Musings

[Blog] Sci-fi vs Fantasy

In case you haven’t noticed, I like science fiction and fantasy. (If you hadn’t, allow me to point you to the rest of my blog.) Now, for the longest time, I thought the two were roughly the same thing, just in different settings. And to some extent, that’s probably true. There’s certainly a reason they often get lumped together on bookstore shelves and are usually said together in the same breath. Yet as I’ve thought more about why I like both so much, and as I’ve had more time to focus on the worldbuilding side of my own various projects, I’ve come to the conclusion that the two really do have different strengths and are certainly different enough to warrant the distinction.

First, fantasy. My first love, mostly thanks to the fact that such stories can and often do involve things like dragons, unicorns, and grumpy wizards. Growing up, that usually meant that I was giddily excited by anything that fell under the swords and sorcery category. Lord of the Rings? Loved it. Anything to do with King Arthur? Sign me up. Wanna watch Dragonheart? I’ll be right there.

These days, while I still have a fond appreciation for all the stories mentioned above, I’ve also found myself branching out a bit. For instance, anything that involves magic in what might otherwise look like our world today tends to at least pique my interest. For instance, I really enjoyed watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. And playing Shadowrun.

And for all the differences between these various stories, there are also a lot of similarities. For one thing, ancient evils crop up with a worrisome consistency. Magic is old. Our heroes find themselves caught up in traditions that have existed for ages. As a gross generalization, fantasy stories are full of wonder at the old, whether that looks like a medieval fantasy or a modern one that finds itself uncovering those things that happened long, long ago. There’s a reason fairy tales start with the words “once upon a time”.

For me, when I find that some story idea or another seems to want to turn itself into a fantasy story, that usually means that it has something to do with the past, at least in my head. Maybe it’s just a chance to re-imagine the parts of history that are so much fun to romanticize, or to interact with a so-called simpler world. Or maybe it’s a way to come to terms with the past.

Either way, it boils down to a focus on what once was, with perhaps a nod to how that affects things today.

Science fiction, on the other hand, looks to the future. Maybe these stories are just ways to imagine what we might be able to figure out someday. Or maybe they act as a warning for what might happen if we don’t mend our ways. Or maybe they give us something to strive for. But whatever way you look at it, the science fiction genre is as much about the future as fantasy is about the past.

Are there exception to this? Oh, absolutely. But Star Trek (all of them) is very purposely imagining what humanity might be able to do in a utopian setting (whether you agree with them or not on the methods chosen to get there). Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series takes place in a solar system that is nearly unrecognizable after the advancements humanity has made, and while not all of the advancements are good, it’s hard to deny that they’ve got some really, really cool things going on. Science fiction stories have a remarkable ability to provide a space to imagine what might be, and so to imagine some of the things we’ll have to think about if and when we get there.

Of course, it’s not all black and white. Of the top of my head I can name off several fictional worlds that have some distinct elements that I’ve argued belonged to either science fiction or fantasy. For example, Star Wars. The fact that it both involves spaceships and is set “a long time ago” with a bunch of knights running around is evidence enough of that. And then you’ve got Stargate, which has the humans of Earth finding ways to make these fantastic technological leaps… in order to fight old false gods. Or you’ve got J.S. Morin’s Black Ocean books that just say to heck with it and do both. Because they can.

In other words, like I said before, there’s definitely a reason they get pushed together so often. And there’s certainly nothing that says a story can’t look both to the future and the past at the same time. In fact, I think a lot of good ones do just that. But if you’re looking to imagine something about the future, that’s what science fiction is meant to do. And if you’re looking to engage with the past, fantasy stories have all sorts of things to say about that.

Musings

[Blog] If at first you don’t succeed…

Well. It’s here again. Camp NaNo. My nemesis. My white whale. The one that got away. The one that consistently defeats me. The one I can’t seem to best. And I, being too stubborn for my own good, am picking up my harpoon and going after it one more time. And my long-suffering sister has agreed to do it with me once again.

Mwahaha?

That being said, we are trying something different this time. For me, I’m hoping that shaking things up a little might actually help me motivate the way I want to, and I might actually end up hitting my goals (yay!) and I dragged my sister along in it because I don’t like doing things alone. Specifically, we’re going to be giving each other writing prompts every other day and writing a series of short stories– or whatever comes to mind. And the prompts can be anything! Traditional writing prompts… songs… pictures… anything we find.

