If you visit the Story Story Production Board, you’ll see a number of new submissions going out – that’s a sign I’m keeping busy by re-writing and re-subbing short stories that didn’t get published elsewhere. If I want to get into the SFWA, I need one (but preferably three) stories to be purchased for my membership to be considered. So, that’s me trying. Hope your weekend is busy, too!
For today’s Sci-Friday, enjoy ‘Russian Cyberpunk Farm,’ a tongue-in-cheek scifi short about life in a Russian village enabled by technology. If you love the work of Simon Stalenhag, this is your jam. Watch it all the way to the end, it’s got a wicked twist:
Want to work on the Russian Cyberpunk Farm? Act now, applications are running out fast! Have a great weekend and keep on dreaming!
What did people think our time was going to be like? Studying concept art, architecture, and history we get something totally cool: retrofuturism – our ancient scifi future.
As we explore the future through science fiction, it’s valuable to see our present through the lens of the past. Retrofuturism is a valuable part of that lens, and I incorporate RF elements in Mesh. Every science fiction fan should be familiar with retrofuturism. Let’s dive down the rabbit hole together. Inside, we find an infinite universe of creativity spanning people, places and things.
RetroFuturism All Over the World
First, the top picture here is something I’ve talked about before: the Wuppertal Suspension Railway. The monorail looks like a steampunk fantasy, but it’s completely real. You can even watch a Youtube video of the journey!
Next in America, you can see examples of retrofuturism browsing back issues of Popular Mechanics. One piece of retrofuturism I’d love to own as a poster is Verticalville – a newspaper concept cartoon of what they thought skyscrapers would look like in the future. Sadly, it only lives on as a jigsaw puzzle. Let me know if you find a poster – I’d love to get one!
After that, we see another example: these Soviet futuristic buildings. Russia has traditionally been comfortable with wild architecture, expressive public art, and bold urban planning. Even somber places like a crematorium were opportunities to create provocative art.
Some projects never materialized. The Palace of the Soviets was a *massive* project dreamed up by the Congress of the Soviets. Construction was terminated by the German invasion. Nonetheless, the project’s concept art is breathtaking. You can kill a few hours wondering what life would have been like if the Palace was actually built. Other parts of the world have their own retrofuturism to discuss. Check out this RF-inspiring picture of a Japanese hovercraft.
What Did You Learn?
As I said at the outset, studying retrofuturism is valuable for any scifi fan. It allows us to see our present through the lens of the past. What did people think our lives were going to be like? Did they get the details right? Did they get them wrong?
There are deeper questions, too. Where did the dreams take the dreamers? Did those dreams, that imagination, result in a good outcome? If we dream that big, what happens? Do we miss small, important details?
I hope you find this discussion about retrofuturism and our ancient scifi future to be valuable. Dream big, dream small. Whatever you do, know that you’re tapping into a fun, beautiful universe. Go exploring!
This video got me thinking today, and it’s the perfect answer to the question: “Why are you doing this?” Why am I writing a novel? Why am I trying to be a professional storyteller? Why am I trying to grow beyond my personal problems? I know I’m not the only person asking these questions of themselves, so to you who are also struggling I’d like to give you this video. This is why we struggle:
This video makes me appreciate Ewan McGregor far beyond anything he’s done with Star Wars. You can watch the rest of the documentary here. Because he was willing to continue his project, to persevere, he was able to find a little girl that would eventually become his adopted daughter. He had no idea that his struggle would lead him to change her life, but it did. That’s a beautiful lesson for all of us.
We’re all facing the same questions, the same tests of our courage and our commitment. Sometimes we reach those forks in the road and we force ourselves to struggle on. We do that for the same reason McGregor did: we don’t know what’s down there. If we give up, we’ll go to our grave wondering what might have been.
It’s important to remember that those hard choices can open doors we never dreamed of walking through. We struggle because we don’t know what’s out there. We fight to make our dreams come true, because another person may need what you’re dreaming of.
I’m struggling, too. Making MESH a reality is path I trudge forward on every day. To you, out there struggling to make your dream come true: You aren’t alone. Keep going. Someone needs you to succeed, even if it’s only yourself.
The thing I love about nerds is that they make everything amazing, even in little ways. In today’s example, a nerd plays the Star Wars Imperial Theme with a coffee stirrer.
Is this the best video ever? No, but that’s not the point. If you look for small ways to change the world, they add up.
I saw this tweet a while back and let it simmer. As a person who stays in his house most of the time, writing is my way of getting out and exploring the world. COVID has made most of us homebodies, and so it’s important to remember that you can write like a traveler without leaving your bedroom.
Let’s talk about how that works. Say for example, my next novel will take place in Tokyo. I’ve never been to Japan, so how would I ‘write the location’ in an authentic way? You’ll need the Internet to make this work, or access to your local library.
How It Works
- Start by Google’ing everything I can about the place I’m exploring. The history of Tokyo, using Google Maps and Youtube to take virtual tours. You can do all of this for free, but it might be more convenient to have a Gmail account, since it allows you to make custom maps or mark points of interest for later.
- Get curious – using Google Maps Streetview, I’ll look at random points and start wandering around. Use that link I showed you and then start moving around. What strikes your interest? What do you want to know more about? Find something cool, and then Google that to see what it is. As you can see from my example, I picked a spot in Tokyo, found an office building and looked it up to see what’s there. So far, it looks like a boring office building …
- Now we start using our imagination. Instead of a boring office building, it could be the location of a fight between the bad guys and the good guys. Or maybe the good guy uses the small store at the bottom of the building to buy food for the government witness he’s protecting from the bad guys. Maybe he uses the subway outside to escape danger. The possibilities are literally endless. Weaponize your imagination. It’s fun!
