Why I Don’t Write Dystopian Scifi

Why I Don't Write Dystopian Scifi Coming back to an earlier post, I want to take a moment to discuss why I don’t write about dystopian scifi. As a genre, it’s endlessly popular and has a massive audience always on the lookout for fresh stories. Why wouldn’t I chase that opportunity?

The decision is based on something I said a few years ago: the future shouldn’t suck. Yet, the future we dreamed of in the Eighties and Nineties does suck. Authors told dystopian stories for decades, but we didn’t learn the lessons. As a result, we’re living in those cold, harsh realities now. Humankind passed the threshold of dystopic civilization. To pretend otherwise is to project a false narrative.

It could be damaging to continue to write about dystopia as a fictional topic. How? Easy. If we as scifi authors keep calling out dystopia as a future state, we aren’t helping people understand how bad things are right now. They won’t understand that our current events are a boring dystopia unto themselves.

If we keep describing dystopia as an entertaining place, something to look forward to, are we showing that we care about our readers? Honestly, who would dystopian scifi authors be at that point, other than the Judas Goat who keeps the cows calm as they walk into the slaughterhouse?

I’m not comfortable with any of those possibilities. Science fiction as a genre can illuminate, instruct, and guide but only as much as we’re willing to make it so. What is scifi’s responsibility at a point like this?

I think back to the lessons learned by Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek. He imagined a place where the future we want just is.  In a world where war, injustice, and greed drowned out optimism and confidence, Roddenberry committed the ultimate subversive act: he hoped.

As a result, Gene Roddenberry and other scifi authors like him inspired generations of young people to seek out new life and new civilizations. In their search, they created those new civilizations on their own, inventing the technology scifi dreamed of. I see the echo of historical events in what we’re seeing now. It seems clear that my responsibility is to hope, and to help others do the same. Therefore, I cannot write a story about the world failing.

So yes, this is why I don’t write dystopian scifi.  I write about a world where the future is possible, create-able, achievable. I want technology to be fun, not scary. I want stories where kids are wise and hopeful, not cunning and cynical.

The future can be a cool place if we want it.




Uncanny Valley: Don’t Worry About AI Writers

Here’s a quick response to the ‘Are you scared yet, human?’ article that appeared in the Guardian last week. In the news, AI threatens to take writing jobs and our livelihoods. Should I be scared? I decided to see for myself, and tinkered with some AI content generator tools. The results below speak for themselves: don’t worry about AI writers.

Uncanny Valley: Don't Worry About AI Writers

Does this picture creep you out? Good, your brain is working correctly.

Writing seems to suffer from the ‘uncanny valley,’ just like CGI. According to technopedia, the “uncanny valley is a phenomenon that occurs in the human psyche and perception with regards to objects that are human-like, usually robots and images, and determines our reaction towards that object. It is still just a hypothesis, and it is stated to the effect of ‘as an object such as a robot gets more human-like, the response of some observers will become increasingly positive and emphatic, until a point is reached in the robot’s human-likeness beyond which the reactions quickly turn to strong revulsion.'”

In other words, while deep fakes look impressive, they look fake. The uncanny valley is why Moff Tarkin looked life-like, and yet devoid of life in ‘Rogue One.’

The uncanny valley is why – for now, anyway – I don’t worry about AI writers. It creates a permanent chasm between art made by machines and art made by man. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the data together. Continue reading

Check Out Blade Runner: San Francisco

Wildfire smoke yesterday turned the City by the Bay a rusty orange color, not unlike the visuals in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Naturally, someone took that as a cue to mate up drone footage of the dystopian scene with music from Blade Runner: 2049 to create Blade Runner: San Francisco. Watch the video below.

Scifi fans everywhere can rejoice and weep. The dystopian future they always imagined has now arrived in Blade Runner: San Francisco.

As much as I appreciate a video like this, I have to admit: I don’t write dystopian scifi for a reason. Not only is it self-indulgent, it’s disingenuous to those who are living an apocalyptic nightmare every day of their lives. Yet, the fascination with d/scifi for a couple of basic reasons.

  1. People are drawn to metaphysical competence
  2. People love the idea of escape.

Here’s what I mean by that – I’ll explain the second reason first. The vast majority of dystopian or post-apoc scifi stories are escapist in nature. In fact, I can break down pretty much every dystopian / post-apoc story ever written in two paragraphs, watch:

The undercurrent of any post-apocalyptic or dystopian movie is the lone hero. We love him because he’s living out the joy of being unshackled. No job, no boss, no taxes, no drama. He’s staying alive one nitro-fueled car chase at a time. Out of that reality, he’s unshackled from the tiresome social mores we’re obligated to maintain. He needs no one, and no one needs him.

Then in Act Two, something sucks him in and makes him care again: a beautiful girl, a child needing rescue, a powerful moral purpose. By Act Three, he’s connected his powerful Alpha Male characteristics with the righteous moral purpose. By the end of the story, society understands his/their value again. Everyone realizes that for the hero to function, society must connect with them on their own level. Walk off into the sunset, fade to black.

We love the idea of escaping all our messy, cluttered lives. We love the idea of society being forced to accept us on our terms. Dystopian scifi gives us that fantasy by the pound and we eat it up.

The first reason, metaphysical competence, also explains why we love heroes like James Bond, or Clint Eastwood. We’re drawn anti-heroes on a conceptual level.  We admire their ‘metaphysical competence,’ their ability to live successfully. If you’re familiar with male psychology, you’ve heard of the ‘lone wolf mentality.’ The lone wolf life is chiefly interested in it’s own needs, other people are often seen as an obstacle or threat. Connect the idea of metaphysical competence with the idea of shaking off everything else, and you’ve got a story everyone can love.

