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Science Fiction stuff
El Cid at 10:42AM, Dec. 30, 2013
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I've always been sort of a lurking fan of science fiction as a genre, but never really able to get into anything sci-fi too enthusiastically. I love the concept of science fiction, and the creative and exploratory potential it promises, but at the same time I've never watched any of the original Star Trek films (I only recently watched the first of the two J. J. Abrams reboots, and enjoyed it somewhat). The only Star Wars movie I've watched in its entirety is the first one (I think they call it Episode IV now, but I'm not geek enough to keep track of all that).
 
At any rate, since finishing my previous project, it has dawned on me lately that I would very much like to do a science fiction comic. So I've been trying to catch up with what's going on in the world of science fiction, and so far haven't found much that I like. Most of what's put out there as “science fiction” is really just fantasy fiction with aliens and spaceships instead of dragons and elves. I've enjoyed Ridley Scott's ‘Aliens’ movies, and ‘Blade Runner’ was great. Oddly enough, I even liked the old Schwarzenegger ‘Total Recall’ (in fact, pretty much everything Paul Verhoeven has done has been brilliant IMO). But most of what I've found has been unreadable or unwatchable. I don't want to read anything about tentacled aliens or wormholes or time travel, because despite what Michio Kaku tells you, that stuff is all bullshit.
 
So I figured this thread might be a good way for me to get some recommendations. Do any of you good folks out there know of any decent science fiction comics or novels or movies or whatnot that might be worth having a look at?
HippieVan at 5:54PM, Dec. 31, 2013
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El Cid wrote:
I don't want to read anything about tentacled aliens or wormholes or time travel, because despite what Michio Kaku tells you, that stuff is all bullshit.
 

 
I'm a bit confused about what you mean by this. Do you only want science fiction scenarios that could actually happen? Because that's kind of a terrible way to go into reading/watching sci fi tbh. In my experience, the best science fiction just uses the future/space/whatever setting as a tool to look at human nature, so it doesn't much matter whether the events are possible.


In any case, the old Star Trek series was much better than the films were. So if you want to go the Star Trek route, that's where you ought to start. The Twilight Zone will always be far and away the best sci-fi series in my opinion, though.

As far as novels go, have you read any Ray Bradbury? The Martian Chronicles and R is for Rocket are both excellent. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is good for funny sci fi.

Comics are a little bit harder…Opey the Warhead was great, but it stopped updating back in 2012.
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irrevenant at 6:39PM, Dec. 31, 2013
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Okay, you sound like you're interested in hard SF.  ie. stories that feature plausible extrapolation of known science.

Examples that come immediately to mind are Robert L Forward's “Dragon's Egg” and “Rocheworld” novels.  His stuff is fairly old though, so if you wanted something more contemporary Greg Egan's stuff is amongst the hardest available today - “Diaspora” isn't a bad place to start.  “Schild's Ladder” explores some amazing (and theoretically possible) extrapolations of science but can be hard going since it doesn't dumb any of it down.

Oh, Neal Stephenson's “Snow Crash” and “The Diamond Age” also have realistic science and are great reads.  (Snow Crash is near future, The Diamond Age more distant).

Alastair Reynold's “Revelation Space” series is largely hard SF.  I haven't read the novels though, just the short stories.

I personally tend to be fairly forgiving of speculative physics (Time Travel, etc.) so long as it's well thought through and consistent.  After all, our current technology (satellites, iPads, Nuclear Power etc.) would be outright impossible by the cutting edge science of only two centuries ago.  Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, after all. :)  It seems pretty unlikely to me that we just happen to be living at a point in history where we've mastered all there is to know.

What sort of stories are you interested in telling? Perhaps you would be interested in doing a story about a slower-than-light generation ship.  It's a somewhat old idea but that means nobody's done anything interesting with it in ages.

