Sci-Friday #134 – New Free Scifi Wallpapers

Sci-Friday #134 – New Free Scifi Wallpapers

Wow – back from a two-week break. Check out some new free scifi wallpapers and follow along as we catch up.

Tons of stuff has been happening behind the scenes as I continue to write Cinderellavator. Additionally, I participated in #Pitmad yesterday on Twitter and Mesh found a whole group of new people excited about the project. Of course I’d love for people to jump on Mesh, give me a book deal and make it rain into my bank account. I’m much more realistic after three or four rounds of #pitmad – The real #pitmad is the friends we made along the way.’ The main thing is to love the process, enjoy the journey. Either the destination will appear, or maybe the journey was the destination the entire time.

Dump of Dystopia Composites

The backstory of these pictures is simple – I think there’s a terrible art to the horrors of the modern human condition. I’ve started looking at digital compositing as a creative outlet and these pictures are my first takes on that genre. Your feedback is welcome.

I’m grateful that people are empathetic and understanding when I talk about my condition. Most authors will tell you ‘you can’t sell your book without public appearances.’ Thankfully, they’re also sensitive to how that would work when the author has PTSD. I’m still thinking about how all that would work.

That’s the news for now folks, back to your regularly scheduled writing program.

Scifi Craftsmanship: Maturity Models – Part Two

Click Here to Read Part One – So yesterday’s blog post was the beginning of a conversation about applying craftsmanship to scifi through the use of a ‘maturity model.’ I spent most of that post talking about ‘why we should think about this.’ Immaturity in science fiction represents an existential threat; ignore the disaster and become the disaster that gets ignored. We can’t afford to look the other way. So instead, let’s talk about how we make things better, and take a deep dive into the details of scifi craftsmanship and maturity models.

Think back to the Reddit comment about education and maturity again, we see a huge opportunity for science fiction both as a genre and a community. How it would work is by asking ourselves some simple questions:

Am I consuming scifi or do I produce scifi, or a little of both?

You learn more about making art than you ever will by studying it. ‘Real artists ship,’ as Steve Jobs said, describing the difference between “real artists” who finish their projects and deliver on their ideas and “wannabe artists” who just tinker around. The process of art invariably forces you to think more deeply, especially as you put your work out into the world and see what other producers are doing. ‘But what if I’m not a producer?’ you ask. There’s nothing wrong with professional consumers of a product. Scifi needs influencers, so if that’s your path, then follow it! However, you have to remember that professional consumers / influencers of an art form have their own etiquette and protocol. That leads us to the next question …

Am I helping scifi improve?

There’s more to being an art critic than showinig up to galleries and drinking cheap wine. You have to be able to articulate what you enjoy about the work, or what you think might have improved it. Similarly, beer drinkers start out drinking Budweiser to IPAs, often making beer themselves. That’s the maturity path for other creative mediums. How can we mature as scifi ‘experiencers?’ Can we move beyond conversations like ‘this is why Star Wars sucks’ and into discussions like ‘Here’s how you fix Star Wars?’ 

Ultimately the answer is – ‘how could this be better?’ Discuss the vision, strategy, and tactics of a well-executed science fiction story (Looking at you, Dune – they did a great job, didn’t they?). Break down the model to figure out how other scifi could be just as cool. Then talk about how you could do that on a budget, like Primer, Midnight Special, or Coherence. The answers may not always be as valuable as the questions.

Do I remain open-minded to new scifi?

We have to remember as imperfect little meatbags that we’re often our own worst enemies when it comes to progress. We fall into ruts, we get set in our ways. It happens to everyone. How do we fall into ruts? Easy … just follow the path of least resistance one too many times. Here’s the good news: Since it’s easy to fall into a rut, it’s just as easy to avoid them. How? Three little words: try new things.

It’s as easy as that. Try some new scifi today! Read a new book. Watch a new movie. Download a new video game demo. How long should you try it before you decide it’s not for you? My personal rule is the ‘twenty minute test.’ If the new thing hasn’t captured you in 20 minutes, chuck it and move on. I’ve discarded hundreds of movies and books this way. Life’s too short for something that doesn’t grab you by the feels.