I’m so excited! And here we are, June 30… the first prompts have been exchanged… let Camp NaNo commence!

Musings

[Blog] Update on the Tanner and Miranda Chronicles

It turns out that writing a stand-alone short story for a contest was the kick I needed to start making progress on the Tanner and Miranda stories again! (Also, keep an eye out for the contest story in a few weeks’ time, since I’ll post it up here as soon as judging is over!) Anyway! I spent most of yesterday putting together synopses for the various stories that will make up the collection of their adventures for their first real book, and figuring out the overall flow for the book in general: what order they should go in and what tweaks the stories I’ve already written will need to match up with the rest. Continuity is a beast, you guys.

This is the first time I’ve been working on this collection in a while, since all my Tanner and Miranda related energy (such as it is) has been going towards The Dalton Job instead, so this is actually a nice change of pace. Plus, if it goes well, it will give me a great, solid base for all the planning that still needs to go into Dalton.

Also! My plan is to give you at least a little Tanner and Miranda related content most weeks, since I hope you’ll find it enjoyable (I do!) and it’ll help keep me honest. And disciplined. Ish. Particularly since I know I’ve been sketchier than posting lately. (Something something work, something something pandemic, something something SKYRIM…) Either way, keep an eye out for more excerpts, bits of world building, or even just descriptions of settings or characters. Also! If there’s anything you’re curious or want to hear more about (oh, the hubris), let me know!

But for now, here’s those synopses I was working on! Let me know in the comments below which one you’d like to see the most!


THE FIRST JOB
or: We Encounter the Native Fauna

Tanner and I head out on our first job together: finding an expensive (and experimental) AI drone that went missing while mapping a section of the Badlands in preparation for a road between a couple of the colony cities (Coville and Oriole). It’s a simple job but it pays well, and it’s a good way to introduce me to Verdant. Or it would be if we didn’t end up having technical difficulties and getting stalked by the local wildlife. What kind of planet has carnivorous sheep anyways?

THE DELIVERY JOB
or: The Rocky Road to Oriole

It’s been a few weeks, and I’m getting used to life on Verdant. The road to Oriole is coming along, and they need someone to help guard an important generator that’s getting delivered since they’ve had some recent trouble with bandits. We’re there mostly to provide backup for Oriole’s own Ava Loesan, but naturally, things don’t go as planned.

THE EASY JOB
or: Murphy’s Revenge

We’ve had a rough go of it, and as much as I’m loathe to admit it, we could use an easy job. One of Tanner’s rancher buddies has us go along with an old-fashioned cattle drive just to throw us a bone: it shouldn’t require much real work from us. Of course, literally everything goes horribly wrong.

THE TRACKDOWN JOB
or: To Catch a Thief

There’s a thief in Verdant! Or rather, there has been for a while, but the Rangers have only recently been able to close in on him, and now they’re asking for our help. He goes by the name of Blue, and he has an irritating knack at getting into places he shouldn’t be able to without being seen. Now that we’ve finally had a chance to actually rest and recover, our friend Paul Tarjian (Tarj) enlists our help in setting a trap and finally bringing Blue to justice.

THE SNATCHBACK JOB
or: We Thieve a Thief

After our work tracking down Blue, word gets around that we know how to think like thieves well enough to thwart them, and a private citizen hires us to steal back a particular item with implications for the colony as a whole. The job seems a little shady, but the pay is really, really good. We do it, but only after checking in with Tarj to make sure we get the full story.

THE ETHAN LINDSAY JOB
or: Never Trust the Man with the Thousand Dollar Smile

After a few successful jobs, we hit a good rhythm, and it’s easier and easier to get work as our reputation grows. The problem with that, of course, is that we get clients like Ethan Lindsay.

THE PRO-BONO JOB
or: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Now that we’ve been on Verdant for the better part of a year and have gotten ourselves nicely established, Tanner wants us to offer our services to a group of colonists heading out to set up a reliable water line to a new town in the Badlands, mostly as muscle while they install the machinery. Trouble is, it looks like someone in our little group has ulterior motives, and might be working for the other side.

