Saturday, November 28, 2015

Atomic Rockets: Hard Sci Fi Writing, Reading and Atompunk Resource

I hope everybody had a good Thanksgiving. Mine was groovy. I just spent it with the family, which is good enough for me. I was sure to look out for giant man-eating turkeys and I hope everybody else did too. It was a super day of giving thanks for the many good things we have, which is often a lot more than we think. So many people think too much about what they don’t have. Some think they don’t have enough money, enough friends, enough recognition . . . The list can go on. But you can add to that list that some feel there’s not enough high quality science fiction literature out there. That may be true to some extent. One person who feels that sci fi literature for the past two decades has been poor, in the science part particularly, has a website out that addresses the problem. That website is called Atomic Rockets which you can check out at It is a resource for both science fiction writers as well as readers who want accurate science in the genre. And because the website emphasizes plausible sci fi like that of the atomic era’s classic authors, such as Heinlein and Asimov, it also serves as a good resource for atompunk lovers.

The rocket "Polaris" orbits a planet with mathematical equations in the foreground.
Photo Credit: Winchell Chung/Atomic Rockets

Origin and Mission

Atomic Rockets’ mission is to go scientifically accurate where no science fiction writer seems to have been going the last two decades. At least web administrator and site founder, Winchell Chung, says it’s been that long. Disappointed about today’s science fiction literature lacking scientific plausibility and accuracy, he created the site hoping to draw more authors to use it as a resource. “I have been quite disappointed in the SF novels that have come out in the last couple of decades,” he says on the site’s homepage. “In particular, the scientific accuracy was abysmal. So this website is part of my master plan, to give a resource to SF authors that will assist them in getting the science correct.” He feels that good science fiction gets its science right like Robert Heinlein did with his stories. So his site consists of pages of scientific and technological facts that explain how works of science fiction reflect or lack reflecting these facts. He writes his articles in a manner of testing scientific theories on the stories. In fact, his site started off as one that specialised in the equations of rocket science but then grew “to encompass other topics of interest to SF authors and game designers.” 

An Atompunk Resource

But Atomic Rockets is not just a textbook for people who want to make their sci fi plausible. Chung is a big atompunk fan (only he calls it “rocketpunk”) and so features several articles about the sci fi of the 1940s through ‘60s. Within these are images of paperback book and pulp magazine covers with colourful art depicting space-suited heroes encountering both humanoid and inhuman-looking aliens and deadly robots. There is even a page dedicated to atompunk, entitled “Rocketpunk andMacgruffinite”, that consists of a good sized article about the subgenre so I highly recommend you check it out.

Atomic Rocket Approved Reading

Because Chung takes high quality science fiction seriously, most of the books his site discusses are the harder sci fi. He rates these with a seal called the “Atomic Rockets Seal of Approval”. He has two main book lists for these works: one is a page dedicated to books by authors who have told him that his website helped them produce scientifically accurate work; the other is a section of a separate page that lists books approved with the seals but whose authors have not claimed using the site to produce their work but who still get the science right. So if you’re looking for high quality science fiction to read, like yours truly always does, then consider the books on these two lists for building your own to-read lists.

Atomic Rockets is a must resource for both writers of science fiction who want to make their stories as believable as possible and for readers looking for recommended high quality sci fi  reading. It’s also a great resource for lovers of atompunk, a subgenre that seems to lack coverage on the internet. So atompunkers, bookmark this one in your Favorites list too. I did!

I’ll try to explain more in-depth about Atomic Rockets next time. But for now, think about this question: Do you think today’s science fiction literature has become more scientifically accurate or less? Please fill free to leave your answers in the box below.

Until next time . . .

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Artist’s Vision Vs. Corporate and Audience Expectations

A space soldier in high tech armor and holding a blaster looks across a futuristic city.
Photo Credit:

I'm so behind on my upcoming short fiction collection, The Hidden. I still have several stories to revise for it, and then the cover illustration to make in which I'm planning on coming out with two versions of: a pre-release version that will be hand-made, and when I say “hand-made” I mean drawn and painted by yours truly with “old school” tools such as a pencil and coloured pencils; and the final release version which I will digitally produce. Why two versions? Personally, because I believe that digitally produced art cannot replace the natural energy and human spirit that goes into freehand art. And so I still respect and empathize with that small niche audience out there who prefer freehand art. But I don't discriminate against the majority either. If they’re willing to pay for digital, photorealistic art on book covers then I'll provide them that option, even though it’s not my thing. This reminds me of George Lucas’s issue with the Disney Company over the upcoming Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, which is less than a month away.