Open-mindedness has many personal benefits. For example, being open minded makes you ‘less susceptible to influence, persuasion, manipulation, and coercion. Instead of having a biased view of any given situation, you critically assess everything and gain a balanced perspective.’ Science fiction can’t survive and thrive without those new and continually evolving ideas. Both producers and consumers of science fiction must remain open to new science fiction ideas, concepts, and methods for us to achieve the growth we’re capable of as a species.

Mature Scifi is a Win-Win

Forgive the Stephen Covey reference, I’m trying to make this discussion something everyone can relate to. When scifi matures as a genre and community, it’s going to create the next generation of Asimov’s, Atwoods, and Butlers. Imagine an alternate history where Larry Niven got told ‘floating cities in space? That’s stupid, write something else,’ and listened to that advice. We’d never have Ringworld. Imagine a world where Gregory Benford never believed in himself enough to write “The Scarred Man” in 1969. We’d never know what a computer virus was.

My point is that we exist on the backs of previous generations’ commitment to maturity. Their courage, curiosity, and passion got us to here. Now it’s time for us to take the next step!

Think about what a ‘scifi maturity model’ should be to you and let’s talk about it. This is a universe where we can all build, grow, and change together. Let’s put our courage, curiosity, and passion to work.

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Scifi Craftsmanship: Maturity Models

Scifi Craftsmanship: Maturity Models

Quick, want to nerd out about something? Forget dissecting another ‘who would win, the Enterprise or a Star Destroyer‘ argument. Instead, let’s talk scifi craftsmanship and maturity models. Would you believe that it’s possible to grow scifi as a genre and community? Would you like to be a part of that process? We can do both right now, applying craftsmanship to scifi through the use of a ‘maturity model.’

‘Whoa, whoa … back up,’ you say. ‘Improve scifi? Why would I want to do that?’ These are the assumptions I’m working under, so please feel free to keep me honest. If you’re here on Inkican, I’m assuming that you’re a fellow geeky person, correct? Science fiction isn’t just a thing to us, it’s a lifestyle.

Why You Should Care

Craftspeople and makers have been doing this for centuries. Not only do they think about *what* they make, they think about *how* they make it. That craftsmanship Like any other art form, scifi is important to us. If it follows that we want to live lives of purpose and values, we should want to make science fiction better, correct? Passively or actively, scifi has ‘gotten better’ since the 1930s. We improve what we value, and science fiction is valuable to all of us. I’m suggesting we continue that path, and apply some ‘best practices’ of improvement.

Modern practices for improving the craft of your work involve something called ‘maturity models.’ As this web page explains, ‘when you’re building any kind of system, you need ways to understand how well you’re doing.’ Most people stop when they hit a number goal like money or audience size, but those metrics aren’t useful when it comes to answering the most important question any business or large corporate movie franchise (You know who you are, folks …) should be asking itself: Do we suck, and if so how do we get better?

Let’s face it, if you aren’t asking this question yourself, your audience will answer it for you and invariably, they aren’t kind. Nothing brings our modern outrage culture like dragging a powerful person or organization. In fact, science fiction pioneered this concept with how they handled Episodes 1-3 of Star Wars. Unless you want your favorite franchise to pull a Jar-Jar, you want to help it get better. That’s where something like a maturity model comes in. It shows that you’re looking to make yourself better, even if you don’t understand how, where, and when to do so.

Through Another Lens

I ran across this Reddit comment that encapsulates how science fiction could apply a maturity model to itself. Check out this statement as it relates to education, and then apply it back to science fiction:

The lesson you have to learn first in your PhD is that smart doesn’t matter.

In high school and undergrad, it’s easy to be a big fish in a little pond. But in a PhD program, everybody is smart. Everybody there has been selected because they were all superstars, just like you.

So you cannot stick to your old definition of success as being better than others. All that will do is undercut your happiness and mental health. Many graduate programs don’t even include grades (mine didn’t!) for this very reason. By definition, it’s likely about half of you are going to be below the class average. But that DOESN’T MATTER.

