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.