Lucas gave his specific reason to CBS This Morning the other day for no longer par-taking in the production of the Star Wars films. It was because Disney, who now owns the Star Wars franchise--which I think was a big mistake on Lucas's part to sell to them--wants to make the movies the “fans’” way. I really think that's, at least in part, bull shit because Disney is no longer there to satisfy anyone, including Star Wars fans; they're there to satisfy themselves with their own profits. I talked about this in one of my articles at a while back. You may want to take a look at it if you haven’t already done so.  Lucas's issue with the upcoming Star Wars film is a big example of how Hollywood is buying off of the fans' desires and ignoring the creator's vision.

Lucas told CBS This Morning that Star Wars is a “soap opera” rather than a space opera. He told them that “it’s not about the spaceships.” And maybe it’s not. He wants to show the development of the characters but Disney is implying fans don't want to see that. Why can't there be both “spaceships” and character and dramatic development? That's the way it happened in the prequels and that's the way it happened, even if on a more superficial level, in the original trilogy. And, needless to say, it kept drawing crowds.

Maybe Disney thought Lucas would go too far with the “soap opera” side of the movie, but so what? He may no longer own the franchise but, being the original creator, wouldn't he have a right to see some of his ideas put into the film? Disney had agreed to allow Lucas to act as consultant to the films, but if they threw out all his ideas for the 7th film then they weren’t really allowing him to carry out that role. But there you go: that’s what happens when a movie creator sells his (or her) work to a mega corporation like Disney. The corporation that purchase’s it has the legal right to do what it wants with it and, more often than not, it will.

That’s why I go the self-publishing route and not the traditional one of the big publishing houses. Too many big publishers want to basically buy writers’ stories so they can do what they want with them to make a profit for themselves. To do this often means the publishers giving readers what they want by demanding the author to make changes in the story even to the point of the author sacrificing his/her original vision. On the level of film-making, that was the problem Lucas--who did have his own vision for Star Wars--had with Disney. I would not want an editor from a big publishing house telling me to rewrite my story where it annihilates my original vision and intentions for it just because they want to buy off of readers’ desires for the sake of making profit.

Would you be willing to write your stories according to an editor’s or your fans' expectations even if it meant sacrificing your original vision that you want the story to convey? Please feel free to leave your answers in the box below.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

3 Ideas From Creature Con That Can Enhance your Horror fiction

A reptilian monster's eye.
Photo Credit:

I said several weeks ago that I would talk about some writing techniques I learned of when I attended Sinister Creature Con back in October. Even though this con emphasised special cinematic and make-up effects in the horror genre, I picked up on three good tips there that can be useful in any media of horror fiction including books, movies, TV and games. In fact, these tips can be used in other genres besides horror. So doing the following can enhance your fiction writing:

1     1) Determine an end point to your piece. Fon Davis of Industrial Light and Magic, the special effects company for the Star Wars films, talked in his panel about doing this when he discussed his work on model building and sculpting. He said that many special effects artists like to make their work perfect by making it appear real to the last detail. That’s always been my case when it comes to writing fiction (and so now you know why I run so behind on my stories). But he said that, like painting, model building and sculpting for special effects is a never-ending job because a piece can always be improved. So the artist has to determine where to stop and basically say when the piece is “complete”. This is especially the case in the film industry where the producers want the work done by a deadline so they can release the movie.

The same goes for writing fiction. Some authors are pressured by contract with a publisher to determine their piece as “complete”. Other authors, myself included, have to pressure ourselves to make such a determination if we’re self-publishing our work. This is probably more important for self-publishing authors than for traditional ones because no one is around to tell us when we have to have the book done by. If we don’t determine an end point to our work, we’ll never publish it and publishing for us will always be a “someday it will happen”. So a great way to determine completion is by getting a select group of people to read your work before submitting it for publication. These readers can be your friends, a random audience (also known as beta readers) or a critique group. Then after the readers give you their comments, make the suggested revisions and then, as long as it sounds like it might be acceptable enough to your audience, submit it for publication.

I have a critique group I attend regularly and once they’ve critiqued my story, I’ll make the suggested revisions that were most common among the group, and then I’ll go back and consider the lesser common ones. After I make all revisions, I’ll do an additional reading or two to myself, and keep my readers in mind while doing so. If the story looks like it will convince my readers, and by that time in the final revision process it normally does, I’ll declare the story complete. However, for my collection of short stories, The Hidden, that’s coming up (hopefully by the end of the year) I’m going to add one more additional step and that’s releasing a beta version to certain readers. If anybody out there is interested in being a beta reader then let me know in the box below.