The point of getting a PhD is to move beyond ‘smart’ as the ability to write good papers and take good tests – to move beyond consuming knowledge and into producing it. This is an incredibly hard adjustment. And it’s one where ‘smart’ means basically nothing compared to being determined, attentive, open-minded, and good at working with others. The ‘dumbest’ person in any PhD program is MORE than smart enough to have a world-class scientific career with traits like that.

So you can’t come at this focused on where you rank compared to your peers. You need to think only about your own progress – what you’re learning, how prepared you are as a researcher.

I know it’s tough. I think it’s usually good for people to take a couple years off between undergrad and grad for this reason – because you are NOT in the same kind of school you’re used to.

Grades aren’t the point anymore; they’re just a tickbox to satisfy while you get on with the stuff that matters.

How This Involves Scifi

Never having received a PhD, I originally read the comment because I was curious about that journey. But the more times I re-read this statement, I realized that they were talking about an overall maturity model of education. You can’t stick to old definitions of success. You can’t just consume knowledge. Think about how that maturity model relates to science fiction.

Twenty years ago (God, I feel old), Episode 1 of Star Wars taught us that being big and successful does not necessarily matter. Box office returns, our old definition of success, no longer relevant. Good scifi, what we all knew science fiction was capable of? That died on the vine of weak box office returns and poor DVD sales. Hollywood knew they could drown us out, and THEY DID. Our passion, our voices, our relentless pursuit of perfection? All of that has been turned back against us with devastatingly dystopian results.

Scifi Craftsmanship: Maturity Models

The Threat is Real

We aren’t the only genre this has happened to. As I detail in this blog post, the Romance Writers of America experienced an implosion out of their own ‘systemic bigotry.’ Some internal RWA members have given up on improving the organization and are simply waiting for it to collapse so that something else can take its place.

Look, at the end of the day I’m just one person. I can’t change the world, and I’m not trying to. It’s still important to me that science fiction continue as an authentic, inclusive genre and community for other kids like me who need a place to go, to be, and to grow. I’m going to wrap up here, listen to what you have to say, and then write some additional thoughts in a Part Two.

Meantime, I’ve got a novel to write. Click Here to Read Part Two



Why Artists Should Hate Meta

“Meta? Meh.” That was my response to Facebook’s new name and it was probably your response, too. It wasn’t until today that I understood why why artists should hate Meta and you should, too. If you love original stories, games, music, movies, you want Meta to die like the leech that it is. Here comes the explanation from Neal Bauer, which even Shawn Layden, the former CEO of PlayStation, agrees with. Watch the video to hear Neal Bauer’s complete explanation:

Make no mistake – we’re fighting a war against dystopia. It’s not coming with bombs or bullets, it’s coming with smiles and hashtags. Artists and creative people fight constant battles for validation, living wages, and existence. Mark Zuckerberg’s ‘Meta’ platform is built on the premise that communities are virtual, and therefore making them even more virtual will somehow benefit us even as it benefits Meta. Nothing could be further than the truth: art and creative professionals know how to make a living, we don’t need Mark Zuckerberg’s help. If anything, Meta a siege engine designed to destroy the thin construct of cooperation that allows creative professionals to exist in 2021. We should all be avoiding it like the plague.

I’m not the only one that thinks Meta is a bad idea. Edward Snowden denounced it on Twitter. Personally, it sounds very close to the all-knowing, all-powerful dystopia I describe in Mesh. I appreciate knowing why artists should hate Meta. Let’s get back to making things people don’t hate!

Funeral for a Friend

Bear with me; I can’t write this week. Bandit the Authorcat has passed away. He was fifteen, had a good life, and yesterday I held my friend’s head in my hands and whispered ‘thank you’ as they gave him a last shot. So let this blog post be a funeral for a friend.

Bandit comforted me through many long and lonely hours as I restarted my life and about a month ago, I started to become concerned. He was losing weight, becoming lethargic. I thought he might be stressed by some nearby construction as before but last week I got nervous. My kitty was down to skin and bones, and starting to reject food. He’d slip out, find a spot under a bush to hide. Bandit wasn’t the cat he used to be. Two days ago, he stopped eating altogether. I kept him going with a food syringe and mushed-up kitty food but we both knew the score. He’d sit with me for a while, purring, then run away again to hide. My friend was ready to go even if I wasn’t.

