Tuesday, June 22, 2010

WE LOVE OUR BAD SCIENCE

Science is a tough sell in the here good ole USA.

Yes, folks, we’re not much for science here in the nation that was first to the moon, that ushered in the age of electricity and mass production, that invented television, the atom bomb, the cure for polio. Here, the average man or woman on the street is just not a huge fan of the real life equivalent of Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Our national science budgets lag behind those of other developed nations. Our national space program is all but defunct. Our science education in elementary and secondary schools produces results that can only be described as a disgrace when compared internationally.

Part of that can be explained by our national distrust of intelligence expressed as “book smarts”. We much prefer “street smarts” or “leadership skills” or even “people skills”, and we reward those forms of emotional intelligence in all sorts of ways from the time a child first starts to interact with her parents. Oh, yes, “A’s” are awarded for understanding your lessons, but popularity, friendship, social status and all the perks that are attached to those things are awarded for understanding your peers. Is it possible to understand and work for both things? Absolutely. Do most kids in school realize the subtleties of this distinction? Doubtful.

And, let’s face it, science and math are hard work, intellectually. Not that philosophy and history, aren’t, mind you, but the former you can avoid until college and the latter you can get through with a little hard studying. You have to get math and science. Something has to click in the old brain. If the old brain just isn’t up to it, well . . . I think I’ll just go watch TV.

Lest you think I’m an elitist snob who reads Scientific American over breakfast and long ago found no challenge in the Discover brain teasers, I am a proud liberal arts graduate of a small Midwestern college. Because Beloit grouped its degree requirements in broad “intellectual areas”, I managed to swap out philosophy courses for any math requirements, but I still had to take two science courses (astronomy and organic chemistry). I only got through astronomy with the help of a study group; through chemistry with a boyfriend/tutor. It was the math that was the killer in both cases. I loved the concepts. (And still do—that’s why I’m a science fiction writer.) And, not to brag, but I graduated Phi Beta Kappa. That stuff is just hard!

So I don’t blame my fellow citizens for being wary of something they find largely incomprehensible, at least in the details. Because here’s the interesting subtext: they love "bad" science. Warp drive, killer bees, UFO’s, supersoldiers, bioengineered nano-viruses, time travel (in any form), experiments gone wrong (in any form), virtual reality—you name it, they’ll buy it, usually on the screen (small or large), but also in book form. And the further removed from “real” science, it seems, the larger the audience. Because they’re not interested in a treatise on physics, complete with diagrams and formulas. They’re interested in a good story.

Now, of course, there is a core audience for science fiction, particularly literary-style, hard SF, that insists on a foundation of good science. Please forgive me, all of you. I hope you are capable of enjoying, from time to time, a jump through the hyperspace of imagination without your critical calculator, because it can be fun just to enjoy the story, or the characters, or—dare I say it—the special effects! Many real scientists were fans of the original STAR TREK, cheesy effects, impossible science and all. And today, some of the kids who watched the show are grown up and crazy enough to try and make transporters, warp drive and, of course, communicators, happen in this lifetime.

The audience for “bad” science, and, by extension, for the more accessible forms of science fiction, including science fiction romance, is much broader than we tend to think. Screen writers like J.J. Abrams and others have tapped into that audience with LOST and FRINGE, V and EUREKA and CAPRICA. And, of course, nearly every science fiction movie that hits the big screen can be put in the “bad science” category; SPLICE and INCEPTION are only the latest.

The challenge for those of us writing science fiction romance is hooking that audience—the one watching EUREKA because it’s funny and smart or FRINGE because of the relationships between the characters or CAPRICA because it’s fascinating to see how the accidental stranding of a teenager’s avatar in a cyborg body could lead to the development of artificial intelligence for a whole race. They're not watching for the details of tech design or AI theory. It’s not such a leap to think that audience would be willing to follow the story of two lovers caught in the crossfire of intergalactic war or on the run from hunters from another planet or struggling to find each other across space and time.

That audience will forgive you for a little bad science just as long as you give them what they're looking for: a good story.


Cheers, Donna

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

FACELESS

My eight-year-old grandson has a Facebook account. That seems a little precocious to me, but I’m not na├»ve enough to believe he’s the only child his age to have one. In our society, the technology long ago outraced our ability to make any rational decision as to whether this makes sense. In our family, I can only hope his father and stepmother are monitoring what goes on with the account.

More personally, this presents me with a dilemma. If I want to visit my grandson’s “page”, I have to open my own Facebook account. This is something I have steadfastly refused to do. Call me a dinosaur, a hermit, a Luddite standing foolishly in the way of progress. And, laugh, too, that I specialize in writing about the future while adamantly believing that our headlong rush to embrace all aspects of it is insanity.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a complete cyber-cave-dweller. I consider myself a friendly sort. I have a website (in fact, I have two under my own names and will soon maintain a third for a group I belong to); I contribute to this blog; I follow three professional loops closely and several others for fun; I comment frequently (and politely); I know how to use the Internet to do research and how to contact people both professionally and personally by email.

But that’s enough, people! I do not need to be connected at all hours of the day and night through my cell phone or BlackBerry or iPad. I do not need to Tweet or be Tweeted to or be friends with half the planet. Really.

Several recent news items have only encouraged my introverted tendencies. One business article noted that young people are cutting back dramatically on their public profile usage, erecting privacy walls on their accounts and even dropping their accounts altogether, in fear of a negative impact on their careers.

A controversy exploded not long ago in one of my online groups when it was discovered that an agent had rejected dozens of fiction submissions en masse via Twitter. (I guess I was one of those rejected. I was blissfully unaware, since I don’t follow said agent’s Twitter account.)

