Let’s Talk About Consistency. (from my Patreon page)

Let us talk about internal consistency in writing science fiction or fantasy.  One of the more egregious mistakes I see in science fiction television and movies is a lack of consistency, which is why, to me, Star Trek the Next Generation does not hold up nearly as well as Babylon 5.  Also, by not maintaining consistency on such things as alien natures and historical events in your writing, you miss out on spontaneous ah-ha moments that can make memorable scenes.

One of the things that kept me away from re-watching Star Trek the Next Generation and some of the following series (except for Enterprise, which many fans panned) was the episodic nature of the shows.  For the most part, each episode was like a stand-alone movie that did not necessarily depend on anything that had gone before.   Yes, there were a few things they would remember from earlier episodes and would from time to time give a nod to or reference, but for the most part it was as if the slate had been wiped clean after each show.  The strongest episodes to me were the ones where they came back and explored aspects of earlier episodes from another angle.  Examples of that are when they spent time exploring the aftermath of Picard’s capture by the Borg while the Enterprise was being repaired and Tasha Yar’s Romulan daughter from the episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise”.

Babylon 5; however, spent a lot of time on consistency, mainly because it was a fully planned story from season one to season five.  Yes, there were a lot of changes during the course of the series, but the overall plan helped to minimize the problems.  I believe that they even had plans set up to cover situations like losing a lead actor.  What is more important is that aspects of character’s personalities, species histories and natures, and episode histories were kept consistent.  Unlike STNG where characters who were portrayed one way in an episode suddenly are portrayed another way just for the sake of the episode.   I don’t mean to jump too hard on STNG because at the time I did enjoy many of them, but as the series and then DS9/Voyager continued, I saw a phenomenon that really turned me off.  To me it seemed that major characters would fall deeply in love with a different character every few episodes.  It felt like the producers were watching the internet, checking to see who fans felt show be couples.

Look at the Worf, Riker, and Deanna relationship.  First it was Riker and Deanna while Worf loved a Klingon, having a child with her before she died.  Riker and Deanna moved on and Worf moved into a deep relationship with Deanna.  Then when Worf moves on to DS9, Deanna is just gone and he ends up marrying Jadzia Dax.  Just because you may not be able to get the former actor for a role doesn’t mean you should just drop the history you created.  For example, look at how J. M. Straczynski handled the loss of Richard Biggs and Andreas Katsulas in Babylon 5: The Lost Tales.   When asked about G’Kar, President Sheridan says “He is off exploring beyond the rim” and is later told that Dr. Franklin has gone with him, handled simply with a line that fits the characters without changing or warping other characters to fit into some new reality.  Also, in the final episode “Sleeping in the Light”, Garibaldi, Sheridan, and Franklin shared a funny story about a Pak’ma’ra that takes advantage of the species traits established much earlier in the series.

Another good example, so far, of consistency comes from Brandon Sanderson’s Mist Born books.  In creating the world, he set down very specific rules for the system of magic used by the people.  In some ways this codification of magic rules could have tied down what characters could do, but Sanderson found ways in later books to accomplish new actions using the same rules instead of ignoring them to write the scene he wanted.  In other words, he allowed the limitations of the world he created to define how he wrote the scenes.   Another example of attention to details comes from “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” movies directed by Peter Jackson.  Just watch the extras to see how much time was spent catching continuity errors.

Consistency can have a strong effect on people who watch movies or read books a lot, possibly damaging their opinions over time by confusing them or forcing them to make rationalizations for errors.  Star Trek and Star Wars are ripe with those.  I find myself cringing every time someone says how good Rogue One was because I want to say “but did you see…”   So, while I still mostly enjoy many commercial science fiction and fantasy offerings, even when consistency is an issue, I find myself irritated more as I grow older.  I even choose to forgo some offerings because I just don’t want a good memory tarnished by sub-par efforts, even from the original creator.

Advertisements

Filler’ Up (from my Patreon page)

I have been watching a lot of Youtube, reading, and playing video games lately.  What has that got to do with writing and painting?  Well, glad you asked.  Everything.  I am constantly looking for ideas that push my boundaries in writing and painting.   I found that Youtube has computer animated short film channels where animator and director students and enthusiasts show off their work.  There are not only interesting stories but also beautiful animations in a variety of styles, which are basically moving artwork.