The vet confirmed the bad news: Bandit was dying. Cancer, lymphoma, diabetes, kidney failure? I could run tests if I wanted to know, but what would it change? I signed the papers and spoke gently to my friend, who lay his head on the table. He complained a little, but the fight was out of him. He hated the vet, but this time he just didn’t care. I petted him and held his head and sang stupid cat songs as they prepared the syringe. When the shot went home, I stroked his face and whispered ‘best kitty’ as the light went out of his eyes. The painful job was done, Bandit was gone.

I went home in tears, cleaning up everything that belonged to him. Fifteen years of memories and loyal support, and all I have to show are some personal photos and a paw print I took a couple of days ago. Otherwise, you’d never know Bandit was here.

So I need a couple-few to pull my stuff together and get back on task. In the meantime, I hope you appreciate Bandit’s elegy and this virtual funeral for a friend. He was the best cat, and I’ll honor his memory soon by finding another friend who needs me.

Bumps on the Road to Solarpunk

So even though I wasn’t able to write a cool solarpunk story the other day, I’m still looking at ways to integrate solarpunk into the stories I write. There will be bumps on the road to solarpunk just like there are in real life, which is what I want to take a moment to celebrate.

You might be wondering to yourself, why would we celebrate problems? It might seem counter-intuitive, but finding problems is a good thing. Failure is the first sign you’re doing something that matters. Today’s pain points are tomorrow’s success stories.

With all this in mind, let’s talk about 3D-printed concrete houses. Perhaps you’ve read about them, one of the big hype beasts of future tech answers to the question of homelessness. It’s so easy, right? Just 3D print our way out of this! As you’ll see shortly, the answer isn’t that simple. Here’s Belinda Carr talking about why 3D houses aren’t the answer:

I like Belinda Carr – she’s very transparent in her discussions about technology and real-world solutions to human problems. For instance, even though she’s not a fan of shipping container homes, she’s willing to showcase success stories for shipping container structures. That’s the kind of clear-headed, no-hype focus we need to solve the food, clothing, and shelter issues we’ll face through the rest of this century.

We’ve got a million problems out there with one solution: Solarpunk. When we stop thinking that dystopia is inevitable and start thinking about how to solve our challenges while protecting the environment, repairing damage done to the environment, and conserving the Earth’s natural resources, we’ll be 90% of the way there. In the meantime, feel free to call out when you see a problem. That’s how you light the way toward a solution.

Write on!

Solarpunk – The Greatest Story I Never Told

Solarpunk - The Greatest Story I Never Told

This is a quick blog post about what happens when you get an idea that sucks. Let me tell you about a solarpunk short story I came up with, and how it turned into the greatest story I never told. The whole ugly affair began, as these things always do, with @Scalzi in the vicinity …

The equation for a good story works out as follows:

Cool Technology Idea + Red-blooded
humanoid type
= Compelling
Story About the Future

You can’t have a scifi story without a cool technology, but where do you get the tech from? I comb through different resources (Popular Mechanics, Wired, back issues of Omni) to come up with items that get my juices flowing. What you want to do is find the interesting thing that makes your brain go ‘hey, what if …?’ Channel that interest, cultivate that spark. That’s what I was doing when I responded to @Scalzi’s tweet – I thought “hey, new story idea!” and then got to Googling.

Not every idea is a good idea. Doing deep dives into emerging technology gives you multiple perspectives. It’s up to you to filter out the probable from the possible and the impractical. You quickly learn that while The Dream of Carbon Air Capture Edges Toward Reality and the world’s biggest carbon-removal plant just opened, others criticize the idea of carbon capture to the point where some ask: Isn’t CO2 emission reduction without carbon capture somewhat pointless?

All of this brings us to the unavoidable conclusion that carbon capture, while ambitious, is unlikely to be the story of a kid figuring out a simple way to get the fizz back into his Coke Zero. To paraphrase James Cameron on why he made Spiderman’s webs biological, rather than technical, “it’s more credible to find a way to tell the story of a company inventing the best carbon capture device for a high school boy to be able to produce a wonder technology in his spare time that 3M could not make.”

