Thursday, May 30, 2013

Unwilling Disbelief

Today’s blog is both dedicated and offered as an apology to Solara, whose post on Shapeshifter Seductions sparked these musings. Brief recap: she wrote the opening scene of an SF-flavored romance, set on another planet. I grew up reading SF, so I was good with that. What threw me off was what I perceived as a misuse of the term “light year.” A light year is a measure of distance, not time. Same for a parsec. Everybody catch that gaffe in Star Wars? George Lucas, shame on you.

Let’s consider this for a moment. Here’s a story set on an alien planet, one that just happens to have an atmosphere, gravity and, I would assume, foodstuffs capable of supporting human life. And I was willing to accept all that. After all, given the billions and billions (hi, Mr. Sagan!) of stars in our galaxy alone, not to mention the universe, there’s got to be a few with orbiting planets, and at least one planet out there where human colonists could set up shop. So yeah, I’ll swallow the basic premise. Just don’t fiddle with the light years.

I myself have written stories set on alien worlds, and others starring vampires and all sorts of werebeasts. Nobody’s ever yelled at me for it, at least not to my face. Of course none of those beasties exist in real life, but nobody seems to mind. Put a poodle in your story, however, and have that poodle shed on the sofa, and you will get letters. Trust me.

What’s this all about? It’s called the willing suspension of disbelief. It’s the human tendency to willingly turn off our brains and accept what the storyteller’s feeding us, for the sake of entertainment. You can see this phenomenon in full force at any big-budget action movie in any theater over the summer. Plot holes, lapses in logic, inconsistent characterization, we’ll swallow it all, because to do otherwise would wreck our enjoyment, and we paid good bucks for this.

What we won’t swallow is flat-out inaccuracy. It throws us right out of the story, and that really pisses us off.

Let’s take a trip in the Wayback Machine, to the early days of the 20th century. It’s 1933, and paying customers are running in a panic out of the local movie theater because King Kong just snapped his chains and is running amuck. They believed in the big monkey. Why? Because they could see him on screen, right in front of them, and because he behaved like a monkey, just, well, bigger. Nobody had ever seen a 50-foot gorilla. However, they had seen monkeys at the zoo. People know what monkeys act like. If Kong had acted contrary to what people knew, they would have been laughing and booing, not screaming.

Speaking of apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs was constantly playing fast and loose with science during his prolific career. He set stories on Mars and Venus and created an entire world, Pellucidar, at the earth’s core. The species of apes that raised Tarzan never existed in nature. (Disney fixed this in their version by making them gorillas. But then, Disney set their movie in a magical Africa that had no humans whatsoever until the white folks showed up. At least Burroughs acknowledged the existence of indigenous peoples in his Africa, inaccurate though it was.)

Burroughs was able to get away with this because at the time knowledge of Africa was sketchy at best, and hard facts about the planets even more so. Besides, readers wanted to believe there were giant monsters and half-naked women running around on Mars and Venus and at the center of the earth. But even Eddie ran afoul of known fact. In his writer’s zeal he put tigers in Africa. Tigers don’t and have never lived in Africa. Somebody, I’m betting lots of somebodies, quickly pointed this out to him. And that’s why Tarzan battles Sabor the Lioness and not Sabor the Tiger in the paperback editions.

Strides in knowledge put the kibosh on a lot of science fiction. By the time Ray Bradbury wrote The Martian Chronicles in the 1950s, we all knew it was fantasy and read it as such. Swashbucklers set on Venus or Jupiter were pretty much kaput. By then we knew they couldn’t support human life, or any life at all. Stories set on Mars or the Moon stayed true to current scientific knowledge. The adventure stories moved out of our now-boring solar system and over to distant, made-up worlds where you could still get away with breathable atmospheres and fighting giant bugs with swords. People still read them, too.

The point is, we the readers will put up with the most fantastical shit you can imagine in a story, as long as it doesn’t violate what we already know. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s true. You can have Conan the Barbarian lopping the heads off hundred-foot monster snakes, but don’t describe him as wielding a 50-pound broadsword. Even Conan’s not that strong. His arm would fall off. You can have a werewolf in your story, but if he complains about his pet poodle shedding all over the rug, you’ve just lost your readers. Poodles are one of those breeds that don’t shed; that’s why they have to get clipped on a regular basis. Every poodle owner who reads your book will point this out to you. They probably won’t buy your other books, either.

And above all, don’t use “light year” as a measure of time, because it makes people like me write blogs. On the other hand, it gave me a topic this week, so I suppose I should say thanks.

In other words, write your fantasy story, but make sure it sounds real. Yeah, I know. Writing is a strange profession.


