Considering Portal Science Fiction

Earlier this month, Writing Excuses set a prompt to take one big idea from two favorite books, and mash them up into something new. What quickly came to mind was the locative art in Pattern Recognition and tessering in A Wrinkle in Time. And then the question became: How does anyone do anything with those?

As I sat there thinking about this over breakfast, I realized that in a way they’re kind of the same thing. Sort of. We have locative art today. Artists and performers are doing some pretty impressive things with it. We just call it augmented reality. Have the appropriate app on your phone or tablet. Go to the designated place (at the designated time, if necessary). Look around through the app to see the art or performance that’s been installed there to experience it. It’s not really there, and is only visible through the tool…like looking into another world through some sort of portal (if you’re into science fiction and fantasy…).

Tessering is a child’s primer to quantum mechanics. I’d been obsessed with the ant in A Wrinkle in Time for eight years before I read the Shiva paradox. And the moment I read that, I knew I was looking at a variation of the ant crossing the skirt hem. (Not bad for a fifteen year old drama queen. *wink*) In the books, tessering is moving across space and time by folding both as necessary to allow you to take the fewest steps. You’re moving across planets and planes as simply as one would cross a room (barring two-dimensional and frozen planets. Always take along Aunt Beast!)

Stepping away from tessering into the greater realm of quantum mechanics, you eventually get to the mathematical theories that are enabling physicists to seriously consider the nature and reality of shifted planes in the same space (which is murder on the whole “two separate instances of matter cannot occupy the same space at the same time” thing). So, while you may not be tessering when you engage in augmented reality because you aren’t literally going somewhere, you are experiencing a shifted plane of sorts, an alternate reality.

It’s not a mashup. It’s a weak rationalization at best.

What’s really funny is that I’m now thinking about the fact The Chronicles of Amber is on my list of favorite books. Tessering. Walking to/from Amber into the Shadows. Really not different. Seriously, how long have I been obsessed with portal stories?

What’s even funnier? Portal stories are typically a fantasy thing. But so many of my favorite portal stories are science fiction, and don’t necessarily directly involve a portal, just the idea of long-distance travel in short time.

Something to keep in mind…


Sci-Fi Predictions Vs. Current Rates of Development

Science fiction is the art of saying “What if?” and then exploring the potential answers to that question and their ramifications. As such, it’s always looking forward.

We joke about not having our car that packs itself into a briefcase or our hoverboards, but how quickly was the world progressing toward the time the story was set in compared to when the story was written? No, seriously. Think about this. When The Jetsons debuted in 1962, it wasn’t uncommon for families to have a car or two. And because these cars were so sufficiently advanced from the cars of forty years previous, it wasn’t that hard to make the leap and believe that in another hundred years cars could fly and become as compact as a briefcase. (We’ll guess that science classes weren’t teaching laws of conservation at the time.)

Sadly, skateboard tech has not enjoyed the car’s innovations, so those hoverboards might take another fifty years to get here, too.

Star Trek brought viewers ideas of a spaceship that explored space the way old sailing ships used to explore oceans. Projects Mercury and Gemini had already shown Americans that it was possible to go into space. The Apollo program was already working toward reaching the moon. The thought of being able to actually live in space, traveling from planet to planet, seemed possible. It just hadn’t happened yet. (Sadly, innovations haven’t moved as quickly in that direction as many of us would like them to.)

Star Trek not only offered us hope of what life could be off-world, it offered an array of technology that seemed fantastical fifty years ago. But today, we have personal communication devices (that went through a flip-style at one point) and portable access devices. We can hold video chats across long distances. And scientists are working on molecular copy machines. (No, I don’t share Bones’ cynicism about transporters. I just understand when a scientist says he can only make a facsimile of me rather than move me as I am that I’m not going to be myself after the first trip through the transporter.)

Even near future science fiction, regardless of how dystopian or utopian it may be, has proven to not be science fiction for long. The cyberpunk subgenre has painted a picture of a gritty near future where cyborgs and wearable tech are common. Prosthetics and other medical assist devices are incredibly powerful and adept compared to the ones available just ten years ago, and we all know about Google’s foray into watches and Glass. Not bad for being only seven years away from the game Cyberpunk 2020, right?

For better or worse, science fiction will always be pushing what we know or what we don’t realize we already know, bringing us developments that might bring us a better lifestyle.


“Women Don’t…”

The television and film industry awards season is in full swing, and one question keeps coming up in the days after each award show: Where are the women? 

It’s been this way for a while but ever since Kathryn Bigelow won her landmark Best Director Oscar, it seems to come up more frequently. Or maybe just more people are taking to their blogs and social media to protest and discuss the dearth of women involved with television and film projects. This year, the conversations started right after an infographic demonstrated that last year, movies that passed the Bechdel Test tended to be more successful than those that didn’t.