In addition, I recently read two very good books, both free.  The first one I read was about an AI-driven exploration ship that accidentally harms a civilization by ignoring them when it learns the human ability to lose track of time.  I won “At the Speed of Light” by Simon Morden as an early reviewer e-book from the site where I catalog my book collection and I will put a fuller review on the site.  If you are a reader like me, Librarything is a great place to track your books, get reviews, and win free books.  Not all the books are good but a good number are worth the time.  The second book was a free e-book from a new series by one of my favorite authors, Brandon Sanderson.  “The Way of Kings” was a book I was going to hold off on because of how many were projected in the series and how long it takes to get the next installment; however, when you get a free copy, you know.  The only reason to hold off was that my memory is not as good as it used to be and the two or three-year wait for a book makes for lots of confusion.  I reread the “Stone of Farewell” several times waiting on “To Green Angel Tower”.

Finally, I am a big video game buff, but not only for the play, also for the story telling and artwork that has become on a par with anything coming out of Hollywood, sometimes better.  The story and cinematic scenes in Halo 4, Mass Effect, or Skyrim are amazing.  I drink in the art and writing throughout the gameplay.  Almost anything to do with fantasy or science fiction art or writing inspires me to try harder at what I do.  If you check my archives, you will find posts on Mass Effect and Skyrim, as well as, mention of my collection on Librarything, including reviews.

World Creation (from my Patreon page)

One of the fun aspects of writing any story is creating the world or universe your characters live in.  For example, in “Sensu Learns a Lesson”, while I did not go in-depth into the politics and players of this story, I had to think about a universe that was full of aliens and political intrigue.  Also, I made a beginning into the living and social structures of the Altharians, they lived underground and looked like transparent blue slugs.  The Altharians live in underground structures carved out over millennia by the passage of their ancestors.  They are master spies (their society is completely focused on spying) because of their ability to shape change.  I also began to create a class structure through the mention of royal blood.  If I ever manage to expand this story, I will have to vigorously expand on all these choices.

Another example comes from my story “Lepidoptera” coming up next month.  By the way, for anyone that does not know, lepidoptera is the order name for butterflies (technically moths and butterflies).  I began the world by creating a society of elves similar to Tad William’s Sithi in the series “Memory, Thorn, and Sorrow”.  I wanted that mix of age, wisdom, and magic which his Sithi had.  I also wanted to give the sense that when you entered the lands of my Sindains, you entered a world separate from the rest of the world.  In their lands, the forests move and living spaces are made from the living plants around them.  When Sindains enter the Woods of Calling, the outside world disappears and time runs differently.  Basically, they live constantly with magic.

My final example comes from my story “Sanity”.  In this story I focused on a single world with lots of political intrigue between kingdoms and a powerful outside race that dabbles in this plotting for their own unfathomable reasons.  All the players know something about this race, but none have hard evidence of their goals or methods of achieving them only that they are powerful.  The race is non human, which leaves you wandering if they are part of the world or come from another.  The world in general is a metaphor for our political nature of playing for power where each dog thinks they are at the peak until some bigger dog takes them down.

Half the fun of writing a story is deciding what the underling facts of the universe is then seeing how these affect the interactions of the characters.  An example of world building that affects the actions of the characters is Brandon Sanderson’s Mist Born novels.  The principals set down for the universe are consistent and interesting.  Also, the world is not static as his new books in the series show, meaning that he introduces growth in the society with the introduction of technology.  However, the underlying magic still exists.  Mr. Sanderson seems to enjoy seeing how the invention of technology changes how society looks at those with magic.  How fun is that?

The Magic in Your Eyes (from my Patreon page)

So, let us talk about magic systems.  I am fairly well read, so I have encountered many magic systems in numerous universes.  In addition, I have played many fantasy video games that can take these kinds of magic systems and make them usable through button pressing combinations.  They range from the simple expressions of inner power to complex rituals requiring particular materials and symbolic gestures.  Over the years I have seen great examples of magic systems and poor examples.