EDIT:  From memory, the science in the webcomic “A Miracle of Science” is fairly hard too.
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last edited on Dec. 31, 2013 7:18PM
El Cid at 7:33PM, Jan. 1, 2014
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Yeah, I guess I'm looking more for hard SF than the space opera-type stuff. Though really, I'm not that much of a stickler for the physics stuff, either. ‘Starship Troopers’ and the ‘Aliens’ movies sprinkled quite a bit of fairy dust here and there to make sure science didn't stop the story from moving along, and that's fine by me. I just don't want to read anything that's completely dumbed down to a Buck Rogers level. I'm just figuring that if I have any chance of writing a good science fiction story, I need to have some clear idea as to what a good science fiction story actually looks like!
 
Thanks both of you for the suggestions. I'll give them all a look. At the very least, you can rest assured that you've given some hard-working SF authors a few more Amazon sales! Opey the Warhead looks like a lot of fun, so I'm going to go read that in a minute.
 
I haven't really decided on what kind of a story I'd like to tell yet; it could be either some kind of horror tale or more of an action story, or possibly even something more strange along an ‘Aeon Flux’ route. I don't know. I've got a pretty good lock on the setting, and the characters, but I haven't yet found a story that I'm entirely happy with. I figured maybe if I could see what other authors in the genre were doing, I might have a better feel for what works and what doesn't, and maybe find some inspiration.
 
My comic is set probably a few hundred years from modern times, so there are no interstellar motherships or anything like that. It's limited to our solar system, namely the cold outer nether regions. I tend to gravitate toward smaller more personal stories, and one of my big problems with science fiction (and fantasy, for that matter) is that the genre is overcrowded with Biblical-scale epics and messianic fantasies. I'm much more interested in exploring the lives and struggles of everyday people.
El Cid at 8:22PM, Jan. 1, 2014
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irrevenant wrote:
I personally tend to be fairly forgiving of speculative physics (Time Travel, etc.) so long as it's well thought through and consistent.  After all, our current technology (satellites, iPads, Nuclear Power etc.) would be outright impossible by the cutting edge science of only two centuries ago.  Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, after all. :)  It seems pretty unlikely to me that we just happen to be living at a point in history where we've mastered all there is to know.
 
 
That's a good point, but I'd accept it with a few caveats. It's true that to the average person two hundred years ago, rocket travel to the moon would sound like pixies and fairy dust, but a physicist two or even three hundred years ago would have had no trouble at all understanding the physics of rocket propulsion. The truth is, much of what we learn in high school physics dates back to the seventeenth century. Obviously, there have been some major breakthroughs since then, like Einstein figuring out why Newtonian physics doesn't tell the whole story, and advances with regards to electromagnetism and particle physics. For about the last half century, though, physics has mostly just been spinning its wheels and churning out nonsense like string theory and the holographic principle, and not revealing much else new about the real world.
 
We don't know everything we'll ever know, but we know enough I think to have some idea what's plausible and what is not. Things like time travel and warp drives just don't pass the smell test for me. On the other hand, the technological basis for things like cellular phones and the internet already existed shortly after WWII. While these things have drastically altered the way we all live our lives, they did not come about because we discovered something new about physics. A combination of economic, technological, and social factors brought them about, and my guess is we'll see even more revolutionary social changes as we integrate developments in fields like cybernetics, robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and augmented reality. You don't really need fantastical pseudo-scientific concepts to visualize a future that is vastly different from the world we live in today.
last edited on Jan. 1, 2014 8:32PM
irrevenant at 7:36PM, Jan. 2, 2014
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I likewise basically agree with you with some caveats. :D

I agree that the laws of physics have not significantly changed in hundreds of years, though you're right when you say Einstein's work opened new possibilities and quantum mechanics has the potential to do the same (quantum computing seems to be progressing, for example).

But people are very bad at anticipating novel uses for known science. Use of electricity for computation, for example, has been a theoretical possibility for centuries but no one thought it. We anticipated laser weapons, but not using lasers to read compact discs, etc. 

We do not know of any way that FTL or time travel would be possible. But given (a) the regular appearance of previously unthought technical possibilities, and (b) the significant exceptions to the known laws of physics found twice in the last century (Relativity and Quantum Mechanics), I'd be hesitant to 100% rule anything out.  String theory and the holographic universe might be nonsense at the moment but we do still lack a proven unifying theory of reality. If we make progress along the path to one, who knows what possibilities that will open up?

All that aside, SF series set within the bounds of the solar system can be really interesting and it sounds like something I'd like to read.