Not a month before the infographic made its debut, animation executive Paul Dini made waves by claiming that cartoons aren’t made for girls. When pressed for an explanation, he said it was because girls don’t play with the same toys boys do, so animation executives didn’t want girls watching because they couldn’t sell them toys. (As a lifelong animation fan whose Glamour Gals regularly stole Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder and resented that they couldn’t steal Brad Turner’s bike, I was really offended.)

And while rabid animation fans raked Dini over the grill, someone made a comment (I don’t know where this one started. Sorry. If you do, link it in the comments.) about women not writing horror. ScripChix rose to the challenge by offering tongue-in-cheek apologies on Twitter to every single woman they knew who writes horror they could for “miscategorizing” their work, linking to the slighted writer with each apology. Needless to say, the list was impressive.

Lest you think it’s only motion pictures and animation that are having all the fun, an unfortunate SFWA incident last year that demonstrated women’s struggles to be recognized within science fiction inspired Lightspeed Magazine to put out a call for submissions (Deadline: February 14. Get writing!) for a women-only special issue they are putting together to demonstrate that women do, in fact, write science fiction. (Just to be clear, Lightspeed Media has published both men and women authors; and Skyboat Media, who produces Lightspeed’s podcast, has employed women narrators. This is not new territory for either company.)

So, in the past few months, we’ve heard a lot of what women don’t do…only to find that it’s not that women don’t do it. It’s that the gatekeepers don’t necessarily notice it, deliberately or subconsciously. But profits show that women do produce (well); and that women characters are not a turn-off, and are in fact a potential indicator for success when employed correctly. Perhaps industries and genres should focus less on what they think women can’t do, and focus more on getting out of the way and letting women do.

Why I Like Fantasy and Science Fiction

A fellow Deviant shared this poll a few months ago, and it got me thinking about my reading habits. Actually, it got me thinking about my media consumption habits in general. If you ask me what I gravitate toward, I’ll answer fantasy and science fiction without a second thought. If you ask me why, I can’t answer. I grew up with fantasy and science fiction, so I’ve never really thought much about why I’ve stayed. They’ve both just always been a part of my life.

I’m not even locked into one specific subgenre within either genre. I’m just as likely to pick up sword-and-sorcery fantasy as I am urban fantasy; and I’ll sit down to space exploration science fiction as quickly as I’ll sit down to dystopian or cyberpunk science fiction. There’s just something I can get from both genres that I can’t get from other genres. It’s taken me a few months, two new personal projects, and a freelance writing project, but I think I can offer an explanation (that won’t surprise anyone who knows me or my work). And I think the best way to approach that explanation is by talking about one of my favorite fantasy authors: Brandon Sanderson.

Brandon Sanderson is an amazing writer. He has a gift for taking political thrillers, dressing them up with well-designed science-based magic systems, and exploring sociological issues in a way that speaks to both my inner fan girl and my inner anthropologist. He develops these rich, vibrant worlds that you can’t help but be sucked into because there’s something so familiar about them, and they’re populated with characters that feel like real people. Between reading his books and listening to a podcast he participates in, I’ve learned so much about building viable worlds that I’m now putting to use in my own work.

That’s how both science fiction and fantasy work. Both allow authors to hold up a mirror to society in a way that’s less painful than just bluntly pointing fingers. They allow authors to explore or react to things going on around them, and I think that’s just beautiful.

My First, and Perhaps Only, Doctor

The one science fiction classic Mom never showed any interest in was Doctor Who, and as a result I wasn’t exposed to it as a kid. But when I had the opportunity to be exposed to it, I avoided it like the plague. Maybe it just looked too weird. Maybe it was too mainstream among the geeks I knew (not any moreso than Star Wars or Star Trek, though).

Who knows? I just didn’t want to go near it.

I was bored one night after watching some DVD, so I started channel-surfing and stumbled across this show in a library. Curious, I watched it for a bit, only to find one of the characters rather entertaining. At the next commercial break, I discovered I’d stumbled into a newer Doctor Who episode.

Worse, I’d discovered I found The Doctor himself quite amusing and charming.

Now, I’ll gladly watch any episode with David Tennant playing The Doctor. I tried to go back and watch some of the really early episodes, but that didn’t work for me. I tried to watch a couple of episodes with Christopher Eccleston, but he lacks Tennant’s whimsical quality.

I point all of this out because as soon as I see Doctor Who listed as the marathon for the day, I jump over the cat to turn it on, just like I did this morning. It’s very bizarre.

