Archive for the ‘speculative fiction’ Category

One of the first posts I wrote for this blog dealt with Speculative Mystery rules and focused on the rules for the Mystery genre developed by the Detection Club. Beyond those rules, a rival set was developed and outlined by S.S. Van Dyne (a.k.a. Willard Huntington Wright) in an article called Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories in 1928. 

Of the twenty rules, many are reasonable, others seem outdated, while still others may serve as so-called ‘anti-rules’ for Speculative Mystery fiction. Two rules come to mind in this regard: 

Rule 8: The problem of the crime must be solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, Ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic séances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. A reader has a chance when matching his wits with a rationalistic detective, but if he must compete with the world of spirits and go chasing about the fourth dimension of metaphysics, he is defeated ab initio.  

Rule 14: The method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must be rational and scientific. That is to say, pseudo-science and purely imaginative and speculative devices are not to be tolerated in the roman policier. Once an author soars into the realm of fantasy, in the Jules Verne manner, he is outside the bounds of detective fiction, cavorting in the uncharted reaches of adventure. 

Of course, Speculative Mystery is a different genre than mundane Mystery. Secondly, Van Dyne is referring to Crime / Detective fiction only. Also, as the writing guidelines of Speculative Mystery Iconoclast state, our conception of Mystery is not limited to the Crime genre. 

Therefore, we reject half of Rule 8 – the half pertaining to strictly naturalistic means. However, we agree that the reader should have an opportunity to match wits with the detective or hero protagonist (at least to some degree). 

Where Speculative Mystery is concerned, Rule 14 should be rejected for the most part. However, just because imaginative and speculative elements are introduced, it doesn’t preclude any rationality or scientific grounding from being applied to detection.      

If Speculative Mystery Iconoclast were to compose rules of its own, said rules would read something like this:           

The problem of the crime may be solved by any means necessary. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, Ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic séances, crystal-gazing, and the like, may be used. However, these methods are best when used in original, entertaining ways and where possible to only illuminate part of the mystery. The protagonist hero should consider the above devices as ‘sources of information’ and not a replacement for detection. 

The method of crime (or oddity), and the means of detecting it, may be either rational, wholly speculative, or both. Speculative elements from Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror often posses an internal logic that is analogous to rational science. This internal logic (the nuts and bolts of how these elements work) is governed by laws created by writer. However, even if they didn’t, it might be entertaining to see these collide with logical detection methods employed by police officers, private eyes, and sleuths both amateur and professional. 

So ends the sermon. 

Keep writing and keep submitting!


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JB Dryden made the comment that television produces more a consistent quality of Speculative fiction than film. That got me asking myself: “why?”

JB went on to mention the tendency of film to grab the nearest Specfic novel as the basis of their projects. Television does the same on occasion, but with a slight difference:

  • TV tends to use the book as a loose basis for the show’s pilot while movies tend to follow the book more closely. Filmmakers often worry about how the book’s fan base will react when Character X doesn’t throw his hat on the table as he does on Page 523 of the novel. TV creators often add elements (e.g. additional characters) to the mix and don’t worry so much about the book fans.

Another point to consider is that TV has it own original Speculative shows that are not based on any books. These shows have produced trends of their own. A few years back, some television critics were discussing shows like Lost, Heroes, and The 4400, to name a few. Well, actually, it was much less of a discussion and more of a shredding and the crux of it went something like this:

These shows won’t ever work, because:

  • There are too many characters;

  • There are too many divergent storylines that don’t seem to have anything do to with each other (in the first few episodes).

Obviously, these critics were wrong, because not only have these shows survived but the number of Specfic shows with similar “problems” has increased during the last couple of years.

However, the success of these “problems” tells us that TV writers (and creators) have realised that:

  1. You can’t underestimate your audience’s intelligence or their ability to process a large amounts of diverse (and/or incomplete) information (as would be the case with too many characters and too many storylines);

  2. Specfic viewers are always looking for something different.

I think the above lessens aren’t just for Movie writers, but for novel and short fiction writers as well.

