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5 Geek Questions To Provoke Debates About the Future of Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Which franchises will still dominate decades from now? Star Wars vs Game of Thrones vs Marvel Comics vs Star Trek vs Lord of the Rings...

PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates!


May 10, 2014 - 11:00 am
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In partnership with the new fiction publishing platform Liberty Island, PJ Lifestyle is going to begin promoting and co-hosting a series of debates and discussions about popular culture. The goal is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that in the future we can promote and create better fiction and culture of our own. These are public brainstorming sessions for writers and culture advocates interested in developing a more vibrant popular culture. You’re invited to submit your answers to any of these questions — or a related one of your own! — that interests you:

A) in the comments

B) Via email to PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle.

C) at your blog, then let us know in the comments or via email. 

The most interesting answers may be linked, cross-posted, or published at PJ Lifestyle. Here were this week’s questions: 

1. Star TrekStar Wars, Both, or Neither?

2. Who Are the Scariest Science Fiction and Fantasy Villains of All Time?

3. DC Vs. Marvel: Which Company Created a More Compelling Fictional Universe?

4. What Are The Best Time Travel Stories?

5. Is Game of Thrones Good Or Bad For Fantasy?

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All Comments   (6)
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Another way to look at SciFi literature is it explores the consequences of anything new in science. Examples: Electricity was a new science and its ability to move muscles in dead frogs was just being examined when Frankenstein was written. A science gone bad story followed by many more. Good SciFi writers take science and play what if. Fantasy writers alternatively are focused on alternative realities with the science component replaced by magic.

I agree with Fran Porretto that originality is the most important factor in advancing either genre. An example of originality is "Jennifer Government" by Max Barry. Notwithstanding the novel's many flaws, it was still fun to read because of its originality at the time and surprising plot twists.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
-- The goal is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that in the future we can promote and create better fiction and culture of our own. –

The answer to "what works and what doesn’t" depends wholly on the goal to be achieved -- and THAT depends upon the writer's choice of audience, his specific genre and sub-genre, and the particular effects he hopes to bring off. Many an idea that would be laughed out of court among SF or horror writers proves viable in a comic book or "graphic novel," for example.

Among the speculative genres' current maladies is a profound lack of originality. The ideas and motifs currently in play are threadbare from overuse. Zombies? Vampires? Werewolves? Quest fantasies? Galactic Empires? Ecological disasters? Plagues or wars to precipitate a dystopia? C'mon, guys and dolls! Stretch the imaginative neurons a little, lest far too many readers say to themselves "I've seen this before" simply from reading your dust-jacket blurb!

Far better to test some utterly absurd, never-gonna-happen ideas and motifs than to lock ourselves into a set of such with no tread left on them. At the very least you can claim that your creation is wholly yours, rather than just another boiling of old bones already soggy from decades in the pot.

42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The goal is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that in the future we can promote and create better fiction and culture of our own."

More definition of the goal is necessary because I submit there are at least two distinct groups to satisfy; youth and adults. Most SciFi or Fantasy fans got hooked on coming of age stories from writers like Alice Mary Norton writing as Andre Norton. As they became preteens and teens, many moved on to writers like Robert Heinlein and from Heinlein to more complex writers. Fantasy as a modern genre for adults didn't really start until JRR Tolkien's Hobbit and LOTR books were "discovered" more than a decade after they were written. I assume we are excluding Horror fiction from consideration here as well.

So what works (for me)?

First and foremost, stories must center around characters with whom you can relate to and care about. They may be flawed and not very likeable but there must be something that draws you to empathize with them, e.g. Thomas Covenant from the Stephen Donaldson series.

Second, details must be sufficient to allow your imagination to fill in the rest and most importantly feed the story line or lines. Detail that doesn't advance the story is a major turnoff. That is not to say side stories should not be included. In fact if the main story line is too long, then secondary story lines must be included to hold the reader's attention.

Third, A story must have a conflict that must be resolved; not necessarily to a good end, but it must end. e.g. While I originally liked reading George Martin's Game of Thrones for all the well drawn characters and suspense, in truth anything that takes more than 4 books to tell is too long. Alternatively, it's ok to have a whole series of different stories, book by book. While I'm not a fan of the Star War or any other series, I know a lot of SciFi/Fantasy readers who are.

Fourth, specific to SciFi/Fantasy genre, along with empathic characters in an interesting story, the technology or magic, alternative history/culture, etc. of the genre must play an important role in the story. A master at this, although not technically labeled as a SciFi writer was Michael Crichton with all of his books and movies, e.g. Jurassic Park.

And finally, for the genre to continue and grow, it must evolve to something new over time, or it will die out like Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan and Barsoom series, or at least must be forgotten for some time to be rediscovered afresh by a new generation of readers/viewers.

Writers like Walter Jon Williams have what works. Take his "Dread Empire" trio of novels. Everything about the story Mr. Williams gives us meets the four criteria above and IMHO is perfect, as is his book "This is not a game."

Thanks to PJM for starting this thread ... Looking forward to other viewpoints on something I'm sure all bloggers here have an opinion.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have say it - I didn't care for Andre Norton when I was "coming of age." Heinlein all the way. (Then I got hold of "Stranger..." - talk about growing up fast!)

Not chauvinism, either - I think I was in my late teens before I even knew that Andre was female. Plus, if my memory of myself in those days is correct - Miles Vorkosigan would probably have crowded out at least some of the Heinlein characters.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
In the Time Travel article, I'm surprised no one remembered another SF novelist who wrote several Time Travel novels - Andre Norton. And, honorable mention, Tau Zero by Poul Anderson.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Don't know how I missed the time travel post - must have been out of era...

I have to agree with those who have lauded the "alternative timeline" stories. Those provide such a rich field for the dramatist (and also the comedian, come to think of it).

"Quantum Leap" had such potential... I stopped watching it though when there was the episode about "What if the Nazis Won" - and then the episode about "What if the Republicans Won" - same script, different sets...
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
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