THE RESCUE JOB
or: Out of the Fire, Back to the Frying Pan

A veteran bounty hunter hires us to help her scour the Badlands for a pair of troublemakers who have managed to get themselves on the wrong side of both the law and a couple of gangs. Oh, and they also happen to be the sons of a prominent local politician. What could go wrong?

THE PERSONAL JOB
or: Bearding the Lion in its Den

All our meddling over the past year hasn’t gone unnoticed. That, or one of Tanner’s side projects ticks off the wrong ganger. Either way, someone takes it upon themselves to kidnap Tanner, and it’s up to me and all the favors I can call in to rescue him.

Musings

[Blog] Wars vs. Trek

If you’ve spent any amount of time among nerds, then you’ve likely come across the Star Wars versus Star Trek debate, or perhaps even taken part in it yourself. Die-hard trekkies might bemoan the relative lack of philosophical speculation and/or scientific curiosity. Dyed-in-the-wool Star Wars fans feel compelled to argue that their universe is more believable and compelling, as it doesn’t try to sell the idea of a fully functional utopia. (Also, light sabers!) And of course, there are those on either side who scoff at the idea that a single person can appreciate both universes.

Which is just silly. Why limit yourself to one galaxy to nerd out about when you can have two?

Granted, my parents probably gave me a head start on appreciating both. I couldn’t have been much older than six or seven when we watched A New Hope as a family for the first time, and it wasn’t many years later that we started working our way through old VHS recordings of The Next Generation and watching reruns of Voyager in the first few years after the series finale. Basically, both universes formed an integral part of my childhood.

I don’t mean to say that one doesn’t have strengths over the other. One would be hard pressed to argue that Star Wars is better on the hard science fiction front than any of the Star Treks– though even Star Trek takes plenty of liberties with the laws of physics (conservation of mass/energy and transporters, anyone?). But the lore of Star Wars has always seemed, to me, to go so much deeper, with all its many different worlds, species, and cultures that are developed fully in their own right and not as much to fill the needed philosophical niche for one episode or another. Or, put another way, Star Wars is less obviously didactic by nature.

Then again, sticking both into the same genre (science fiction) and calling it a day is over-simplifying things. As mentioned above, Star Trek is more truly science fiction than Star Wars: it’s a future universe that looks fundamentally different from our world today because of the introduction of the warp drive. Sure, you can make fun of the fact that (almost) all the different alien species are basically humans with different sorts of ridges on their foreheads, but what they might be missing in physiological differences is made up for in their wide variety of philosophies and histories. In particular, the Bajoran culture is fantastically fleshed out, which in turn adds a ton of depth to the Cardassians as well. The Klingons end up being, more or less, your standard warrior race, but that doesn’t mean they don’t provide the basis for some fascinating episodes. And the relentlessly capitalistic Ferengi are so ideologically opposed to the Federation that the conflicts between the two are often quite interesting as well.

On the other hand, Star Wars is more accurately described as space opera than straight science fiction. Its focus isn’t on science of any sort, but on the huge, epic conflicts that take place in its fictional galaxy. It has more in common with high fantasy tales like The Lord of the Rings than it does with sci-fi yarns like Niven’s Ringworld or Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. It sets the rules of its universe and sticks to them (especially if we don’t talk about the midi-chlorians), and so can focus more on what happens than why things happen.

So there you have it. Anyone trying to force you to choose either Star Trek or Star Wars over the other is selling you short. For me, my favorite tends to vary. Unless you’re asking about Stargate too. Because if you are, then Stargate wins. Every time. SG1 forever!

But what do you think? Are you more a Star Trek or a Star Wars fan? Did I hit the mark or am I way off? Tell me why in the comments below!

Musings

[Blog] Regionalism

Way back in high school, we had a unit where we studied American literary regionalism. (Click here for the Wikipedia article, if you’re curious!) I remember it being interesting, and our teacher tied it in with the idea that the setting of a story, when properly done, can be as much a character as any of the ones walking around on two legs. At the time, I thought it was a fascinating idea, but didn’t quite get it– certainly not enough to be able to articulate it all that well.

If I’m honest, that might still be true today, though I’m certainly closer than I was. At the very least, I’m close enough to start coming up with some theories of my own. In particular, considering how it relates to the ubiquitous advice to “write what you know”.