Now, that might all feel incredibly disappointing but it teaches us a valuable lesson about science fiction stories that I want to pass along here:

  • Some discoveries create other discoveries
  • Possible doesn’t mean practical
  • Everything is garbage until it isn’t
  • Discovery doesn’t sound like ‘Eureka,’ it sounds like “wait, what?”
  • Sometimes the work is the real story

In a nutshell, don’t get too excited if you find yourself down a rabbit hole. Every effort teaches you something, whether it’s leveraging discoveries, or learning how to do things more efficiently the next time. ‘Goofing off’ is often the first step toward the most important work of all.

So dear reader, that’s the story of the greatest solarpunk story I never told. My hope is that the next time we talk, it’s about the cool new story I discovered using this method. Or maybe you’ll tell me about what this method helped you discover, who knows? 🙂

Write on!

PS – I finished Chapter Two of Cinderellavator – the novel is taking shape!

Creating Art is Creating Yourself

Creating Art is Creating Yourself

One of the reasons I’ve declined to go back to other jobs or careers is because I need art. Indeed, I’ve come to understand through hard experience that creating art is creating yourself, and I need a space like that in my life. One thing about business is how it refuses to let you be sad if you feel sad, happy if you feel happy. You’re tenderized to always present things as ‘fine’ even if you’re bleeding inside.

Whatever they say on the surface, the reality is a depressing dystopia. Business isn’t interested in you being an interesting, fun person who’s emotionally available. Sure, if you are that person and as a result the business makes more money, great. But you’re still expected to be a tough, weathered, punching bag for your supervisors’ negativity. Yes, you should treat people with authenticity and empathy, but don’t expect to be treated that way. I was never strong enough emotionally to handle that burden. I’ve never met anyone who is.

Along with that, I’ve been doing more work to separate my personal feelings from the work. Cinderellavator is the first time I’m writing about someone else’s pain instead of my own. It takes work to get into the head space, into the skin of trauma, to write the scene in Chapter Two where Peetie the protagonist loses her mother. Not gonna lie, I’ve shed some tears over it. Painful, but necessary and therapeutic. It’s forcing me to get outside of my pain and put it into the context of other people’s experience.

How Creating Art Helps You Create Yourself

In addition, this work makes me confront emotional baggage I’ve been walking around with for decades. If I were a different person, if I had this ‘thing’* growing up, then everything would be fine. If I had the right people caring for me, everything would be different. Emotionally, you’re an amputee surrounded by people walking around as if nothing was wrong. Your scars don’t show, but you’re damaged just the same. You wish people could see it, understand it, accept it. Everything might be different, then.

Confronting those problems leads you down infinite rabbit holes as you try to get your baggage out on the table to see what it means. You feel like a homeless person out on the street; trying to find value in the possessions everyone else considers to be garbage. You could be wasting time, or you could be finding the answer. No one is there to guide the way.

Then you read more stories and personal experiences and it makes you realize that perfect childhood doesn’t equate to a perfect life. Perfect starts don’t equal perfect finishes. We’re living in a different world now. Accountability and authenticity matter. People can’t get away with being too rich to be nice, too powerful to be accountable. Even if you get the vindication you were hoping for, you can see the universe balancing things out eventually. Time heals all wounds, and wounds all heels.

There’s a bonus, too – the act of work forces you to improve your process. Practice makes perfect. Those living, learning skills you applied to others start to reflect back on you. Just as the sculptor in the picture above gets better with every project, every learning lesson makes you better at learning. Iterative improvement: Creating art, putting it out there, getting the feedback through publication, letting failure help you begin more wisely. Creating art is creating yourself, providing you’re willing to let the process change you.

Gluing the Pieces Together

In a perfect world, I’d only make happy art because I only felt happy, or at least functional. I’m not there yet. But creating art is creating myself in a way that expresses hope that I will be that person one day. I certainly won’t get there by sitting around waiting for it to happen.

Create yourself, whether that’s by creating art or whatever it is that really makes you who you are. Anything else is a waste of time and spirit.

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* ‘Thing’ in a general sense – everyone has a ‘thing’ they didn’t get – something they’re missing from their lives. What was important to me might not be important to you, and vice versa.

