Editorial – August 2022: Science is constant. Science Fiction isn’t constant.

Science is constant.

Science Fiction isn’t constant.

Hello everyone,

There is always a debate as to which came first: the bird or the egg, forgetting the third answer: the reptile who laid it. After all, some animal had to lay the eggs first. Lesson learnt is not to accept that everything has only two choices, there is always a need to be flexible and look at all options. General Semantics 101.

Things are a lot simpler when it comes to which came first: science or nature. Its just a matter of simple logic. The nature of the universe was there first. Science is the interpretation of what exists and our species appears to be the first sentients on Earth attempting to make sense of what happens. Luckily a lot of it can be turned into numbers and formulas and left puzzling over the constants that make them work. It makes sense of a lot of what we know is consistent with what goes on. Quite how nature fell in that particular order can lead to much debate in its own right. Considering its part of human nature to attempt to make connections between everything, you do have to wonder how fickle nature actually is. It might be in total or just partially so. Apart from singularities, black holes to the uninitiated, it does appear nature is constant throughout the universe or we might well had alien visitors by now.

With Science Fiction, unless we are playing with the hard version which is based rigidly on our scientific laws, we are allowed to make a few fudges to accomplish our aims or we would never have, amongst others, the likes of faster-than-light travel or time travel. Outside of experimentation so it limits how it affects the overall reality, it makes sense for any science law change to be applicable across everything. How much it will make an impact on the actual story is up to the writer but the more it re-enforces the concept. That’s a Science Fiction 101 lesson.

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The current problem is we are running out of new scientific tropes to provide story fodder, let alone anything we can fudge for the sake of a story. Yes, the James Webb Telescope is showing us more of the universe and there are even more galaxies and stars than grains of sand on Earth. That doesn’t change much and the plot of my story this month is based on the time differential between what we would see at a distance and what might really be there now but its hardly that radical although maybe not tackled in that way before.

It is, however, making me wonder if we are ever going to get radical science back in Science Fiction anymore. After all, we are already living in a Science Fiction age and its only certain inhibitions like not having human clones that SF had warned against doing. Actually, that’s not entirely true as SF didn’t really examine the legal ramifications of having a duplicate you out there but more evidence that the body might be accurate but it would never have the same personality. We’re too much of an individual for that to happen. Even so, you would have thought the legal ramifications would have made for an interesting story in its own right with different endings.

Much of Science Fiction is applied science as technology than theoretical as theories don’t make good stories, we want to see what we can do with something we’ve discovered. Breaking up the atom and discovering ever more sub-atomic particles is hardly going to shake up the universe. Even if we could see possibilities for such advancements, we will be only a few steps ahead of the actual scientists and the two year period to get a novel written and, hopefully, published, things could quite easily have moved on. It would take a lot of imaginative thinking to find something so advanced that will make readers stop and take notice and think it could work today. As we are seeing with global warming, there is no advanced science solutions but more a matter of stopping doing things that created the problem in the first place.

Even coming up with something entirely new for a Science Fiction concept is going to take some hard thinking, not to mention checking that no one has come up with a similar idea, just identified in a different way. Mind you, with covid there has also been a significant drop in SF novels coming out world-wide, so would make it easier to check against new material faster than old. Technically, I’ve done two stories in the past couple months that have taken radical thoughts in odd directions, hence me again going over it is possible to see things differently and see things other writers have missed. It isn’t impossible. Whether I can do this persistently remains to be seen. It depends on what I can think up. The most I can hope is you not anticipating the ending.

Right now, Science Fiction as a genre really does need a kick with new ideas to stop it stagnating any further than it is doing. As geeks, we see things from odd angles so I doubt if there’s a lack of imagination, just the will to do something thought-provoking than more space opera.

More likely, there’s doing what has sold already rather than advancing the craft. Of course, there’s also the problem for some time  of agents being used to vet material that some publishers doing their own slush pile anymore which is also causing its own problems. Agents tend to look at what makes money than good ideas and steer their writers to fantasy than SF, which only makes things worse for our genre. Some publishers are now doing competitions looking for new material, even if its only in fantasy, so there is some thought that things need to change. It just needs good writers with better ideas now. It also means the resurrection of the slush pile and editors looking for good material.

Reworking old ideas is not new, its interpretations with different or different logical solutions that should be. If you can find a new plot angle along the way, so much the better.

Science Fiction is unique in that it can adopt techniques from other genres and still make it its own. Ultimately, good storytelling with interesting characters is invariably the key but it does need that extra that only belongs to SF.

The reason ftl and time travel are so popular tropes is because they are so radically beyond what we can currently do but most wishful thinking. Finding something akin to that would be something but I doubt if they will ever happen, which is why those tropes are so strong and associated with Science Fiction. They also have the common denominator of travel but that’s only getting there. The trick now is to do something different with them and that doesn’t mean upsetting your grandmother than having an accident happening to your grandfather than making it impossible for you to be born. That’s become so clichéd now that there is little more that can be done to it. Hang a second, I’ve just had a wild thought on that idea. Hehehheheh.