2    2) Write a story based on an illustration. Most people think that the script to a movie comes before the promo poster and they’re almost always right in thinking that. But interestingly enough, the director/screenwriter of 1986’s sci fi horror-comedy flick, Terror Vision, did it the other way around. He wrote the screenplay based on a poster that depicted a monster crawling out of a television set. A lot of authors of fiction will do this, especially ones who are visual artists too and make their own illustrations.

I myself have never written any of my fiction that way, although I wouldn’t mind trying it sometime. Normally I start with a plot idea: a “what if” situation such as “what if people played VR games via technological drugs?” That’s how I came up with my story, “Orbitville” which I included in The Fool’s Illusion. Then I find some starting point for that situation, which can be pretty tough. However, once I find it, I write according to what I think my protagonist will do in response to that situation and that’s when the story writing process becomes a journey for me.

But because it can be tough starting a concrete scene from a premise or an idea that is more abstract, writing based on an illustration may help. Just make sure you have the artist’s permission to use the subject matter of the picture in your story if you decide to publish it. If you develop the story from a movie’s promo poster or another author’s book cover or such, double check the synopsis of the movie or book to make sure your story doesn’t come too close in likeness to the plot and that it reflects your own work so you don’t risk committing plagiarism.

     3) Reference real life events. I found out about this one from horror author Josh Hancock who wrote the novel, The Girls ofOctober. The book is about a young woman so obsessed with John Carpenter’s Halloween that the events in her own life begin to resemble those of the movie, including murder. As far as references to real life go, the story’s overall theme already refers to an actual movie. But the author also includes passages from documents connected with the making of the film which in doing so makes the novel even more believable.

Edgar Allen Poe did something similar with his work by referencing both current events of his time and real life philosophers. But similarly to developing a story from an artist’s illustration, a person making reference to a real story, movie, TV series, etc., in his/her own fiction should make sure they have permission from the creator of the work they’re referencing, unless that work is in the public domain.

Have you tried any of the above tips for your own fiction? If so, did they improve your stories? Leave your answers in the box below. 

Until next time. . .

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sweepstakes Winner and Possible Return of a Sci Fi Pulp Magazine

I hope everybody had a far out Halloween! I know I did. It started with a trip to Empire Comics Vault in Sacramento where they had a Halloween mini con and a big sale to go with the occasion. Unfortunately, I got there too late for the con, which only lasted until 3 PM. But the sale was still going, including the free comics they were giving away which I definitely took advantage of both yet without going much over five dollars. In the evening I attended a family Halloween party and then came home and watched Dr. Terror’s House of Horror, starring Christopher Lee, on a VHS tape I bought at a con several years ago. And, of course, not long after the clock struck the witching hour, I looked up the winner of the sweepstakes who was selected by good ol’ Rafflecopter.

And the Winner Is . . .

. . . Alex Cavanaugh! I, again, congratulate Alex. He receives a book package consisting of novels The Queen of Darkness by Miguel Conner and Blood Moon by M.R. Sellars, plus a signed copy of The Fool’s Illusion  by yours truly. I’d like to once again thank Alex for his participation, and I thank everybody else who participated in the sweepstakes. I hope all of you will participate in future giveaways here at the Fantastic Site.

Possible Relaunch of a Classic SF Mag

You may have heard all over sci fi news that Bryan Fuller, executive producer of TV’s Hannibal, plans to relaunch the 1980s Amazing Stories TV series. Well, even greater news is for fans of the original magazine and other pulp fiction publications of the early half of the 20th century: Amazing Stories trademark owner Steve Davidson was moved by those plans so much that he intends to relaunch the magazine both in print and digital! Check out more details about this potential relaunch in my article at 

"Amazing Stories" magazine cover depicting a huge, spherical space craft hovering over an alien landscape.
Photo Credit: Experimenter Publishing/Wikimedia Commons

Science fiction as the genre we know it today started with the Amazing Stories magazine back in the 1920s and some of the greatest writers established their literary careers writing for it, including Hugo Gernsback who founded and served as editor of the publication. The magazine helped bring in the pulp era of fiction which included a huge flourishing of sci fi literature (including comics), movies, radio and eventually TV shows. It is this era of science fiction, often known as the golden era of the genre, why many of us here in the U.S. read and write speculative fiction today.

Next week I’d like to discuss some writing tips inspired by my attendance at Sinister Creature Con earlier last month.

Until then . . .