Now, as you can imagine, us science fiction and fantasy authors have a harder time applying that advice in its most boring sense. I’ve never been a freelancer on a distant planet, but that’s not stopping me from writing about a couple of siblings who do, so some folks might suggest that I’m not taking that advice to heart. That being said, I am one of several siblings, and I can guarantee that I’ve got the sibling banter thing down pat, so in that sense I am writing what I know.

Now, imagine you’ve got a locale you’re particularly familiar with. For me, that could be the Palouse area of Idaho and Washington: farming country, with lots of hills and fertile soil and not so many people. Next, add in the fantasy, magic, and adventure that I particularly enjoy writing about. Combine the two, and and you’re going to get a modern fantasy story set in the hills I grew up in. Probably involving werewolves.

Or, for those of you who watch Angel, you’ve got the same sort of thing with Los Angeles. It’s definitely set in LA… there’s just vampires and demons as well.

Basically, using a region that you’re familiar with is a fantastic way to write what you know– because as poor as that advice is when applied badly, you can’t get around the fact that it does have some truth to it. If you know something, you’re going to be able to write about it better. If, like me, you’re more the type who likes writing science fiction and fantasy, that’s probably going to look more like writing about relationships between friends and family than the the mundane adventures of a twenty-something-year-old. But it can also mean setting those same stories about the relationships you know in the places you know. Because it’ll make the story that much more real.

Musings

[Blog] Happy New Year 2020!

Happy New Year! I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays, and that you’re all ready for the new year– as much as anyone ever can be!

Speaking of the new year, I’ve got a couple of announcements regarding my plans for this blog! First, weekly Wednesday posts are back on, so if you happen to be looking forward to those, you’re in luck! I’m also going to be playing around with actually writing posts ahead of time, in the hope that it means I actually update on time, and not at 11:55pm on Wednesday nights. Heh. With that in mind, if there happens to be a subject that you’d like to see written about by an unrepentantly nerdy amateur blogger, do let me know!

Second, it’s also high time for me to start posting regular stories to the blog, like I was when I first started this thing. They fell by the wayside for a number of reasons, but at this point, I have no good reason to not push myself to do them again, and a whole lot of good reasons to just go for it.

Honestly, it puts me in mind of one of my favorite Ray Bradbury quotes: “Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” I’m not going for the one-story-a-week goal, but two a month isn’t bad, and with any luck, it’ll pull me out of the panicky over-editing loop I’ve gotten myself stuck in. Again. Oof.

And finally, I will of course continue plugging away at Tanner and Miranda. Expect a full update on what’s going on with them in the next couple of weeks!

How about for all of you? Any exciting new writing related goals? Any exciting new non-writing related goals? Let me know in the comments below!

Writing Prompts

[Blog] Writing Prompts Round 3

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It’s been a week, and I’ve got responses to your prompts! Thanks to those of you who submitted! As promised, here’s some snippets from Tanner and Miranda’s adventures. I can’t confirm or deny if these are “cannon” per se… but they’re the sort of thing that might happen. We’ll see how many work their way into bigger pieces someday.

I was afraid to ask where Tanner had gotten the truck. The truck. The honest-to-goodness, Earth-made, antique, gas-burning, two-door, flatbed, ratting, rumbling hunk of metal that coughed and sputtered its way right out of the pages of history and down the street until it stopped right in front of the boarding house. I should have known I wouldn’t have to ask.

“I told you a few of these old beasts made it out to this end of the galaxy.” He sat in the driver’s seat, grinning ear to ear. I stood and stared at him and tried to figure out when and where he’d learned to drive stick.

When I finally found my tongue, I only managed one word: “Why?”

He cackled. “Because. Come on. Get in!” He leaned over and popped the door open with a rusty creak that would have sent any proper vehicle straight to the junkyard. And yet, I got in. And we spent the rest of the day cruising down the back roads of Halverston in a crazy, out of date contraption. And it was one of the most enjoyable things I’d done in years.

“I’m going to crash it.”

Those weren’t the sort of words you wanted to hear coming out of your copilot’s mouth. Not ever. But especially not when you were seconds away from being home safe. Not when you thought it was finally over.

Funny how they didn’t surprise me, though. It was the fact that I agreed with him that would have worried me if I’d had the time.

“Big explosion?” I asked. I was already reaching up to flip off the safeties and the dozen automated systems that would make our plan impossible. The cockpit shrieked in consternation.

