Saturday, May 9, 2015

Intergalactic Expo Highlights and Retro Future Sci fi, Part 1

I made sure I didn’t hold off on the article about old sci fi this time, but I also said I would have more highlights on last weekend’s Intergalactic Expo. [link] So I have both here, but I decided it would take up too much space in one post. So I’m dividing each of the two topics between this weekend’s and next weekend’s posts.

Intergalactic Expo Highlights, Day 2

Sunday, day two of the con, went by way better than Saturday (day one). Because I took extra preparation to catch the bus at a certain location, I made it to the expo a lot earlier and so saw a lot more there. Day two saw the con’s Outpost Bazaar which consisted of sci fi/fantasy arts and crafts booths in front of City Hall. I spoke with punk musician/author Charles Passarell about his Star Wars-themed band, Mos Likely (punned off of Mos Eisley Space Port in the first (1977) Star Wars film) that would play later that day and about his satirical sci fi novels he was selling at his table. These included his latest, Pina ColadasIn Space. He said his novels were humourous in the manner of Douglass Adams. I also looked at artist Gloria Pearson’s work at her table, which consisted of clocks and lamps themed off of books. The clocks were made to look like books with the face and hands on the front cover and the lamps had bases made to resemble stacks of books.

A short time later, I went inside City Hall, where part of the con was held, to attend JP Aerospace’s table talk, “Hacking to Space!”. I had a hell of a time finding the room it was supposed to be in. The convention map said it was in a room called the Galleria on the second floor but I could not find any room with that name. Then I ran into a friend from a sci fi/fantasy writers critique group I belonged to several years ago. We talked about where we were at in our writing. I soon had to tell him that I didn’t mean to cut the conversation short but that I was on my way to attending the table talk. That’s when I told him that I was having a hard time finding it and if he happened to know where it was. And what do you know, he said I was already there! He was right.

We had been talking right in front of JP Aerospace’s table which was also the space for the table talk, though the area didn’t strike me as being much of a gallery since it was a main walkway just outside a council chamber (where other panels and talks were held). That’s when I remembered that my friend works for the organization. He introduced me to JP. I found out that, so far, I and one other gentleman were the only attendees there for the talk. Then a few minutes later a few others joined us.

JP talked about his organization, JP Aerospace, which is a volunteer space program that experiments with alternative methods and technologies for space exploration. According to JP, the program has done what the U.S. Air Force and NASA had proven cannot be done. One of the feature experiments he talked about was one that the program did by sending a craft full of ping pong balls into space. JP was so delighted about our interest in the program, he gave yours truly and the other gentleman mentioned above each a DVD about the program because we were the first two to show up.

Jedi Catcher, Intergalactic Expo

Photo Credit: Steven Rose, Jr.

Sith Batter Up!, Intergalactic Expo
Photo Credit: Steven Rose, Jr.

Two members of Sacramento Steampunk Society at Intergalactic Expo

Photo Credit: Steven Rose, Jr.

Article: No Such Thing as Outdated Sci Fi in this Age of Alternate History, Part 1

For those of you fellow authors of sci fi, I hope you took the time to read one of the suggested articles I linked to in my post for the 18 April. It was the one entitled “10 Ways to Create a Near-Future World That Won’t Look Too Dated”, by Charlie Jane Anders. It has a lot of great tips there about how to make your science fiction more believable, and even if you write more distant future science fiction like yours truly, it can still be helpful. I enjoyed that article and it made a lot of sense, except I saw a little bit of contradiction to the argument in it. Tip number 7, “Introduce a few dramatic changes, then follow the dominoes”, talks about making a future setting that is organic and so connects to our own present time (or is made to seem to, at least. Remember, it’s science fiction.)  The author says to imagine “second-order effects [of events] as well as immediate effects. That way, even if you’re proved wrong [about future events or real life details of them], at least you’ll have a thought-out alternate timeline—and alternate universes never get old.” So he sort of goes from how to prevent your science fiction stories from becoming outdated to how to make them seem realistic if they do become outdated. However, it’s a contradiction that works for me since I’m a big fan of retro-futurism and vintage sci fi.

So how do you make your science fiction stories remain convincing even if certain details were to become outdated? As Anders says, you make them in such a way where they could be believable as an alternate timeline. That means if details mentioned in them, such as real-life companies like Coke-A-Cola, were to go obsolete by the future year the stories take place in, they could still be convincing as parallel or alternate universe stories. But when you think about it, no science fiction story can ever really become outdated because the alternate timeline, also known as the alternate history, is a growing popular trend in the genre.

There are so many science fiction fans and writers who are in love with alternate timelines and alternate universes. It’s exemplified in today’s steampunk movement. There are at least two types of alternate history subgenres. One is the alternate history story where a particular period in history is reimagined with its events taking turns other than the ones they took in real life. For example, what would happen if the difference engine of the 19th century had succeeded? William Gibson and Bruce Sterling answer this question in their novel, The Difference Engine. In which the novel is set in the period that this predecessor to the computer was invented in, only it is put to social-wide use in the story. That’s an alternate history in the truest since of the term: a past that might have been.

The other alternate timeline subgenre type is the retro future which is a future based on how it was imagined in a past period. Much dieselpunk and atompunk do this. Dieselpunk often depicts future settings the way society of the World War II era imagined it would be and so much of the elements in these settings more closely reflect the technology and culture of that period even though they are set in the future. One example is air ships that can travel to space. Atompunk depicts the future in a way it was imagined in the late 1940s through early ’60s, and so depicts future settings where there may be cars run by computer yet with shark fin, neon coloured designs, and where spaceships may be bullet-shaped.

Examples of alternate timeline fiction are Cherie Priest’s and China Melville’s steampunk novels. Examples of atompunk are Adam Christopher’s  novel Age Atomic, which is set in the 1950s but the events reflect the science fiction of that period, including futuristic visions based on the period. One series of atompunk novels that can truly be considered retro-futuristic is Dante D’Anthony’s The Pandoran Chronicles. For a retro future atompunk short story, read “The Assassin” by yours truly. An example of dieselpunk is William Gibson’s short story “The Gernsback Continuum” (from his collection Burning Chrome) and the film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

There are many people out there who are critical of older science fiction especially that of the 1970s and back. Even some of the most award-winning films of the genre have been criticised for having outdated elements. As Anders mentions in his article, 2001: A Space Odyssey makes reference to Pan-Am and people are still using payphones in Blade Runner. Spool tape-based and punch-card-based computers are no longer used today and probably never will be again but they are used in the future settings of 1950s-through-‘70s science fiction.

So what do we do with these science fiction tales that do not reflect a likely future? We read or view them as alternate timeline fiction. Now, 2001 can be an alternate history/retro future film since it is set in the early 2000s but was made in the 1960s. It becomes the movie about a future that might have been which is now a recent alternate past.

To be continued . . .

Next Time: More on day two of Intergalactic Expo, including a Doctor Who panel and video game costumers, and Part 2 of the article on outdated sci fi as alternate history.

Until then . . .

(Go to part two of this topic.)

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