Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Forbidden Planet

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

The movie that forever changed my attitude to the future. – Michio Kaku

Forbidden Planet is a classic sci-fi movie about an alien society that has destroyed itself through technology and the scientist, Morbius, who discovers their secret.  It shares elements with The Tempest except the movie uses science in place of the supernatural – the great Arthur C. Clarke’s maxim was that any advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  The film’s science is plausible and the psychology even more so. I love this movie for the brilliant monster from the sub-conscious (designed by Disney animators); its set design; the first ever all-electronic  score (by Bebe and Louis Barron); and the melodramatic script:

My evil self is at that door, and I have no power to stop it!Morbius


Ray Bradbury

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

The things that you do should be things that you love; and the things that you love should be things you do. – Ray Bradbury

goldenapplesRay Bradbury’s stories kept me reading in my teenage years and still inspire my writing today. I still have my first Corgi paperback of  The Golden Apples of the Sun – the best 65c I ever spent (in 1970 that was an hour’s raspberry picking). Bradbury’s sci-fi-fantasy stories are scary, surprising, sentimental, and highly imaginative: a dinosaur falls in love with a lighthouse (The Fog Horn); an insect changes history (A Sound of Thunder); an astronaut pursues Jesus from planet to planet (The Man); the sun only shines once every 7 years (All Summer in a Day). He wrote short stories (my favourite collection is The Illustrated Man), novels, film (eg. Moby Dick) and TV.

Read more about Ray Bradbury:

If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling.– Ray Bradbury


Writing Sci-Fi: Infodump & Unobtainium

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

I’m writing a sci-fi novel and falling into two traps: Infodump and Unobtainium.

Infodump is a when a character gives a mini lecture — telling instead of showing — such as in reply to “Tell me, Professor, how does your invention work?” Infodump can be reduced by editing out any techno-babble, and by using characters to give brief explanations only when plot demands it to move forward.

Unobtainium is a plot device such as an alien substance or a future technology. Most sci-fi has these but too often they’re used by writers to remove a plot hole; as in ‘Lucky I brought my sonic screwdriver to do this impossible task.’ (A version of: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’– Arthur C Clarke). Possible solutions are to make your ‘Unobtainium’ central to the plot (eg. give it a snappy back-story), or reduce it to a playful bit of science.


Sci-Fi Classics

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

I loved science fiction when I was a young teen – especially short stories about time travel, which usually had surprise endings. In Arthur C Clarke’s All the Time in the World, a man freezes time a second before a nuclear blast; in A Sound of Thunder, by Ray Bradbury, the death of an insect changes the course of history. I still have my old copy of Bradbury’s Golden Apples of the Sun; the Corgi paperback cost me 65 cents new in 1970 (about the hourly rate for raspberry picking in my summer holidays). A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle was a novel ahead of its time in 1960 (it was rejected 26 times by publishers). Its plot combines wormholes and angels and has a classic ending: a giant disembodied alien brain is defeated by love. L’Engle liked to tackle grand themes, as she said:

You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.

Shrinking Man

Monday, March 17th, 2014

The classic sci-fi movie, The Incredible Shrinking Man (1958), was about the atomic angst of the 1950s and it’s themes have not dated. The hero is exposed to a radioactive cloud and begins to shrink. Trapped in his home, he battles his cat, a spider, and a leaking tap (always a threat to the male ego). Finally, he’s reduced to his essential self and ponders his place in the universe. Watch the end of the movie here. This extract is from the closing monologue (script by Richard Matheson):

So close – the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly, I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet—like the closing of a gigantic circle…


Wells, Welles, wells

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched…

So begins The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. But some did believe it 75 years ago on Halloween in 1938. Orson Welles’ fake radio news report based on the novel panicked many people into thinking it was a real invasion, if not by the Martians then by the Germans. The broadcast remains scarily realistic (listen to a clip here). It made Welles famous, and even Hitler referred to the hoax, calling it an example of ‘the decadence of democracy’.  H.G.Wells once met Orson Welles and recorded a nicely understated interview.  The novel is one of the most influential of all sci-fi stories although it displays the some of the racist attitudes of its time (1898). It gave the world its extraterrestrial consciousness and opened narrative wells that have produced a host of alien stories. And the existence of alien life seems more than likely amongst the billions of ‘Goldilocks’ (suitable) planets, stars and galaxies.