“The biggest,” said Tanner. And he grinned.

“You’re sure it’ll work?”

“Nope. But I think it might, and that’s good enough for me.” He glanced over at me and winked. “Given the circumstances, you know.”

I snorted. “Fine. Good enough. Bail out in 3… 2… 1…”

“Please pass the salt.”

“I told you! I told you it was a terrible idea! I told you and you didn’t listen!”

We were running. People were shooting– at us. My carefully laid plan was strewn behind us in ruins, and somehow we’d managed to complete the job despite it all. All that was left now was getting out alive. And yelling at Tanner for getting us into this mess in the first place.

We skidded around a corner and crashed to a halt behind a couple of huge storage barrels. We panted. We gasped. We held our breath as our pursuers thundered by and didn’t see us.

I waited a good thirty seconds before laying into my brother again. Given that he was doubled over giggling, I don’t know how effective I was. I punched him in the shoulder in a vain attempt to make myself feel better.

“Since when do you put salt on anything!? You never do! That’s how you convinced me that freaking saying ‘please pass the salt’ was a good code phrase!”

He barely managed to get out his answer between bouts of hysterical laughter. “I know.” More laughter. “I know. I know. But–” And he started cackling so hard that I was sure he’d bust a rib. And it would serve him right. “But you wouldn’t believe how bland the food was.”

Writing Prompts

[Blog] Writing Prompts Open! (Round 3)

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I’m at it again! Send me your writing prompts, and I’ll respond this time next week with a short bit of fiction inspired by your lovely words, pictures, scraps of music, etc. But! This time I’ve got an added twist: your prompts have to be simple– one picture, one piece of music, one word or phrase… and I have to respond with something set in Tanner and Miranda’s world.

Sound good? Bonus points if it’s not something that looks like it should easily relate to the shenanigans of brother/sister bounty hunters on a newly colonized planet.

Also, if you’re looking for a little bit of a challenge of your own, here’s a prompt for you! Feel free to respond or not, with fiction, non fiction, poetry, or whatever floats your boat.

Musings

[Blog] The Middle Slog

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A friend of mine recently asked me why I like writing. Or rather, why I continue to write when I spend at least as much time actually putting pen to paper as I do moaning about the fact that I ought to be writing. And the answer to that is simple: despite evidence to the contrary, I enjoy writing, and there are stories in my head that demand to be let out.

This does raise a further question, though. If I enjoy wordcraft as much as I say I do, why do I complain about it so much? Part of it, of course, is that it takes discipline to write, and discipline is hard. But there’s more to it than that. The bigger part is that certain parts of the creative process are more enjoyable than others.

For me, writing is the most fun when I’m coming up with ideas for new stories or once I finally get caught up in the flow of the action on my way to the climax of the story. Those are the things that niggle in the back of my brain and demand I find a way to make the words on the page match the epic scenes I have playing out in my head. The problem is that neither of those take up the bulk of writing.

That spot would be taken up by the work of getting from point A to point B to point C in a believable and interesting fashion. Which, despite what it sounds like I just said, is often enjoyable in its own right– it’s just also hard, for me, at least, if not for writers in general. It requires good pacing, a (more or less) complete knowledge of the ins and outs of the story so as to avoid plot holes, and there’s also a whole lot of false starts as you figure out what’s really important and what doesn’t actually figure in to the story.

Or, put another way, it’s where the work of writing happens. And it’s hard work. Rewarding, certainly, as anyone who has ever finished a story will tell you, but hard all the same. And that, my friends, is why I grumble about it and why I’ll never give it up either.

Musings

[Blog] All the Different Stories

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As a self-professed introvert, it feels a little funny to say that one of my favorite things about my new job is all the different people I get to meet and all the different stories I get to hear about their lives. I get to interact and connect with all sorts of folks I’d likely never have run across otherwise, and I get to learn a little bit about the way they see the world. The same thing happened when I was driving for a rideshare service, too, so it’s not just limited to the medical field.

I, as I imagine most of us do, tend to gravitate towards certain groups of people– the sorts I get along with best, with whom we I the most in common. When something other than shared interests bring me together with someone, common interests may or may not be involved at all, at least not in the way they are when I meet people through something like a shared hobby. It’s a great thing for perspective. It makes it a lot easier to not caricature people on the “other” side of this or that divide.