If you have a really good feel for your characters but not the story, it may be worth stealing a page from Stephen King: take the worst thing that could possibly happen to your character(s), make it happen to them, and watch them react to it. 

An idea just sparked by that question: You have (say) two dozen people who care for each other (family, friends, long-time crew, whatever) in a spacecraft halfway from Mars to one of the moons of Jupiter when their ship is breached by a micro-meteorite. They fix the damage, but now they only have enough air to get two dozen people *half* the way to Jupiter's moon. Or one dozen people all the way, of course. How do the different people deal with that situation? 
irrevenant at 8:28PM, Jan. 2, 2014
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Actually, Vernor Vinge used a clever way around the light speed issue in “A Fire Upon the Deep”. He simply posited that the 186000mps speed limit was a phenomenon localised to our Galaxy - then set his story outside that (and yes, the slow zone became a plot point :)). 

Similarly, there's no guarantee that the laws of physics are constant for all time, either. They could change on a roughly 14 billion year cycle. Or at random. Maybe even deliberately. Completely speculative, of course, but without knowledge of why the laws of nature are as they are, or how they got here, anything's theoretically possible.

Heck, we could even all be living in some sort of simulation, in which case the laws of nature can be changed  at the whim of the whatever running the simulation. (Interestingly, not too different from what Buddhists believe). 

The nice thing about science fiction is that you don't *have* to limit yourself to what's probably the case (Though that's a really interesting space to explore, too) - and there are some pretty fun edges of possibility to play on. :D
last edited on Jan. 2, 2014 8:56PM
El Cid at 10:13PM, Jan. 2, 2014
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Yunno, there are actually some real theoretical proposals out there which suggest that the speed of light may have varied over the life span of the universe, so that's a completely plausible way of bypassing the Cosmic Speed Limit (though you'll still need to deal with the absurd energy requirements and time dilation).
irrevenant at 6:53PM, Jan. 5, 2014
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Time dilation is half the fun of writing about harder forms of FTP. 
Which reminds me of another book for the list: Joe Haldeman's “The Forever War”. It's about what it's like fighting a war over interstellar distances when time dilation applies.
BTW, some of the books I recommended are SF classics because they tended more towards the hard SF back then.  The con to that is that the writing style can be dated sometimes. Just a warning. I personally think they're still well worthwhile. 
Another series that may interest you (that I haven't read, so can't personally vouch for) is Kim Stanley Robinson's “Mars” trilogy - a realistic portrayal of the Terraforming and colonisation of Mars. 
I didn't recommend Ender's Game because the science is a bit soft (FTL communication etc.). However the sequel to it, “Speaker for the Dead” is basically standalone, has much less reliance on soft SF elements (it's all set on the one planet) and I really enjoyed it. It's sort of a not-too-long-after-first-contact mystery. 
I also foolishly forgot to mention probably my favourite source of SF: Short story collections. In my experience they tend to be more focussed on core SF themes and topics. You probably want older collections though - SF short stories seem to have become very experimental lately. There's a series “Best SF of the Year” or something that floats around used book shops.  If you're looking for ideas, short stories will give you a broader variety of those, too. 
El Cid at 3:41PM, Jan. 8, 2014
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Oh, I don't mind dated writing styles; I love H.P. Lovecraft's work for one!
 
I've looked at a few science fiction anthologies already, some have turned out to be great finds and others more a fantasy-heavy waste of time. I'll check out those you recommended. Still searching for good SF comics ('Planetes' was a really good Japanese comic)
irrevenant at 6:55PM, Jan. 9, 2014
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Did you like “A Miracle of Science”? 

“ Angels 2200” was pretty cool from memory but may not be hard enough for your tastes. 

“Supermassive Black Hole A*” is hard SF, I believe. I wasn't able to get far into it, but you may like it. 

In the physical comics space, Warren Ellis's “Ocean” and “Ministry of Space” would probably fit your requirements. His “Transmetropolitan” isn't quite as hard, but I'm pretty sure you'd love it anyway (Comixology sums it up better than I could as “In the near future, gonzo journalist/cult author Spider Jerusalem lives fast and loose in The City–a chaotic melting pot of cultures, subcultures, lifeforms, and technologies. Mastermind writer Warren Ellis delivers this sharp, manic, anything-goes extrapolation of urban life.”). 

