Science of SciFi

Currently reading a book about the science behind scifi.  It’s a great book and I’ll give it a good write up once I finish it.

Anyway, while reading a chapter on search for extraterrestrials, I got curious about the history of radio and tv signals and how far they’ve made it so far.  A Google search led me to two websites with really amazing information.

The first was a link on the Planetary Society’s webpage, which demonstrated with a map of the Milky Way how far Earth signals have made it into space.  Emphasis on the Milky Way there because even within our own galaxy, signals haven’t gone very far.

The second was a website called ETTV.  ETTV is Extraterrestrial Television.  Using today’s date as a starting point, it maps out radio signals from Earth and demonstrates with examples what tv programs would reach some of the planets in our galaxy that are  projected to support life.

The book is fantastic and started out as a library book that I felt was a must own for anyone interested in scifi writing.  I rushed out to buy my own and am working my way through it.

Clipart stolen from Clipartmax.

Writing Tools

As anyone with a creative skill knows, practice is a requirement to maintain and improve that skill.  I’ve got a couple of tools I’ve picked up over the years that I use for practice and to combat writer’s block.

The first tool I picked up is Rory’s Story Cubes.  I found the Rory cubes in Walgreen of all places while waiting for the filling of one of my wife’s prescriptions.  Walgreen had the base set at the time, which I’ve found to be quite useful by itself.

Basically, the idea of the game is to roll the 9 story cubes like dice and then create a story using the 9 images that come up.  The options are endless and the cubes can be used multiple times to come up with a variety of story ideas.

Over the years I’ve also picked up the Actions set and the Voyages set, which at times I’ve used by themselves and together with the base set.  I’ve used the Rory Story Cubes alone and in workshop and classroom settings.  I would definitely recommend picking up a set and trying them out.

The other tool I’ve picked up is Yeti Eats Alien.  This one I discovered recently while browsing through the shelves of the Puzzle Warehouse‘s local retail shop.  From what I can tell, this one is a relatively new game, but I don’t know for sure.

While the idea of this game is funny headlines, using the headline game rules gives a good basis of five words from which to build a headline.  As a story writer, that headline provides a starting point to build from.  From a humorist perspective, there is plenty to work with in this set and I could see future expansions adding even more comedic fun.

I’m always on the lookout for pocket sized games and games that can serve as story writing tools.  These two provide for both purposes.

The Absurdity of B Movies

Since one of my target ideas to write about here is the absurd, one of my favorite displays of the absurd, often much to the dismay of my wife, is B movies.  I think part of it goes back to watching Godzilla movies and George Pal movies as a kid and another part is the very first time I saw an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K).  I also think a large part of it is because of my love for comedic scifi and fantasy books like Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker Trilogy, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Series, and the stories of Harry Harrison and Robert Sheckley.

The truth is, whether comedic scifi fans and writers want to admit it or not, the best comedic scifi really reads like a B movie.  The best B movies are the ones that end up either being funny without intending to or are so aware of the absurdity of their plot that they intentionally laugh at themselves.  The Asylum‘s mock busters are some of the best at this.

Whether it’s a combination of multiple disasters, hilariously bad science, or the most absurd giant monsters, the best B movies leave you laughing at the screen while you watch the whole world (or at least the world of the movie) go to hell in a hand basket.  The more absurd the plot and the worse the writing, the better the laughs and the better the B movie.  If there’s some incredibly weird family drama going on in one of the subplots, that’s just a bonus.

One of the decisions we made when we moved to St Louis was to discontinue cable and become cord cutters.  The $200 a month bill to watch a handful of channels was an expense we felt we could do without.  Instead, we purchased a high-speed internet account, a Roku, a Netflix and a Hulu account, and a tv antenna.  We also invested more time in our local library for books and movie “rentals”.  We’re not really missing out on anything.

I mention the cord cutting because the Roku device has access to a channel called Pluto TV, which works like a network of channels and includes channels for The Asylum, MST3K, and RiffTrax, the post-MST3K MST3Kcast project.  Between Pluto TV and some of the other Roku channels, the Roku is a B movie lovers’ dream.

Even as I wrote this, The Asylum channel was on my tv showing some movie featuring earthquakes, volcanoes, and tornadoes all happening at the same time.  There was definitely a family drama with the main father character’s oldest daughter yelling at her stepmom for not being a mom.  And before I finished writing this, the disaster movie was followed by a Cars knockoff set in Cargo North Dakota that even had orange Hot Wheels tracks showing in some of the scenes.

Clipart stolen from Clipartmax.