For a poor example, I give you Terry Goodkind who has no rigorously vetted system of magic; thus, leaving himself open for inconsistency in applying the rules his characters follow.  He makes the rules up as he goes so that you feel that what ever magic rules he has are just created to get the results he wants for the scene.  Consistency is left for the reader to rationalize out.

For good examples, I give you Brandon Sanderson who creates some of the most interesting complex magic systems with unique and consistent rules.  Instead of making the rues fit the situation, he writes situations that fit his story based upon the rules of his magic system.  The use of metals to fuel three different types of magic in the Mistborn series is a joy to read.  Each system is well-defined as is how they interact with each other.  So far, I have not noted Mr. Sanderson writing scenes that are not consistent with the restraints he created in the magic system.

So, where do I sit on the issue.  Well, to be truthful, I am a bit lazy and impatient.  While I love the stuff that Brandon Sanderson is doing, I don’t have the patience to work out such detailed magic systems.  In addition, all my work to date has been short fiction with little room to spend detailing the magic rules.  The closest I have gotten is in next months story “Lepidoptera” where each young Sindain that enters the Woods of Calling are marked with a tattoo by their God Sky Father depicting the need they will fill in the Sindain tribe.  Mostly I tend to represent magic as an aspect of the person or the person’s intelligence and imagination.  This way they can create almost anything with reasonable consistency.  In some cases I source power from the land, which in some ways is how we work in our technological society.

Which ever way you chose to go, magic is almost always an essential part of fantasy fiction, maybe the best part.  So feel free to explore the magic in my stories.

Book Reviews

I haven’t reviewed any of the books I have read for some time so I thought that, along with posting them to Librarything.com, I would place them here too.  Hope you enjoy.

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

This is the second book in what has now become a four book series. Initially, Brandon had planned for this series to be a quick vision into another age of the Final Empire as it moves from medieval times to more of a Victorian era. As it turns out with many prolific and imaginative authors, the story grew. He is officially calling this a second series of the Final Empire where before it was considered series 1.5.

The first book in the series “The Alloy of Law” left readers sensing that a grander was in motion. Something more than just a one shot detective story with metal burners. This second book delivers on that promise. Without giving away the juicy bits, let me just say that creatures and people that you thought might return to the series do and it is a lot of fun. In addition, the ending is a fine plot twist, which embroils the reader in the vaster scope of Brandon’s Cosmere universe.   I highly recommend as a fine addition to Brandon’s works.

Nemesis by Louise Cooper

Nemesis is a book I actually bought by accident, thinking it was part of a shared universe I had read when young. What a lucky accident this was. The prologue grabbed me from the beginning and then the events of the main story wrung me out. The first part of the story may be a little slow for some but it is well worth the wait. Anghara is an impetuous princess soon to be married, much to her parent’s relief. Unfortunately, her willfulness will have dire consequences for her family and the world. Redeeming her past will be a long, hard road that takes her beyond death. Great writing, memorable characters, and deep emotions have me looking for more.

Daggerspell by Katharine Kerr

I had thought about starting the Deverry series for a long time, but something made me put it off time and again. Well, I have finally read the first book. Very much in a Celtic vain, the story is well written and evokes much of the myths and legends of ancient Ireland, bringing the beings and magic to life. The true strength of the novel; however, lies in the choices the characters make, especially Nevyn, who is cursed by his father the king and indebted through time by his lost love. Can honor carry him through the lonely centuries?

Rosewater by Tade Thompson

I received this book as an ARC and this is first book of Mr. Thompson’s I have read. The story is set in an alternate reality where an alien object, which crashed into England, has made its way to Nigeria where the city of Rosewater has grown up around it. Kaaro is a mind reader born in Nigeria who now lives in Rosewater. His ability to read minds was caused by a mutagen released by the alien object that he and the Nigerian secret service are investigating. Kaaro is loyal to a fault but he is no hero. His youth is strewn with one bad choice after another. Finally, after years of forced service, he sees a way to get clear of the government’s and the alien’s agendas.  The ideas are enjoyable and the writing sharp but the constant overlapping flashbacks make the story hard to follow logically. Also, warning, there is a lot of sexual content and violence.