Bookwise, you might like Greg Bear. “The Forge of God” offers a chilling explanation for the Fermi Paradox, and “Darwin's Radio” is about a millenia-old genetic plague that may be more than it seems. (trying to minimise spoilers). 

Oh, just remembered! There's a collective online writing site at orionsarm.com which uses a shared, transhumanist hard-sf setting. I should get back to reading that… 
irrevenant at 7:30PM, Jan. 9, 2014
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P.S. Robert Heinlein is all over the shop, genre-wise but his “The moon is a harsh mistress” is good, hard SF about the life and culture of a manned lunar colony and it's eventual fight for independence from Earth. 
El Cid at 9:29AM, Jan. 10, 2014
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A Miracle of Science was excellent. I'll admit it was hard to get over the artwork at first, and there are a lot of things I'd have done differently with it, but overall that's very close to the kind of comic universe I'm working with. I'd quibble with a few aspects, but for the most part it stuck to realistic technology.
 
Transmetropolitan is a great series. I haven't read all of the collections yet, but it's a very enjoyable –and very strange– take on the world of tomorrow. I think of it kind of like Futurama on acid! I wasn't familiar with Ellis's other SF works though, so I'll have to check them out. He manages to take bizarre concepts and make them human and relateable.
 
Transhumanism is something that's always fascinated me too, though I think it's still further into the future than my story's setting that humans escape the shackles of biology altogether (Ray Kurzweil might disagree with me on that). I have different stories floating around in my head, but in one of them, there's a spy character who is part of a hive mind (not nearly as massive as the Martian hive mind in A Miracle of Science, however) whose cerebral network is shared by a number of agents spread across the solar system.
 
Heinlein's ‘Moon’ is a title that's been on my Amazon wishlist for quite a while, but it always manages to get bumped off at checkout time because I find something else I just suddenly need to add on! Thanks for all the great suggestions!
IndifferentlyEvil at 2:56PM, Jan. 19, 2014
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I've always held the opinion that sci-fi is not a genre, it is more of a setting. 
This is why you can have sci-fi dramas, and sci-fi action films, and sci-fi horror films, but it is incredibly rare (I can't think of any notable cases) where the movie is pure science fiction.
The science fiction in movies are there to bolster plot points. In alien monster movies it's to make enemies that are harder to kill than your average person/animal, while not having the watcher think it is impossible.
Sci-fi dramas usually focus on a single achievement of humanity, and look at how that achievement shapes us, which in turn tells us something about our selves.
So if you say you want sci-fi, then you are looking at a plot point, rather than the genre itself.
At least, that is my opinion.
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irrevenant at 6:38PM, Jan. 19, 2014
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Argyle, you're partly correct insofar as you're talking specifically about film, and Hollywood *does* have a tendency to use SF as superficial trappings.

This tends to be far less true in written SF, and there are exceptions even in film.

At the core of any genuine Speculative Fiction story is exploration of a “What if?” that cannot be addressed by other forms of fiction.  (IMO, the main difference between science fiction and Fantasy is how plausible the “What if?” is). What if we met intelligent life different from anything we know?  What if we could meet our distant ancestors or descendants? What would it be like to live on a truly alien world? What if people could be made to live forever? etc.

Since it's pretty dry to have a story that's *just* have a concept, yes, SF usually overlaps in execution with other genres such as action or drama. But very few genres are pure - what was the last action film you saw without at least a little drama or romance, for example? SF is clearly a genre in its own right not a superficiality because if you take it out of the film, the film collapses. 

I would consider some examples of genuine SF films to be: Looper, The Abyss, Gattaca and Total Recall .  Without the core premise (What if you were given the job of assassinating your future self? What if intelligent but very inhuman life exists deep beneath our oceans? What if genetics advances to a stage where it is routinely used to make apparently justified prejudgements about people?  What if it were possible for memories to be surgically altered?) you don't have a film. 

