Tag Archives: science fiction

Everything I Learned About Realistic Characters I Learned from British Telly

I was watching Torchwood last night and thoroughly enjoying it and not for the usual sci-fi adventure reasons but for the reasons that really make Torchwood and the new Doctor Who stand out from the crowd of usual suspects in TV viewing these days. British TV is perhaps not what it used to be (I wouldn’t know, I haven’t lived there in nearly twenty years) but it still remains sharply differentiated from American TV in some very important ways.

One of the things I was particularly enjoying last night was that everyone was just a bit pudgy. No one was spending regular time at the gym, and it looked like the entire cast had been spending too much time in the pub between series. There were no defined abs and impossible bulging calves. I know this because, of course, there was plenty of semi-nudity because the British, in general, are way more casual about the human body in general. Even our most attractive lead characters were only as attractive as people you might meet at work or at the pub, and the rest of the cast were just as ordinary as you or I.

Stereotypes were played with so each character is believable: Gwen, the attractive spunky ex-police officer, has an adorable chunky boyfriend who spends time cooking beans for the team while they’re hiding from the law; Jack the virile action hero with the mysterious past is gay (and wow, not interested in Gwen). This same attention to the human in characters can be seen in the powerfully funny Shaun of the Dead where ordinary blokes and birds combat the horror of the living dead.

I remember when I was first exposed to British television and I commented on the strange almost washed out quality of the lighting in their shows. I was told that this was because they used natural lighting for many of their comedies and dramas. At first I was put off by the coolness of the tones, but over time I have come to see that it is part of the national aesthetic which seems to favor a naturalness over extreme artifice in contrast to American movies and TV shows. In America’s CSI: Miami everyone is glamorous and too cool for their own skin. Even in shows that I enjoy, like Bones, everyone is gorgeous. In Doctor Who the hero is a skinny charming but flawed buffoon, and his female sidekicks run the spectrum from annoying to adorable.

In Torchwood last night Ianto when to the shops to stock up on supplies. He didn’t forget the TP. In the heyday (sadly past now) of HBO the same attention to detail and naturalness was applied to The Sopranos with its bulky, sometime endearing, but threatening hero, and all the ugly duckling henchmen, and of course the realism of Janice. A character dies on the crapper. Life is what happens to ordinary people every day, and even sci-fi fiction can remember that in the details of toilet paper and chunky cuddly teddy boyfriends who like baked beans.

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The Bitter Sky

Just a quick update on my nuclear winter science fiction collaborative fiction project at Pan Historia: I got the novel underway with title and right now the first new writers are joining up and putting in their ideas for the overall background scenario. I named the piece “The Bitter Sky” and it’s inspired by a line of a Shakespeare sonnet that reads “thou bitter sky” about winter. The graphics are still pretty spare but I stopped being quite as interested in window dressing as I once was and prefer to have the bones of a collaborative story well structured and strong before going for the rest. In this case I consider the bones to be the believable future scenario where two types of survivors clash over limited resources in a world devoid of sun, poisoned by ash and radiation.

I set the story in the United Kingdom because a) the initial cause of the natural disaster was the eruption of a mega volcano in the United States that would have destroyed most of the northern American continent and b) I used to live there and c) it would probably have avoided a nuclear strike in the crazy fallout from the volcano’s eruption. We have a very good writer from England on the new team and he’s been able to give us all invaluable suggestions that make the setting authentic to British culture and how it might have devolved in twenty years of nuclear winter. My memories of Britain are fading, sad to say, so I definitely need the tips and reminders.

So far the writers the story is attracting are some of the very best Pan Historia has to offer, particularly in the scifi genre, and I’m very excited to be working with writers both familiar to me (from 666 West End Avenue, FLESH, and Turnskin) as well as writers I have not had the challenge and honor of working with before. I’m equally excited to be working on an original science fiction story once more. The last time I wrote scifi at Pan Historia was for the much mourned novel Forever is Too Long (I think I got that write) which was created by a wonderful published author who occasionally frequents Pan Historia. It was set on a huge seed ship that had been drifting in space too long and some of the crew are awoken from stasis and cultures are developing within this massive labyrinth. It was very challenging for me, in particular, because I took a character that came out of the head of another writer, a scientist, and I had to make him both convincing and mine.

I might consider posting my fiction from The Bitter Sky on my writing blog once we get going, but for now it’s still in the planning stages.


Nuclear Winter Science Fiction Novel Idea

Driving to New York City on Saturday afternoon I was inspired to start a new scifi story at my community site Pan Historia. The afternoon had grown prematurely dark from clouds that seemed heavy with snow. The forecast had been vague, anything from 1-12 inches depending on where you were, but the sky looked ready to deliver Armageddon. The afternoon light, as we approached the early evening of winter, became sullen and bruised with menace. I have a tendency towards motion sickness when I travel by car, if I’m not the driver, and so I looked out the window at the winter landscape of Connecticut and then New York State.

I imagined that this light would be similar to the light caused by a layer of ash in the sky – nuclear winter – and from there my mind started running over a future scenario where it the Earth suffered from such a nuclear winter for at least a whole generation. Could people survive? How did they survive? I could easily imagine that a small population could manage by using generators and other power sources to grow food in bunkers or underground facilities with artificial lights, but I also tried to imagine if there could be survivors on the surface. Would they live by scavenging, cannibalism, or what?

There was a section of woods on the journey where the trees had largely died and they were strewn around like dominoes tumbled. This is what nuclear winter would do to the woods over time as the trees died and then rotted. The idea caught hold so thoroughly that I spent a couple hours thinking about it. I imagined the Morlock type scavengers gathering wood to burn, as well as the survivors from the bunkers. There would be conflicts. When I returned home to Vermont and was able to again login into Pan Historia I started doing a little research on the science. My technological survivors would, of course, also have to be scavengers as well as act defensively against the dangers of the twilight world I envisioned. Most of the theories of nuclear winter did not suggest the length of time I imagined, at least not for nuclear bomb fallout, so I looked into mega volcanoes, and I could postulate a situation where that might keep up for some time, particularly if there were also nuclear detonations and perhaps fires burning for years, such as would happen at dumps and oil fields, adding to the dust filled atmosphere.

Those survivors that lived outside would be like sick animals, our Morlock types, scrounging for scraps of food. They would suffer from UV poisoning from what light did come because of the damage to the ozone, and of course water would be contaminated. They would be short-lived and reduced to brutal lives. The clash between the two groups could provide a great deal of drama for long-term collaborative story-telling which is my specialty and the specialty of the writers at Pan Historia.

For those of you new to the concept of Pan Historia but interested in collaborative writing, getting in at the beginning of one of our role play collaborative novels is a great way to get started. More experienced members of the community would be more than happy to mentor you, and you wouldn’t have to feel like you were intruding on an established storyline. I’ll be creating my new ‘novel’ just as soon as I have fixed on a good title for it. There has been good interest in the concept so I hope to see a broad range of writers bringing their ideas to the world we create.