From a writer’s perspective, I tend to think its important to get your material out there and build your CV up to the state when you get payment for it. Learning storycraft from short stories to novel-length might seem like a long way but it is effective to get the knots out of your writing. How proficient you are depends on imagination as much as writing skill.

Oddly, one thing that I doubt will work in SF right now is stories based around global warming any more than infectious diseases right now, although some have tried. We’re living with the problem, I don’t think we want to fanaticise the situation. I could be wrong on that.

One real problem is with the state of global warming, will mankind have any sort of future at all? That would kind of end Science Fiction, wouldn’t it? A rather crazy paradox in we have all the aspects of now owning certain aspects of Science Fiction tropes and yet a short future to enjoy it. Now if that isn’t the most scary situation, what is?

To get things back to a figurative normal in the future, you would have to wonder whether we would be able to afford to get back into space travel, let alone go there ourselves. However, there’s always one of them, it just means the right kind of incentive. Certainly staying on a single planet is the one way to face extinction. Spreading to other planets and even other star systems would beat that. Even with the amount of SF out there on the subject, there’s still a lot of options to explore with different elements of realism.

There are always moral aspects applied to science. Contrary to early SF films, many scientists tend to be very moral and work as teams, it’s the companies who employ them that we know we have to be more concerned about and what they would do to profit from such research.

All are starting points. In our Science Fiction reality we are living in today, we have to develop from this as our starting point now. When you consider SF story characters don’t even have mobile phones, you do have to wonder what happened in their reality not to have them anymore. The important point I’m making is SF needs to have characters more in line with what we have today as their starting point if for no other reason than it relates more to people today.

Occasionally, I’ve included things in review that are slightly above our remit but mostly for the reasons that we do see beyond SF and can draw in other influences. I do believe that also ensures we don’t get entirely seen as lacking any interest outside of SF. As geeks, we tend to be recognised as having an interest in science and some of the borderline subjects, which also means we don’t tend to be dogmatic but question everything. This openness should serve us in good stead in our subject matter, let alone research subjects. If we can be surprised, so should our readers.

Although there is no standard way to write a Science Fiction plot, never forget there are some similarities to a detective plot. Have a problem, examine the solutions and then have your characters work it out for themselves and look at all solutions. Don’t necessarily expect a happy ending. SF is used to working with dystopias and scary moments should be expected.

Imagination is needed in more than fiction. Apply it with some authority in your work also has a tendency of spotting things your less imaginative work colleagues take for granted or think won’t be noticed. It won’t always make you popular as I found but in terms of safety I think I did the right thing.

Thank you, take care, good night and wonder will we ever have an official first encounter with extra-terrestrial visitors and would they preach to us about finding solutions to environmental problems. Hmmm…make that two off-beat SF ideas and I’m just discussing the problem.

Geoff Willmetts

editor: www.SFCrowsnest.info

A Zen thought: Where there is life then eventually death will come.

What Qualities Does A Geek Have: Never say die, just throw the dice again.

The Reveal: Aren’t we overdue for a real Midwich event?

Observation: There is a problem with the mythology surrounding the Ghost Who Walks, the Phantom. The legend has to stop if the Phantom hasn’t sired his replacement and to continue the myth, it has to be a boy. You would think it would make more sense to have several offspring of varying ages to ensure a run of replacement ghosts. His luck can’t go on forever and, yes, I’m aware the current Phantom has two children. The same must surely apply to his wolf and horse.

Observation: I know it looks great seeing the sofa travel up through the base of Thunderbird 3 prior to take-off, but don’t you think getting on-board might have been faster had they been deposited through the airlock than up through its base?

 Observation: Why is it in all the ‘Predator’ films we never once see them in the act of removing the skins of their prey. Granted it would be pretty gory but we get no idea whether it was done by chemical or knife or what the hunter’s did with that particular trophy to do it so fast.

 Observation: It’s very weird that throughout all the ‘Alien’ films franchise, we have yet to see how they convert their slime into those exotic geigerisque walls.

 Observation: Although the one season 1962 series ‘Man Of The World’ (Network 7952183) is outside of our remit, it might be of interest for the variety of voice artists and actors that have appeared in the Gerry Anderson products. It was also Suzanne Neve (who played Straker’s wife in ‘UFO’) first acting performance. Although Tracy Reed (also in ‘UFO’) is billed a co-star, she only appears in about 6 episodes.

 Computer Observation: This is a common problem with laptops of any denomination. You can’t see the cable, even one with a light in it, and can inadvertently pull it out when you move it on a table. For PC laptops, I notice the screensaver won’t work and, rather than have a beep, replaced it with something more pertinent. Look in Control Panel at Sound/Sounds and go down the window. In my case, I found a Droopy soundbyte, ‘You know what, that makes me mad’ has far more value than a beep to point out the battery is running down.

 Feeling Stressed: There is always another day.

Remember the reason why this section has to be deleted and added to each new editorial is because when I just left it there, google finally got overwhelmed by the number of repeats. Please read and ask yourself if you want to submit here.



Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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