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In my previous post, I mentioned my short story featuring a Technological Singularity in a historical setting. I thought it would be a good spark for a discussion on inspiration. 

Firstly, I should make it clear that I didn’t set out to write about a technological Singularity in ancient times. It was more a case of me wanting to write a short story based on one of my other interests: Archaeology. 

Specifically, I wanted to posit a SF solution to an Archaeological “what-happened-back-then?” mystery as well as use themes of ‘temporal arrogance’ (specifically, thinking that the present is the pinnacle of all scientific progress since the dawn of civilization) and ‘cyclical knowledge development’ (in this context, discovering/formulating new knowledge [previously unknown in the present] and being unaware that the idea or concept was already being used in the distant past). 

Now, you might say, “Hey, but the present is the pinnacle of all scientific progress.” 

Well, in the annals of archaeology, there are some examples of evidence to the contrary. For example:

  • Some of the interior building blocks of the Egyptian Pyramids are cut with such precision that they can only be reproduced by modern lasers (and in some instances the lasers came off second best).
  • The Minoans developed a system of indoor plumbing, but after their empire fell, the later Greek empire couldn’t reproduce the technology during centuries of their reign. It was only centuries after the Greeks, during the Roman Empire, that a similar indoor plumbing was developed.
  • The Mahabharata, India’s most sacred and ancient texts, speak of weapons that produce all of the after-effects of modern-day radioactivity – brilliant lightning filled the air, victims crumbled to ash or burnt beyond recognition, survivors from the surrounds found that their hair and nails fell out, food became toxic, unborn children died in their mother’s wombs, sand became vitrified, etc. Whether you believe these events really occurred or that the Mahabharata are simply religious allegories or the world’s first Science Fiction stories, these tales point to two possibilities. 1) Pretty vivid and ahead-of-their-time imaginations; 2) A lack of knowledge preservation (recording) among ancient people.

 The point is: Perfectly linear scientific progress appears to be a myth.  Apparently, progress didn’t occur in a straight, rising line – there were some huge dips and even some earlier peaks (in some respects, some as high as so-called modern times).  

An interesting aside: The Indian texts describe climate-altering weapons. The US government has undertaken the task of researching such a possibility in Alaska – it’s called HAARP (High-frequency Active Auroral Research Project). A military application of the research would enable a weapon to make targeted weather alterations – just like in the ancient Indian texts. 

Back to our feature rambling session:I have a background in Science (the approach), so I’m always trying to explain things that as yet have no explanation. Enter the aforementioned Archaeological mystery. Without going into too much detail, conventional explanations just didn’t solve the mystery adequately, because there was no Archaeological evidence supporting any of these explanations. So, with my Specfic writer’s hat on, I decided to go the way of the ancient texts and NOT limit myself to the “this solely belongs in this era” mentality, which would’ve cut down the number of possible explanations dramatically. Basically, I didn’t allow my own preconceptions and temporal prejudices dictate what I could write. 

Then, it hit me: A singularity would explain the lack of evidence supporting the alternate explanations! Not only that, but it also took care of another plot thread I’d been weaving into the tale. The solution was simple and elegant – everything Science strives towards. My theory fit the data (evidence).  

That’s just one of the ways our other interests can inspire a story or story solution.

Stay inspired!

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 I just read Hub magazine # 30 (available in PDF and other formats at www.hub-mag.co.uk). In it, an interesting editorial by Alasdair Stuart entitled ‘The Banquo Effect’ reflects upon the UPHEAVAL in the world of specific print mags (or at least, the BIG 3) and quite sensibly points to the various successes of online specific venues – particularly those that give away fiction for free or use non-traditional formats (read: everything not written on a piece of bark).

Off-at-a-tangent Aside: Speaking of “non-traditional” formats, the inventors of PDF must’ve been blessed with second sight or uncommon foresight, because Portable Document Format is successful as a result of exactly that: It’s portable. Still, PDF has been around for ages. So, there’s no excuse for a print mag to NOT exploit its advantages (at substantial lower costs). IMHO, PDF doesn’t really suffer from the “don’t like reading it onscreen” syndrome as much as other e-formats and even if it does (for individual readers) – nothing is lost during printing.