Picture by Alvim Corréa, 1906 edition.

Even Daleks Love Bees

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Daleks exterminate, and humans do too:

We’re killing the bees, who make our food.

Bees make us honey, and food for free,

But Daleks love bees, so why can’t we?


Perhaps it’s because the Daleks have a ‘hive mind’, a collective consciousness – like honey bees which communicate by smell, touch, and democratic systems.

Listen to the Dalek High Commander speak:

dalekDalek hand-made by Barry Renwick, Woodstock Furniture Makers.


A Wrinkle In Time

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle was ahead of its time with its wormholes and angels. New writers take note that it was rejected 26 times because its ideas were so ground-breaking back in 1960. But what sci-fi fan could resist an ending where a giant disembodied alien brain is defeated by love? (Shades of Dr Who). L’Engle tackled some grand themes in this semi-spiritual quintet of novels. I love what she said about children’s books:

You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children – Madeleine L’Engle




Unsung NZ Sci-Fi

Saturday, May 4th, 2013

Three neglected science fiction books by New Zealand writers:
The Red Dust by Bee Baldwin (1965) is one of the first NZ post-apocalyptic novels. A deadly red dust released by Antarctic drilling wipes out much of the world. A group of immunes must survive roaming gangs and a mastermind who wants to rule New Zealand. It’s a chilling, well-structured story, with great use of NZ settings (this adult novel was inexplicably in my primary school library where I read it at age 10 and understood about 10%).

red dust

The Unquiet by Carolyn McCurdie is a strikingly original intermediate novel and a suspenseful read. It has an apocalyptic opening when the planet Pluto and parts of the Earth’s surface vanish. A small town girl has a gift for sensing unrest in the fabric of the universe and becomes the focus in a battle as the novel turns into a fantasy.


Where All Things End by David Hill describes a spectacular journey into a Black Hole. A mission to study the hole goes wrong and the crew race towards the Singularity- a point where all things become no-things. A ripping yarn underpinned by a convincing depiction of space travel and universal theories.



Exploring the Afterlife

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Sum, Forty Tales from the Afterlives, by David Eagleman, is a hugely entertaining, often thought-provoking book. Each very short story describes a quirky version of life after death. There is an afterlife populated only by people you remember; one where you are split into different ages; another where God is a married couple. Listen to Stephen Fry reading one about a highly ordered afterlife. The stories are not so much about theology or God (although He, She, and They do appear as somewhat fallible characters) as about treasuring the life we have now – plus a bit of humour and sci-fi just for fun. Here’s a video interview with Eagleman (a neuroscientist) who describes himself as a ‘Possibilian’– one who explores new ideas. (More novels about the afterlife).

Writing Sci-Fi: Structure

Friday, February 10th, 2012

In his wonderful book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (p.76), novelist Orson Scott Card says all stories contain 4 basic aspects: Milieu, Idea, Character and Event (MICE!). Here are some sci-fi examples (YA):

  • Milieu: about a world or a society. Eg. Running Out of Time by Margaret Haddix about time travel to a past society.
  • Idea: begins with a mystery to answer. Eg. Protus Rising by Ken Catran, murder mystery in space.
  • Character: about character transformation. Eg.The House of Scorpion by Nancy Farmer about a clone who develops values.
  • Event: when something goes wrong in the world. Eg. Box by Penelope Todd about an epidemic that strikes New Zealand.

Which aspect of the story matters most to you? That is the aspect that will give you the story’s structure. – Orson Scott Card