a element of futurity, of techy stuff, even in Star Wars which is so notorious for unscience. (eg. Han Solo has this unfortunate line shoved in his mouth when boasting about his ship's speed, something like: 'She's the only ship to have done the Kessel Run in under 3 parsecs.')  I've ended up chatting with the boys about androids, light-years, fusion, and all that, because the words are sprinkled into Star Wars the same way I heedlessly fling oregano over everything I cook. Good science fiction is a kind of innoculation against future-shock. So when they're teenagers or in their 20s and riding in driverless cars and living perhaps through the AI singularity and so on, they'll tell each other, 'We knew about all this when we were little!' And perhaps the future won't be such a scary place to live.

As I write for mid-grade and YA, I have felt a certain amount of responsibility how I make the story world and set my characters romping into orbit. Some of us adults may feel that technology is nibbling away at our humanity, or twisting it into new and frightening shapes, but I don't feel a compulsion to paint it that way in my story. So I ease off on the half-human, half-robotic cyborgs; I let the people pilot their spacecraft even though computers are already doing a better job than most of us could do, here in the 21st century.

I think I can see something! It's a...
A great deal of good science fiction is about looking ahead. For the future to be a good place to live, where people still care for each other, we have to make good choices now - we as voters, as consumers who buy so much electronic stuff, as scientists - and we need to encourage our kids towards better choices. Often in our family this includes saying 'no'. There are so, so many dark places out there in the catacombs and battlefields of kids' SF. Just see the games on sale, the movies some watch. To create something brighter, to pass a flaming torch of inspiration into their eager hands, that's what I want to do. But to do that I need to keep feeding my soul on the light. You can't give people what you don't have.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Blog Etiquette

Perhaps blogs have been left behind in the dust of Facebook and Twitter, those children of brevity and (often but not always) shallowness, but I think not. I think there are many people out on the cyberavenues who are glad to dally long enough to read a blog post, perhaps actually think about something meaningful, before passing onwards to the next click.
If you still value blogs and other forms of more solid content on the internet, then hear my plea! Cultivate us bloggers! Here are a few ways you can do that.
  • Leave Comments! This could easily be points one, two and three, but I'll spare you that artless form of emphasis. Even if you say nothing but 'Hi!' it will encourage a writer to keep on crafting words for you. If you find a thought-provoking post, be the first to comment - perhaps you'll start a lively debate!
  • If you disagree or dislike what the blogger is saying, then go ahead and tell them... but use at least the same tact and consideration you would if talking face-to-face with someone you respect.
  • Mention good posts elsewhere. Spread the good stuff around! Just copy the link from the address bar, and paste it into your next Facebook thing. Or if you Twitter, look up 'bitly', a useful site (one of many, I suspect) which allows you to post greatly shortened web addresses into a Tweet, thereby saving you characters.
  • Most of all, treat everyone you meet on the internet as real people! Think about it.
Bye for now... I have to go and say 'goodnight' to two younger 'real people' of my own!

Content to craft?

If ever you grow good enough at something to feel like you've made it, think again. This is the sort of warning I hope you will echo back to me one day when I've reached a higher level of writing. I certainly have no room for complacency.

In fact, I've recently started a job in which I become a trainee, knowing very little, rubbing shoulders with the experts, spending most of my days nodding while others speak pearls of technical wisdom... feeling smaller than I'd like to. And this is at age 47. 

But that's fine. Computer Service Manager - in - training is a good place to be. It is a full-time job, though, so that my writing is reduced to a couple of hours every few evenings. This could discourage me, but I think that work is a great environment in which to gather more story material.


Have you found Randy Ingermanson's Advanced Fiction Writing site yet? It's not hard to find online. One beginner lesson of his that I read reduces the process of writing to this outline of a writer's prime requirements:


  1. Content
  2. Craft
  3. Connections.
At work I can soak up more Content: this is the life-lesson and real-life character material that you pick up by meeting people, doing new things, failing, labouring, making decisions, and so on. You know: real life. Then I aim to keep improving my Craft and Connections in my spare time.

But don't hold your breath waiting for my next book...