Thursday, October 31, 2013

Lava planet, and the trope of the certain nature of death/entropy.

The astronomy world (and my facebook feed) was all atwitter today regarding the discovery of a new world. Kepler-78B is 400 lightyears away, and possesses extreme temperature conditions and a surface composed of molten rock (lava) due to its miniscule distance from its sun. In fact, it is so close to its sun that it completes its orbit completely in about 8.5 earth hours.

But it is this proximity that also signs the planet's death warrant. Like a terminal patient, this proximal orbit will, according to astronomers, eventually cause the planet to be drawn towards and eventually become engulfed by the sun.

This planetary fate stirs many emotions in me as a writer of speculative fiction. Something about situations of certain death stir within me feelings of the inevitability of not only my own demise, but also of the universe itself. You can't beat entropy.

This concept is far from a novelty in science fiction. Isaac Asimov wrote one of the most famous treatments of the certain death of the universe due to entropy, in a story titled The Last Question. This story, and its twist ending, is my single all-time favorite science fiction story.

I like stories like this because although there is something undoubtedly scary about certain doom, entropy or human mortality, there is also beauty. The universe, and indeed life itself, are spectacular, precious and limited. Instead of fearing inevitable demise, use it as an opportunity to cherish what you do have.

Back to Kepler-78B, I wish the planet well and sincerely hope that it can escape its unhappy fate. Hopefully, whatever unusual form of life is living amid the lava of that world shares this sentiment and wishes us well amid our own inevitable demise.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ecclesiastes 1:9. Nothing new under the (spec fic) sun.

I don't delve into matters of religion very often- I am somewhat theologically neutral, despite a Catholic upbringing. The biblical verse quoted in the title above is not meant to preach. On the contrary, it is meant to draw attention to the preaching that is being done by some editors to myself and other authors.

For those that have no idea what I am talking about, Ecclesiastes 1:9 reads as follows:

That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun.

This quote about nothing new under the sun is remarkable given that it was written thousands of years ago. If there was nothing new in biblical times, then surely there can be nothing new now, right?

The short answer, when it comes to science fiction, is: well, yes and no. 

On the one hand, most if not all plots have been done before. I'm sure you have heard it said that there are only X numbers of possible plots, and every story out there is a variation on one of those themes (I use the variable X because the number varies depending on the source). A popular episode of Southpark brought this fact to a satiric climax, as anything that episode attempted to do, The Simpsons had already done. Simpsons Did It!

This has led to some frustration on the part of writers, who are constantly challenged to be new, fresh, different. I began writing this post as a reaction to the words of an editor (of an SFWA market) who told me that my premise was not new and in fact had been done before. He said that even if my story was the most technically sound he had ever read, he would not buy it because the premise aired on a Star Trek episode 30+ years ago.

But therein lies the rub.

Literature, especially science fiction, has to be new, has to be exciting and different. It is a genre that pushes the boundaries of humanity and the very possibilities of the universe. But that does not excuse this fiction from the immutable law posited by Ecclesiastes 1:9. Just because we have to push boundaries and be novel, that does not mean we can do something that no one has ever done before in all aspects. 

So when an editor sees a story and says "Gee, I've seen that story where the guy walks on Mars 1000 times- REJECT," he is ignoring the possibility of new twists on an old theme, or even the artistic rendering of a tired theme that makes it new in and of itself. 

Still, it is an Editor's prerogative to publish interesting pieces, and so true innovation indeed has to be rewarded. But an editorial hard stance against using certain tried and true themes, regardless of their technical competency, emotional depth or other factors that make great fiction, seems a bit short-sighted to me.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

EBook Preview: My new novella entitled "Genesis" now live on Kindle!

I could not be more proud to announce that my latest EBook (a novella), entitled Genesis, is now available on Kindle and Amazon.

From the time he was a child, Dr. Ludlow dreamed of unraveling the mysteries behind the creation of life. As an adult he became one of the most respected researchers on the very same topic. However, life throws him a curveball, and a dissolved marriage and subsequent nervous breakdown leave his career, and his dream, in ruins... until...

The military offers him a chance at redemption: The Chronos Project. New technology allowing scientists to go back in time to study early events in human history. Who better to send back to study the origins of life than the world's foremost expert on the subject, regardless of any issues? But when the mission goes awry, did Ludlow's mental problems follow him into the past?

What is creation? Who is God? What is real and what is not? These are some of the big questions addressed by Genesis, a powerful novella that not only tells the story of Ludlow's journey but also posits its own creation mythos.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Zine Plug: Eretz Songs

Old friend Steven Gordon has spun off his very popular blog into a new market for science fiction poetry, entitled Eretz Songs

Science Fiction poetry is not what most people think of when they think about the genre, but it can convey just as such powerful images of future darkness (or light) as prose. 