- As you explore, remain focused on your story. Repeat steps 1-3 until you have enough information to start writing your scenes. As you write, your brain will ask questions. Go back and repeat steps 1-3 again, to answer those questions. Sometimes you’ll realize that your scenes and imagination don’t match reality. That’s okay! Either you re-write the scene, or maybe your scene takes place in the future where the details you’ve imagined don’t exist yet!
So there you have it, four simple steps to write like a traveler. You don’t have to be rich, or well-traveled, to write like you’ve been there. All you need is your phone, your imagination, and some free time to explore.
I can’t wait to see what you come up with!
Click Here to Read Part One – Last week, we started some discussions around how being an author works when you’re an authentic human being. Creative people exist on a spectrum of thinking and doing, feeling and memory. Sometimes our art feels like one big “Does anyone else feel …” post on the Internet. We’re looking for other people to go ‘yeah, me too.’ Getting there requires some kind of Survival Guide, so I started writing one.
Let’s remember though – this is a SURVIVAL GUIDE. I’ll still have the same problems when I finish this blog post and so will you. The goal is to survive the mental and emotional stress of finding your voice and audience, so that you will thrive. Hopefully, you understand that art is PART of a complete balanced wellness plan. All that said, let’s now get to the specifics. So here we go with:
Survival Guide for Creative People – Part Two
In a practical survival situation, you want to orient yourself to your territory. Land navigation, survival techniques, they start with knowing where you are, how you are, and what your situation is. Within creativity, every situation is unique, so you need to orient yourself to your circumstances and learn to do it in a short period of time. We built from this Urban Navigation page to make the following suggestions:
1. Interacting with others online? Watch how others do it first.
This goes for Twitter, Reddit, AbsoluteWrite, or elsewhere. Each online community has their own cultural norms – some rules are more formal than others. Learn by lurking. Participate in small ways, before posting big topics. Here are some additional tips from Disciple Media that I thought will be relevant for you:
- Ask yourself: What are you attempting to accomplish?
- Ask yourself: How do you want to be perceived by digital communities?
- Base your voice on the areas you have authority to speak about.
- Write about what you know and what you care about.
- Understand your audience and find topics that matter to them.
What better way to enjoy Sci-Friday #88 than 88MPH of fun, reliving some of the golden era of 80s scifi. Here are some behind-the-scenes looks at Back to the Future. As you’ll quickly find out, success was by no means assured.
Oof, where do I begin … Okay, here goes: I had a bad day yesterday. Life got on top of me, and I stumbled under the weight. How did I get there, and how did I get out? The answers to those questions will become what I call the Authentic Author’s Survival Guide.
First thing’s first – being a writer is a tough gig. Here’s why: The act of writing pushes you through a strange, chaotic gauntlet of emotions. You’re supposed to write about people, and for people. AT THE SAME TIME, discussing your work with other creatives (especially online) exposes you to the harshest, most caustic criticism possible.
“Why would you do that to yourself?”
Here are three reasons: Continue reading
I hate to say it, but the writing business is full of snake oil salesmen. As an aspiring author, you’re marketed a variety of tools, apps, stuff all designed to ‘make you a real writer.’ When I first saw these ads, I had to honestly ask myself: “Do I Need Fancy Pens to be a Real Writer?” Happily, the answer is No.
Make no mistake: Writing is a skill the same as working on cars, playing basketball or the piano. The common myth with writing, or any other new skill, is that it takes a lot of expensive stuff to make it work. That’s not true, and thanks to this Reddit post, we have a simple explanation as to why:
I’d like to preface this by saying this is an observation, not an attack, just the human condition we are all subject to:
It’s much easier to buy things for a new hobby than it is to actually engage with skill building. Humans are highly likely to research and collect all the knowledge and parts of a hobby without ever actually participating in the hobby. It’s so common at this point I feel like the phenomenon should be given a name.
On the surface it seems healthy: learn about hobby before doing it, and it’s easy to believe that having high quality devices/products will make hobby easier to learn, make you want to learn (you spent all that money) or make you feel like part of a community. But in reality it’s just a way to avoid putting in the work… Work which often results in struggle and failure (a natural progression of improvement) which is why we would rather buy all the things, read all the expert advice, and then only barely scratch the surface of becoming adept at hobby.
It’s so easy to get caught in this cycle of reading and buying and never actually skill-building. It’s tragic. We do it to protect our ego, and the ego is a real baby about stuff like “not being immediately amazing at a new skill”.
Don’t let your ego trick you into this. Do the work with the gear that you have (unless you’re like… Sky diving or something… Please don’t skimp on protective gear. Like, ever) and as you improve you can “earn” new gear.
You can read the rest of the discussion at your covenience. The point I want to leave you with is, let yourself off the hook. You can’t afford expensive tools? No problem, neither can I. We’re all doing this for as cheap as we can. Often, there are ultra-cheap/free ways to get where you need to go. Don’t be afraid to be stingy.
Art is one of those rare places where talent, not money, still unlocks the door. It may be harder for you, but when you win, no one can take your victories away. All the struggle and work will become part of the journey.