Examples of SF films that could just as easily not be: Avatar (could just as easily be a Western apart from the superficial trappings), Jurassic Park (cool, but could've just as easily been set in a regular zoo where all the animals escaped).

YMMV as to exactly where the line is for an SF concept to be critical to the plot, but hopefully those examples are clear enough. 

It's not surprising that there tends to be less genuine SF in film, though. Film is a very visual medium and not particularly well suited to exploring philosophical or conceptual subjects.  (This is partly why the book of 2001 makes so much more sense than the movie).  Novels are not only more cerebral compared to film, but they're also self-paced. This allows the author to drop in more supporting scientific detail for the reader to explore at the depth and pace that suits them.  And some of the concepts explored in science fiction (especially very hard SF)  really are so complex as to require that. 

Incidentally, you will find that analogies can be drawn between contemporary issues and some SF settings. For example, Margaret Atwood using a speculative setting to explore gender roles in “The Handmaid's Tale”. I consider this to also be something that only the SF genre can do. Only a speculative setting is able to take a contemporary issue and explore it in a pure form by viewing it independent of existing cultural context. Note BTW, that it's possible to do this very, very badly (google “Save the pearls” for one particularly hamhanded example) but  it's also possible to do it very well and it's a great use of SF when it is. 
El Cid at 8:24PM, Jan. 19, 2014
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Personally, I have to put the question of whether science fiction is a genre or plot point under the category of inconsequential semantics. I don't particularly care. The only thing I really worry about when I set out to do a comic is whether or not it will be entertaining; whether people will honestly enjoy reading it. If it can't pass that test, then it's a failure no matter how you classify it.
irrevenant at 5:48PM, Jan. 20, 2014
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Were you under the impression this thread is still about your comic? :P

You're completely right of course. And honestly the line between genre and plot point is pretty vague (What places a film in the “Romance” genre other than having a romantic relationship as a core plot point?).

So, had any further thoughts about the premise for your new webcomic? And did the book and film recommendations pan out okay? 

You're kind of making me want to do an SF webcomic now. Which is bad ‘cos I’m way behind on the webcomic I'm already working on. xD 
El Cid wrote:
Personally, I have to put the question of whether science fiction is a genre or plot point under the category of inconsequential semantics. I don't particularly care. The only thing I really worry about when I set out to do a comic is whether or not it will be entertaining; whether people will honestly enjoy reading it. If it can't pass that test, then it's a failure no matter how you classify it.
El Cid at 6:33PM, Jan. 20, 2014
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Yeah, I guess the subject matter of this thread's a lot broader than what I had originally intended. That's okay; I think it'll take me a while to go through all the suggestions I've already received.
 
I haven't actually received any of my books and DVDs yet, but more than anything I'm looking forward to the Alastair Reynolds titles I picked up ('Revelation Space' and ‘Chasm City.’ I've heard some of his later books were disappointing, so not jumping into those yet). I've checked out a few webcomics as well. Nothing really helpful or instructive, but mostly pretty enjoyable all the same (Boy Phaff's ‘Ray Gun’ here on DD was pretty good, as is the ongoing ‘Space Pulp’ series over at CF). Lots of good stuff out there. Currently trying to finish ‘Crimson Dark,’ a sci-fi webcomic I started looking at a while ago and never finished. Overall, nothing out there which is really close to what I'm trying to do, but then I'm not aiming to copy anybody's ideas; just trying to get a feel for a genre I've never really immersed myself in before.
 
I've pretty much settled on the characters and setting for the comic (a heavily-industrialized gas giant, likely Uranus, with a lucrative helium-3 mining economy dominated by self-sovereign corporations). I've always liked to follow characters who are on the margins of society and this will be no different, so it will focus on “fringe” people: rebels, smugglers, privateers, mainly antihero types. Genejoke (of B.A.S.O. fame) made some useful suggestions to me via email, which helped steer me in the right direction. Specifics of the story, though, are still up in the air right now. I've got a lot of individual scenes and images floating around in my head, but they don't all tie together yet. Right now, I'm mostly going to focus on the technical nuts and bolts (modeling, workflow, that kind of thing) and the right story will (hopefully) come to me along the way.
last edited on Jan. 20, 2014 6:34PM

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