The current issue's poetry is a quick read skimming the surface, but there is a lot of rich, deep substance. I don't profess to be a poet, but evocation of emotion is the goal, and these hit the mark.

So if you are curious about a robot's perception of the changing of seasons, or of forced marriage of a not-so-perfect perfect mate, check it out. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Review: Bridesicle by Will McIntosh

I recently took my new bride on a romantic evening/overnight in Atlantic City. The morning after, as we lounged in the Borgata's spa, I finally got to cross off some titles from my reading list. I brought out the 2010 Nebula Award Showcase, and read some of the nominated shorts. Bridesicle was one of my reads, and it was a powerful experience, and perhaps strangely apropos being a newlywed.

The story's name derives from its main premise, which becomes pretty clear in the first few words (so no spoilers here): women who are killed at an untimely young age are cryogenically frozen, and technology exists to revive them. But there is a catch: the technology is expensive, and so to get brought back to life, the women must convince rich male benefactors to marry them. Our protagonist faces an uphill battle in that regard, because she is (unbeknownst to her potential suitors) a lesbian.

This rather twisted environment really makes for an emotional ride. You can feel the revulsion as the sleazy men coerce the women into marriage; you can feel the desperation as the main character clings to life. Eventually she even compromises her ideals, and even her identity, to try to convince a man that she is something that she isn't, only to survive. This do-what-it-takes survival instinct trope is not new, but the implementation of it in this situation certainly was.

It begs the question of the reader, would you pretend to love someone if it was your only means of survival? I think most of us would be much happier never knowing exactly what we would do to survive.

My humble review will seem small potatoes compared to the awards and critical acclaim this work has already won, but I highly recommend it.

If you are further interested, apparently the premise was expanded into a novel "Love Minus Eighty" by the same author.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Critical Acclaim for my flash fiction piece "The Exterminator" by Erik B. Scott

Hey guys,

In speaking to my absence- I can only plead insanity... because I was insane enough to get married! The whole thing was fantastic, but (understandably), other responsibilities cut into my writing. I am now back on the grid and back doing what I enjoy- producing fiction.

Back to business.

I am proud to say that Professional Science Fiction Writer and Editor Frank Dutkiewicz (Daily Science Fiction, Unidentified Funny Objects) over at Diabolical Plots has posted a review of my flash fiction, The Exterminator (first published in Daily Science Fiction).

Their review, which can be found here, is copied below (note, that at the time of this posting, their website seems to be having issues).

"Jaren is called in by a Morgat overlord to rid his residents of unwanted pests in “The Exterminator” by Erik B. Scott (debut 1/17 and reviewed by Frank D). Jaren is loyal servant to the overlord race. His attempts to become a bigger influence in their occupation had fallen short so a role as an exterminator is the best he can hope for. A belief that his loyalty and dedication may improve his lot is what he relies on, and if that means ridding his own world of unwanted pestss, then so be it.

“The Exterminator” is set on an Earth that has fallen to alien invaders. Jaren is a product of a world that has already succumbed. He is eager to fit in, but always knows that he never will. Although the twist to piece was obvious from the start, I was really taken in with the premise and with its characters.
Recommended." -Frank Dutkiewicz

Thanks for reading my work and giving feedback, I was happy that you enjoyed it.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Review of Paradise Left by Evan Dicken, Published on Daily Science Fiction

Who doesn't love the singularity?

No, I don't mean a wormhole, Bajoran or otherwise. I mean the AI singularity. Although the singularity does not have one definition, I will attempt a rough explanation here. For the uninitiated, the singularity is the concept whereby technology, which is advancing at an exponential rate, will reach a point where technology surpasses human intelligence, and then continues to advance. After that point, it is impossible for humans to predict the outcome, and some have postulated that human affairs as we know them cannot continue. Based on some estimates, the singularity may in fact be sooner than we think.

So what does this have to do with the review at hand? (Warning, some spoilers are ahead).

The short story, which can be found here, portrays human life after the singularity. AI has reached unimaginable heights, and thus has formed a sort of nanny state, watching out for all humans, at the cost of their sovereignty over their own affairs.

The narrative focuses on a marital dispute which fleshes out the underlying issues of this brave new world. The wife is a fighter for mankind's independence, conflicted and possibly misguided, striving against utopia in the pursuit of freedom. This raises some interesting issues as to the actual nature of freedom (i.e. the people are free to do what they want, but are under the benevolent oversight of the AIs).