As writers we’ve been encouraged to actively engage in as many forms of social networking as possible to build our platforms, advertise our “brands” and generally keep our audiences in cyber-thrall. Yet, in “The Hidden Costs of Social Networking” (http://chipmacgregor.typepad.com/main/2010/05/the-hidden-costs-of-social-networking.html), market specialist Rob Eager argues that all of our blogging, blog tours, Tweeting, Facebooking and other forms of social networking rarely help book sales. He advises his client authors to put their time into traditional face-to-face speaking engagements, book tours and media interviews.

Eager says many authors easily spend more than ten hours a week on just one aspect of social networking--surfing and contributing to social sites online. He suggests—gently—that perhaps some of their time might be more productively used to, say, write that next book.

Now there’s a thought. I’ll admit I’m no Stephen King. On a good day, I might get five hours of writing time in—and that’s only if I get up at 4:45 a.m. (which I do four days a week) to log in two hours before everyone else’s day begins. All the rest of my day I have other commitments—emotional, personal, logistical, business and otherwise—that take up precious hours. So I could really use two extra "days" of writing time every week, though I don’t suppose I’ll be giving up all of my online time just yet. I have to have fun sometime.

But if it comes down to a choice between my writing, my family, my friends and a burgeoning social network that could include the immediate universe, then my priorities are clear. Real relationships take work. They take time and energy and focus. I can only do so much. Facebook represents a drain on my resources I can ill afford. So, no, I won’t be starting an account anytime soon. I’ll be emailing my grandson and calling him on Skype. (See, Nonna’s not a total Neanderthal.) I’ll gladly communicate with you all here (and welcome your comments). I’ll see you over at the SFR Brigade site, too.

But if you Tweet that I’m a grumpy old witch on the loser train or the equivalent in 145 characters or less, I’ll be missing that message. I think it’s just as well.

Cheers, Donna

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Big Day for SFR

What's so special about today? 

Today marks the launch of Carina Press, a new e-publishing subsidiary of Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.  And yes, Carina Press accepts science fiction romance!  Carina Press has its own web site and its titles will not be found on e-Harlequin.com because of its unique approach. 

In fact, they're launching with three new SFR titles including fellow Brigader KS Augustin's IN ENEMY HANDS.  Carina Press will publish 37 titles in June.

Why has Harlequin made this new move into the digital publishing arena?  Executive Editor Angela James explains in a Publishing Trends article Trendspotting 2010 that digital publishing offers unique opportunities to supply on-demand books to today's busy reading audience.  Digital books allow readers to both purchase and read books when it fits their schedule.

I already have two new SFRs in my shopping cart, including IN ENEMY HANDS and another editor Deborah Nemeth mentioned in her Publisher's Showcase interview on the SFR Brigade, HUNTERS, but as a SFR writer, I'm also looking forward to the other opportunities Carina Press will offer.

Congratulations on your launch, Carina Press.

Avatar Deleted Scenes Coming to DVD?

Since I seem to be revisiting Avatar this week, I thought I'd bring up another juicy topic.  The deleted sex...er, "mating" scene from the movie.

According to several sites, including Cinema Blend, the mating scene may be restored in the special edition DVD.  But don't expect anything along the lines of erotica.  The original scene was shot with the PG-13 rating in mind, and although it has some, er...interesting Na'vi elements (those amazing sensual tentacles, you know) it won't be anything too graphic.

Still, I'm sure a lot of curious fans will ante up the cost of the special edition offerings.

I think it's too bad the original scene couldn't have been left intact, because IMHO would have better fleshed out Jake's last remaining doubts about becoming Na'vi.  After the deleted scene, he wakes up in his Avatar "coffin" with Neytiri's words still on his mind -- "Now we are mated for life" -- and mutters to himself, "What you are doing?"  This sets up the turning point or decision moment for his character. 

The script of the scene can also be found here, but with it I need to give a spoiler alert and a warning that something seems to be lost in the translation.  I'll be eager to see how the scene actually plays out between the two characters in the special edition.  (Oh yeah, I'm so there.)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Avatar and the Pueblo Revolt

It was with great delight that I revisited my journey to Avatar this past weekend via pay per view. Even without the big screen experience and eye-popping 3D enhancements, it was still a visually stunning story with a great character arc...and a hauntingly familiar message. I loved picking up on the all the little elements I missed before. One of the things that really made me sit up and take notice was when I realized the close parallels between the events in the movie and the not so well known history of New Mexico (which I’m researching for a future novel entitled This Far, Wild Land).

The Spanish Colonial period in New Mexico includes a very unique event—the only successful uprising in North America of an indigenous people against a technologically-superior European population, who were in turn driven out of the territory. (Sound vaguely familiar?)

Prior to the Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish in 1680, the Pueblos had never acted in a concerted effort. A single Native American named Pope (Poh pay) helped organize the various pueblos to unite against the threat to their culture, their land and way of life. He did this by sending out messengers to all the various Pueblo tribes to organize and unite them. (As Jake did in Avatar.) Over 400 Spaniards were killed in the conflict that resulted, and the Pueblo people succeeded in driving every last Spanish colonist out of their homeland and back to their point of origin (Mexico). Still sounding familiar?

The Spanish didn’t return for twelve years, but when they did they came with a much healthier respect for the Native American people and afforded them many more rights, including their own designated Pueblo lands and reservations. (Sounds like a sequel in the works, to me.)

Though I don’t know if the Pueblo Revolt inspired John Cameron’s amazing tale, the similarities are uncanny. As with much SF/R, the future can be created by drawing on aspects of the past. History does repeat itself, in infinite variety but unmistakably familiar patterns.

Friday, June 4, 2010

QuoteShare

When thinking changes your mind, that's philosophy.
     When God changes your mind, that's faith.
           When facts change your mind, that's science.

- John Brockman