Items for Your Storytelling Toolbox

Hi there, fellow writer. Let me give you some items for your storytelling toolbox. Here’s why I’m giving them to you. I remember years ago being in woodshop and having to learn how to identify tools in order to make things.

When you think about storytelling as a job, at first it sounds like fun but then as you learn more it can feel quite overwhelming. Anyone can tell a story, but can you tell a story that people want to hear? It turns out, storytelling is a craft, a profession, and like any profession, there are tools to the trade. Having the right tools, and knowing how to use them, can make the difference between building the Taj Mahal, or a doghouse. We all want to be master workers at storytelling, don’t we? Your stories are going to become that much more fun to read when you make use of these items for your storytelling toolbox:

General Storytelling Resources

Like all great toolboxes, we start with some simple, general tools. These ideas form the basis of storytelling and are helpful no matter what kind of story you plan on telling.

More Information About the ‘Hero’s Journey’ (see above)

Now let’s dig into storytelling mechanics with two major areas: arcs and diegesis:


Everyone knows what a narrative arc is, even if they don’t know it had a name. When you tell anyone what happened today (“I got up, I went to work, I came home, I ate dinner”), that’s a narrative arc. The narrative arc is the factual structure and shape of a story. But there’s more to the storytelling, story! In fact, there are two major kinds to arcs be aware of:

Storytelling ArcsMake no mistake, a storytelling arc is not the plot of the movie. As you’ll learn in the linked article, the plot is comprised of the individual events that make up your story, bu your story arc is the sequence of those events. Sure, the bad guy dies in act three, but you have to show the reader that the hero found the gun that shot him in act one. Your narrative / storytelling arc is how you’ll show all of these things happening, and in what order, to keep your audience riveted until the very last page.

Emotional Arcs – Kurt Vonnegut is a famous writer and he’s known for calling out the major categories of ’emotional arcs’ in the linked article. The main thing you should be aware of is what emotional arc you’re following in your story. You can use whatever arc you think works best, but it’s important to be consistent. For example, the worst movies you’ve ever seen frequently fail because they’re not clear on what arc(s) they’re using. Other times, great stories make use of several arcs simultaneously. Think about Raiders of the Lost Ark: It’s got a ‘Man in Hole’ arc, a ‘Boy Meets Girl’ arc, a ‘Bad to Worse’ arc. You never know ‘which way is up’ until the very end! So don’t be afraid to use one or several emotional arcs – just be sure you know what they are, and how they work together.

But arcs are only one category of storytelling tool! Now, let’s focus on another category that will take your stories into a brand-new dimension:

Diegesis / Diegetic storytelling

Understanding storytelling from a diagetic perspective creates a story’s texture and depth, but what is it? Simply put: Diagetic storytellign is a style of fiction storytelling that presents an interior view of a world in which:

– Details about the world itself and the experiences of its characters are revealed explicitly through narrative.
– The story is told or recounted, as opposed to shown or enacted.
– There is a presumed detachment from the story of both the speaker and the audience.
In diegesis, the narrator tells the story. The narrator presents the actions (and sometimes thoughts) of the characters to the readers or audience. Diegetic elements are part of the fictional world (“part of the story”), as opposed to non-diegetic elements which are stylistic elements of how the narrator tells the story (“part of the storytelling”).

Why You Need to Know About Diegetic storytelling – Eventually, you’ll have to explain to others what kind of story you’re telling. Is your protagonist telling the story, are they telling it as it happens? Does your story have a narrator, and does that narrator tell the story from inside the world of the story ( intradiegetic) or outside ( extradiegetic)? Is the story happening inside another story (metadiegetic)? Here’s more info on intra- vs extradiegetic storytelling.

I’ve used a number of diagetic modes in my storytelling. My next novel, Cinderallavator, uses metadiagetic storytelling because it’s a story happening inside another story. That’s what works best for the kind of story I’m telling. You might to do the same, or you might use another method. It’s all up to you, though. You’re the storyteller, so you’re in the driver seat!

I’m going to add more items for your storytelling toolbox over time. For now, I hope you found arcs and diagetic storytelling to be helpful in your personal writing craft. Questions, comments, things you don’t understand? Ask me about them on Reddit.

We’ll talk more, soon!

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