Back to our main feature rant presentation: Mister Stuart goes on to list many other online venues with innovative formats like Escapepod, Pseudopod (a bit of a plug for himself there), 365tomorrows.com (free flash fiction venue), and (probably most telling) points to Cory “I have a plan” Doctorow and John “Whatever” Scalzi (two of the big BIG 3 debaters) who have both given away entire novels for free.

Three points came a-screaming down the mountain:

1] If you make it free, they will buy. (This makes a lot of marketing sense.)

2] Specfic is the new Mainstream (if you look at most mediums of fiction entertainment – tv, movies, etc.)

3] The BIG 3 may be going down, but the (innovative) rest of Specfic is going up.

My favourite part of the editorial was this line:

“Stop worrying about how small the campfires are getting and go and make your own.”

Maybe it was the fact that Stuart pointed to the big instigator of the BIG 3 debate (that lovable rascal Warren Ellis) as a Comic Book author, but the debate reminded me of what happened in the comic book world in the early to mid 1990s.

Up until that point, the popular comic industry was a duopoly: As a writer or artist, you either worked for Marvel Comics or for DC Comics. You would often see someone working for Marvel exclusively for four years and then he / she’d move to DC for another long spell. You never saw someone working for both at the same time.

The most talented of these writers and artists commanded million dollar deals, but at a price:

1] They would never own any of the characters they created. Sometimes, they would not receive credit for creating those characters.

2] There were limits on their creativity in terms of what they could explore and create.

3] They had to adhere to the ‘comics code’ (a code that governed the level of violence, profanity, sexual suggestion contained within comic books).

In 1992 (or 1993, can’t remember exactly), some of those highly paid writer/artist guys bit the two hands that fed them and had held their leashes: They started five or six (memory fading) comic book studios, dedicated to creating their own comic books, and promoted themselves collectively under the name Image Comics. Image was different in terms of the entertainment it produced. In addition, Image more actively recruited new writing and artistic talent. In fact, a fair percentage of their creative talent were recruited at cons (something that DC and Marvel didn’t encourage).

“Those little punks!” the comic book establishment said.

“But we paid them big bucks!” Marvel said, puzzled by the founding of Image.

“But it’s an honour to work for DC Comics…” DC said.

What followed was a period of unknown variety and choice for the comic reader as well as unknown levels of competition for Comics’ BIG 2. So much so that DC killed off Superman and replaced Batman to draw readers back to the fold. Marvel tried similar things with flagship titles like the X-men and Spiderman comic books.

A lot of the innovative comic books of today would not be gracing the shelves if the “palace revolution” hadn’t taken place.

If we pull the above actions and reactions into the world Specfic short fiction, we can sketch a similar picture. Although the crises are different, some interesting parallels emerge.


New competition (Image comics) = New (?) competition (online magazines)

BIG 2 (DC Comics & Marvel Comics) = BIG 3 (Asimov’s, Analog, and F&SF)

Note: The BIG 3 Specfic Mags could also be called the BIG 2 since Asimov’s and Analog are both owned by Dell Magazines (for those of you who want to get technical).

Compared to the comics giants DC and Marvel, I’m not sure that Asimov’s, Analog, or Fantasy & Science Fiction are as quick to react or even realise that there is a problem. Also, the above industry parallels ‘key’ asks whether new competition is really new or has just been ignored for too long. This brings up the fact that the BIG 3 (or 2) haven’t been a duopoly for decades and the online zines have simply emphasized the point. However, the BIG 3 (or 2) still act like they are the dominant forces in the Specfic short fiction market place.

Adapt or die…

An interesting aside: Warren Ellis often works for more than one comic book company at the same time. So, he benefited greatly from the Image revolution. In fact, in terms of being prolific, he is comics industry’s equivalent of Jay Lake and Mike Resnick (put together) and comics are huge collaborative efforts that need to be planned in advance and slotted into larger streams of continuity. Where does he find the time?

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