The Many Faces of an Alien
Aidan was kind of enough to give me the pulpit and asked me to share my thoughts on why I think aliens make such great enemies/sources of conflict in science fiction. Now, before I delve deeper into this, I believe it is important to break down the roles of aliens within the science fiction genre.
I find that these truly alien “Aliens” tend to make poor primary plot devices since readers need to make some sort of connection with antagonists in order for them to be effective enemies.
Aliens are portrayed usually in one of two ways. First, in the true sense, they are introduced as something completely foreign to Earth and our way of thinking. We tend to have a difficult time grasping their physiology, method of thinking, and purpose behind their logic. I find that these truly alien “Aliens” tend to make poor primary plot devices since readers need to make some sort of connection with antagonists in order for them to be effective enemies. Good storytelling requires the reader to sympathize or understand the characters in a book. Otherwise, the alien just devolves into being an antagonist for antagonists’ sake. Or in the words of Tropic Thunder, it’s like going “full retard.” The exception to that is if these antagonists are there only to serve as a plot device to reflect the focus of the story back onto the protagonist. It’s not about the goal, it’s about the journey sort of storytelling.
The second way that aliens are portrayed in science fiction is to make them not alien at all and uses them as a literary vehicle to explore social issues within our culture and society. Usually, the author does this a safe distance by hiding behind the façade of portraying an alien culture, but can delve deeply into lingering prejudices and social stereotypes. Continue reading
The great old stories break and bend rules modern audiences take for granted. For example: Journey to the West, which I talked about last month, is a story of high-flying magic, transformation, kung fu, divine war, and so on—that, for all its epic scope, reads more like Sword and Sorcery.
That is, to borrow Liz Bourke’s definition of S&S: Journey to the West is a story of encounter, in which central characters going about their daily business keep running into strange, fascinating, terrifying things—and befriending them, or beating them about the head and shoulders, or both.
By contrast, let’s talk about one of the best war-and-intrigue novels of all time, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. At first glance, Three Kingdoms seems an epic fantasy, in that it describes the fall of a massive empire through the lens of central characters with dynastic ambition. But, though set in a time of miracles, Three Kingdoms relies on the traditional Sword & Sorcery mix of cleverness, combat, and betrayal rather than prophecy or magic. Continue reading
George Lucas, from his awkward (though richly-furnished) office as the new ‘creative consultant’ on the Star Wars series (which, of course, he founded, raised to greatness… and then tarnished), recently confirmed, maybe accidentally, that Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford will, after 30+ years, be reprising their roles in the next mainline Star Wars film.
Business Week, in conversation with Lucas, reports:
Asked whether members of the original Star Wars cast will appear in Episode VII and if he called them before the deal closed to keep them informed, Lucas says, “We had already signed Mark and Carrie and Harrison-or we were pretty much in final stages of negotiation. So I called them to say, ‘Look, this is what’s going on.’ ” He pauses. “Maybe I’m not supposed to say that. I think they want to announce that with some big whoop-de-do, but we were negotiating with them.” Then he adds: “I won’t say whether the negotiations were successful or not.”
Can anyone familiar with the Star Wars Expanded Universe stuff posit what timeframe and in what capacity Luke, Leia and Han might appear? Harrison Ford is 70 now, so it won’t be a spry, planet-hopping Han, surely. My grandfather-in-law is about 75. Man. Weird.
Rope of Silicon is reporting that The Hobbit: There and Back Again has been delayed by Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema. The final instalment of the trilogy is now targeting a December 17th, 2014 release, five months later than its original release date of July 14th, 2014.
Certainly disappointing news, but maybe not so surprising given the long-troubled production of the trilogy. It’s hard not to wonder if this is also the result of the studios deciding to expand the series of movies from two to three just months before The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey came to theatres. This new release schedule will mirror the three-movies-over-two-years schedule that The Lord of the Rings followed.
Fantasy should be the broadest genre in existence. Fantasy writers get to create and transform to our hearts’ content. Not even the laws of thermodynamics bind us. Our imaginations are our only limits.
The problem is, the imagination’s limits are often harder than physical law. Writers are formed by experience, and interpret that experience into story using instincts developed reading, and hearing, stories, from early childhood. So, when a lot of Western folks turn to writing fantasy, Arthurian and Greek and Norse myths are the seeds they use to people and structure their imaginative worlds.
Which is fine! Each generation needs to remake the myths received from the previous generation. But sometimes writers and readers feel the limits of their traditions, and wonder, what else is out there, other than kings and earls?
In this three-part series I’m going to be writing about stories I think all fantasy writers and fans should know, other than the standard Celtic, Greek, and Norse sources. If you know these stories already, then good! I hope there’ll be something cool for you here anyway. If these stories are new to you, maybe these few posts will expose you to some amazing worlds. Continue reading