I have some very specific reasons why – although people love that kind of sci-fi – I don’t write it. I’ll get into those reasons in a future blog post.

Last Message from Titan Six – New Scifi Short Story Submitted

Last Message from Titan Six - New Scifi Short Story SubmittedI’ve submitted a new scifi short story to Clarkesworld: Last Message from Titan Six. It’s a nice break from the horror show outside.  Right now, Eugene is under siege with smoke from various wildfires turning our atmosphere into a dystopian hellscape. Like everyone else, I’m waiting for things to get better.

This new scifi short story came from a Reddit writing prompt – I tuned my original submission and fixed a number of grammar errors. Now it’s time to see if Clarkesworld thinks it’s good enough for publication as is. If not, then I can continue working on it. Like all my other scifi shorts, you can track Last Message from Titan Six’s progress on my production board.

How are the rest of my shorts coming? Still waiting for feedback from Apex on ‘The Necktie Party.’ I’m continuing to submit ‘The Conquered’ to different magazines and I’m developing ‘Major Dawg’ into a longer short, but it’s taking me some time to see how the story should end.

So in a nutshell: I’m still cranking forward. Every new scifi short story I submit brings me closer to my dream: writing full-time for a living. Excited to see what kind of feedback I get.

Krull: Great Moments in Bad Storytelling

Krull: Great Moments in Bad StorytellingThere’s something grotesquely compelling about about bad movies; they enthrall, they fascinate. You spend hours staring at them wondering: “What was their secret? How did they get budget to tell a story this bad?” Krull is one of those movies, and that means it’s time for another great moment in bad storytelling.

If you’re like me and you’ve never seen Krull before, I defy you to fire it up on a random Tuesday afternoon. Give it the ’20 minute’ test – either it will capture your attention or it won’t. You’ll be sucked into the movie, or you’ll run screaming from the room – there is no third option.

The Good and the Bad of Krull

Krull is a dull hodgepodge of scifi and fantasy, a mixture of Dune and Captain Blood that manages to annoy as much as it amuses. The movie has it’s good points: The cast gives it everything they’ve got, committing to their parts even if there’s not much to work with. Expensive VFX and the stunt scenes are decent. You can trace out elements of the movie – the widow’s web, for example – inspiring Shelob’s Lair in Lord of the Rings.

But we’re not letting the film off the hook. This is ‘Krull: Great Moments in Bad Storytelling’ for a reason. All those pluses come with two hours’ worth of cringe-worthy minuses. After watching Krull I know where Mel Brooks got the majority of the Spaceballs plot. When you watch Krull, you’ll spend two and a half hours cringing through sleep-inducing cinematography, bad haircuts, and clunky dialogue.

That’s not all. Krull is full of poorly-constructed characters that seem to be a parody of themselves. Every line and action sequence of Krull pushes the movie forward like a stubborn mule. Movies are supposed to take you to a different place, right? Krull’s job is to make you wish you were at a third place altogether; somewhere bad movies were not allowed to exist.

What Went Wrong?

I’m not here to kick a bad movie when it’s down. Rather, I want to do a root cause analysis on how it happened. That’s the only way we’re going to get better as storytellers.

How could a movie with all the right elements result in disaster? I think the answer is a lot more simple than we think, and it starts from the very top. According to Wikipedia, Krull, it started out as a directive from the President of Columbia Pictures. That makes sense: the movie has all the charm of an interoffice memo.

There’s a given wisdom in the 21st century. Large creative corporations can be their own worst enemy. They’re too large, too disconnected from the audience, and they can’t get out of their own way. That wisdom comes the bad scifi/fantasy stories we got in the eighties and nineties; Krull is the proof.

So, with that analysis in place, let’s celebrate this schlocky, execrable attack on our brain cells! ‘Krull: Great Moments in Bad Storytelling’ – a cult classic, a B-movie with an A-movie budget, a dark spot on the scifi / fantasy genre. Long may it live, so that other stories may learn from its mistakes.

New Transhuman Microfiction – Major Dawg

New Transhuman Microfiction - Major DawgSo here’s some Thursday night awesomeness: I’m continuing to write new short stories! This week I started work on a new WritingPrompt that turned out so well I think I’ll develop it into a short story about an interesting scifi topic: transhumanism.

What is transhumanism, you say? It gets a little sticky, but essentially TH is the study of humans exceeding their physical limitation through technology. Androids? Cyborgs? Digital copies of our personalities? All sub-topics of transhumanism.

As Wikipedia describes: ‘a posthuman is a hypothetical future being “whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer unambiguously human by our current standards.” Posthumans primarily focus on cybernetics, the posthuman consequent and the relationship to digital technology.’

Most discussion on the topic of TH tends to get deep pretty quick, so I decided to skip all that and just focus on what transhumanism might do to an ordinary person; a teenage girl. The ensuing first two parts might make an interesting Twilight Zone-esque episode – but we’ll see where the rest of the story takes us. For now, please enjoy this piece of microfiction!

Click Here to Read Major Dawg

If you’re interested in other pieces of microfiction, you can find them here.


More Mesh Music on Spotify

More Mesh Music on SpotifyMesh was inspired by movies, art, and music. I created this Spotify playlist so you could travel through the Mesh universe along with us!. Now it’s time to give you some updates: I’ve updated the Mesh Inspirations playlist to include more vibe-inducing audio selections.

Mesh is a book that will take you to another place – as you’ll quickly find out when you fire the playlist up. Some of the music is scifi-based – other pieces reflect the joy of discovery, of human aspirations. Enjoy and Happy Monday!

Listen to Mesh Inspirations Here