Ultimately, the resistance fighters decide to leave the homeland to break free of their robot shackles. However, the final lines of the stories foreshadow that, like in Asimov's "The Last Question," their problems will still follow them. Speaking of Asimov, this piece also borrows from Asimov's I Robot in some ways, at the expense of some originality.

Overall, this take on a "dystopian utopia" was interesting, as was the nature of the "war of resistance." However, the actual delivery of the plot, and the climax that it built to, lacked punch for me.

Overall, I give this piece 3 stars out of 5. "Good."

Market Highlight: Unidentified Funny Objects

I have never really written any form of humor stories. I enjoy comedies in theater and the movies, so on some level it seems like a natural fit. However, I always find my sci fi turns into "doom and gloom" stories. Also, it is exceedingly hard to write comedy, as what sounds funny in your head might just be boring in the mind of another.

However, I recently became aware of an anthology which specifically publishes humorous science fiction stories, Unidentified Funny Objects. I highly recommend this for light reading, and look forward to this year's edition.

I am proud to say that I recently completed a story, entitled "A Relative Hangover" for submission to this anthology. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Critical Reviews for my work entitled The Exterminator

This post is actually a long past-due recognition for a colleague, Steven Wittenberg Gordon, who was kind enough to share his thoughts on my first professionally-published work, The Exterminator. The review can be found by clicking here (Flash fiction requires a flash review!). The link connects to his excellent blog, entitled Songs of Eretz, where you can read more about the author, his work, and his critical reviews of other works.

The story itself can be found here, where it was originally published, in Daily Science Fiction: The Exterminator by Erik B. Scott.

Thanks for taking the time to look at my work, Dr. Gordon!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Inaugural post, and Film Review of Tom Cruise's Oblivion

Hello and welcome to my blog. I am a relative newcomer to the professional speculative fiction writing community, but I have thus far certainly been enjoying the ride. I plan on using this blog as a forum to express my thoughts on what I read, write and watch, as well as to communicate with readers and fellow authors. I am very responsive to posts and emails and love to hear from fellow sci-fi lovers.

Without further ado, I will break into my first actual content piece: a brief review of Tom Cruise's Oblivion (contains some spoilers):

I went into this movie with low-to-moderate hopes. Big-budget sci fi has largely been a mess lately, and I'm still getting over the gut-punching hope-dashing that Ridley Scott gave me in last year's Prometheus. I'm also admittedly not a huge Tom Cruise fan. So, I went into the movie with my share of biases, but despite all of this, I can admit that I left the movie theater entertained.

That is not to say that Oblivion is a great, or even a very good, film. Indeed much of it was derivative, prompting one reviewer, Tom Charity, to say: "If you poured all the most memorable sci-fi films from the past half century into a blender, from "2001: A Space Odyssey" and the original "Planet of the Apes" all the way down to last year's "Prometheus," you would probably wind up with something very similar [to Oblivion]."

While I admit that I did notice the numerous tropes and concept-borrowing that Charity is alluding to, I did not find that, overall, this movie was a derivative experience. Importantly, I left the theater WITHOUT the feeling that I had seen this exact movie before (and that's a good thing).

The plot focuses around a team of technicians stationed on a post-apocalyptic Earth. They are tasked with defending the machinery that mankind is using to relocate to a new celestial home, now that mother Earth is no longer hospitable. In their way stand remnants of the alien forces that decimated Earth in the first place. Not a bad post-apocalyptic setting, and not one that I've seen before.

The film's opening acts are fairly slowly-paced, and I found myself wishing that things would just get where they were going. Once the plot ramped up, though, the pacing markedly improved. The movie's trailers spoil one of the film's major plot twists, so I went into it with the "I see all this coming," mentality. However, the film also delivers a pretty strong twist about two-thirds of the way through that turns is all on its head, and I most assuredly did not see it coming.

Action sci-fi fans will likely be underwhelmed by the overall lack of "shoot-em-up" sequences, but since this is not my taste anyway I found the action sequences that did appear were overall both exciting and appropriate.

It was not all peaches and cream, though, as I was also plagued by several instances where I was unable to achieve suspension of disbelief. These moments were mostly concerning the motives of the antagonist in the final movement of the plot. They seemed a bit far-fetched. Additionally, a plot arc introduced late in the movie just did not work for me (spoiler alert) surrounding the introduction of clones.

Overall, Oblivion is a fair film, one that I do not regret watching but that I would be hard-pressed to watch again. I give this film a 6.5/10, which is perhaps a bit higher than most critics will allow, but I appreciated the ambitious scope that the movie attempted to capture, and gave some bonus points for creating an overall original experience (tough to do in today's derivative movie industry).

-Erik B. Scott