A Sci-Fi Fan’s Dream Come True

I don’t think it’s widely known, but I happen to enjoy sci-fi racing stories. One of my favorite cartoons currently running (except for the fact it’s between seasons at the moment) is IGPX, which features mecha racing. I really enjoyed FX (the game. I didn’t have the opportunity to check out the cartoon until right before 4Kids pulled it from the line-up.), although that wasn’t technically sci-fi. I resented not being able to watch the racing at Fortuna in Chronomaster, and I had far too much fun reading Alien Speedway(both can be attributed to my favorite author Roger Zelazny!)

I’m not one for NASCAR, but I like sci-fi racing. Don’t ask.

At any rate, I was quite thrilled to read about the new racers that are being developed for the X Prize Cup! Perhaps I’ll finally get my dream of space racing. Maybe this is the launchpad to get us to the mecha racing of IGPX! That would just be cool!

My Intro to the Big Screen

What was the first movie you remember seeing in a movie theater?
Question submitted by mainmor.

I have this really great story involving Star Wars, the first movie I remember seeing in a theater.

When I was two years old, my parents took me to see Star Wars at a drive-in called The Galaxy. I sat in my favorite nightgown in the backseat and played with my trading cards and action figures, matching them to the scenes where I could. I had a great time!

When I was twenty-two, I was in the teacher prep program at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. For the special edition release of Star Wars, I drove the two and a half hours (which was closer to two hours because i drive like a Texan) to San Antonio to watch it with my parents. The old drive-in was demolished long ago and replaced with a sit-down theater, still called The Galaxy, and this is where we went to see the special edition.

When I got back to school, people asked me how I spent my weekend. I replied, “Well, you see, long, long ago, in a Galaxy far, far away…”

To this day, Star Wars (in fact, that entire trilogy) remains one of my absolute favorite movies!

Science Fiction Can Include Various Types of Science

When I was in college, I started planning out a piece about a girl from a simpler time ahead of ours unearthing our lives ten years ago and trying to make sense of what kind of people we were. I’m always weird like that. I often feel that we should be mindful of our actions because written history may be the only thing that shows who we as a race were to the future (if we’re lucky).

I hadn’t really stopped to think about the ramifications of anthropology in fantasy and science fiction until I read this rather interesting, brief article on authors who have expertly woven anthropological topics into their wonderful stories! It’s true. When you engage in the art of worldbuilding, you really have to consider so many aspects of that world. It’s not going to be the backdrop for one small story. It’s going to be a thriving society where people live out normal lives.

The science fiction and fantasy genres allow us to look in on a world different from our own, but they pull us in by encountering the same issues we face, by applying their values to challenging situations, by being not entirely dissimilar from us. It’s something like opening a history book and reading about people who lived a hundred years, except these people don’t exist within our own reality.

It’s certainly food for thought!

Revising Cultural History

I spent my childhood reading fairy tales and mythologies from all over the world, my mother’s answer to every Disney movie ever made. She wasn’t necessarily against my watching Disney movies; she just wanted to make sure I knew the real story, too. As there are many different “true” versions of any given fairy tale running about, it was actually great fun. I was analyzing on an above-grade level at a very early age without knowing, and having a fine time watching the grown-ups’ faces as I explained what was wrong with various movies, be they Disney or just based on these stories.

It now amuses me to watch as Disney works on re-releasing the movies released right around the switch from hand cel work to computer cel work. Songs are being added in, in most cases poorly. I’ve noticed that Aladdin is even having its music video completely redone. So long Peabo Bryson and Regina Bell. You apparently aren’t “Mouse appropriate”. You get to be replaced by apparent airhead Jessica Simpson and her “Hi, I can’t keep my shirt on during a single Charmed episode” husband Nick Lachey. Yes, those two are so much better. I bet they won’t even rebuild the lovely yet simple set used by Bryson and Bell. It’s really quite upsetting. Yay for having the original soundtrack in my collection.

Of course, Disney is not the only movie company having dreams of revisionist sugar plums dancing through their head. I am among the countless scores who feel that George Lucas invalidated her entire childhood with this newest release of the original Star Wars trilogy. Of course, the nickname I have held for the past eleven years is “Ewok”. I was about two years old when Star Wars was released. It’s the first movie I remember seeing. My earliest play dates involved a school friend and me playing with a Hoth playset and an AT-AT. I was always stuck being Princess Leia, but it didn’t matter. I remember going to camps that had Star Wars-themed programs. It was a huge part of both my childhood that has happily followed me into adulthood.

I have heard some suggestions that I have strongly considered embracing. I now regret not acquiring the Special Edition trilogy, and am seriously considering purchasing this new release. I appreciate the idea that collecting them will be a great way to document these apparently living movies. Let Mr. Lucas choke on that!