Savanna Kougar said...

Good points, Pat... about readers, movie viewers getting lost in the story for the sake of entertainment...

I only know poodles don't shed because when I was growing up my mom groomed dogs for a time.

Part of the problem in this age of being a fictional writer is that you could spend all your time studying, researching facts, etc., and still you're likely to get something wrong simply because there's way too much info to know, to absorb. And it all changes too fast.

This is especially true when you fuse genres.

When I write sci fi erotic romances, I'm likely to get something wrong because I was never a hardcore sci fi reader. Although I do know light years is a measure of distance.

Plus, history and science has been so bastardized/hidden from the public by the powers that be, that you can't rely on that so-called, school-taught truth.

For example, there is a certain amount of 'proof' [ancient documents], which I've studied, that the stories Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote set on Mars was the actual ancient history of Mars.

NASA has lied, is lying... that's been proven over and over and over again by experts/whistleblowers... lying about Mars, the Moon, and the other planets in the solar system. [Read DARK MISSION by Richard C Hoagland]

Actually, a lot of the fiction stories written in those times were based on true history, all the history that's been covered up, and now laughed at as kooky... including the inner Earth [yeah, put a tin hat on me]. But I believe Admiral Byrd over the system's version.

For example, there's tons of proof that giants lived, grave after grave has been found, artifacts, bones out the wazoo... the Smithsonian confiscates whatever they can get hold of... there's an area in the Grand Canyon that is closed off, where tunnels were found that contained proof of Egyptian and Chinese visitation/colonies. Obviously long before idiot Columbus arrived, who knew the Earth was round. Because only the peasant serfs were told to believe in a flat Earth. Better to keep them enslaved if they thought they'd fall off the edge of the Earth.

Everything I wrote/included in HER MIDNIGHT STARDUST COWBOYS is based on hidden history/truth and the true tech that's out there.

I only hope readers will suspend their belief system enough to enjoy the story.

Pat C. said...

I recall the huge flap that erupted in SWFA when Janelle Taylor's "Moondust and Madness" qualified her for membership. I think she had every space opera cliché on display, including women from Jupiter (in the '80s!) and the hero's evil half-brother. And yet it was labeled "science fiction." Well, the SWFA membership pitched the mother of all hissy fits. How dare she sully the pristine name of SCIENCE FICTION with her sci-fi romance crap? I hope she got her dues back.

Pat C. said...

If I recall, there was a similar blow-up over Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code." Among other errors, his albino character had red eyes. Human albinos don't have red eyes. Frankly, I hadn't known that. It's one of the reasons I gave Sergei blue eyes. That, and a blue-eyed white tiger looks kewl.

I remember seeing the movie "Total Recall" and thinking at the end, "Holy cow! It's a Barsoomian atmosphere factory! That handprint activator was designed for a Thark!" I read way too much crap as a kid.

Pat C. said...

Crap, got it wrong twice. It's SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America).

Savanna Kougar said...

I vaguely recall that happening to Janelle Taylor for that particular book. Actually, that kind of hardcore, *mainstream science is always right* attitude caused me to shy away from reading sci fi even more. Yeah, I hope she did get her dues back.

I guess in the '80s they weren't all that hip to alternative timelines, either, as in Jupiter being populated [which according to some renegade scientist-types, it is]. Now other dimensions, other timelines is part of quantum physics.

Savanna Kougar said...

Yeah, never read the "Da Vinci Code." Started to once, but I couldn't handle his style of writing.

So, I have no idea if this true in his story, but 'red eyes' could have indicated a demon nature, or a demon working through him... which has nothing to do him being an albino.

Yeah, Sergei is 'white tiger shifter' kewl. Love the big guy. ~smiles~

Yeah TOTAL RECALL... also based on a lot of truth, if you investigate what NASA doesn't want you to know.

You know, how they claimed there was no water on Mars for decades! Which is scientifically stupid because any planet has to have some level of water, similar liquid, even if it's minimal.

Anyhoo, oh finally they released in dribs and drabs that Mars has water... in fact, now it's been acknowledged there's lots of water on Mars underground. Hell, the 'high ups' KNEW that the whole time.

Ya know, why would I care about hardcore, science-based sci fi when it's based on lies used to keep everyone ignorant?

Serena Shay said...

Wow...lots of fabulous info there, Pat! Thanks

I love sci fi, but mostly for watching. Give me Star Wars and Star Trek lots of action and adventure, love and angst, but as for reading it and writing it, nope not so much. I'm clueless when it comes to light years and parsecs and all the other terminology so it's darn good I don't dabble in it. hehe

Savanna Kougar said...

That's what really turned me on to sci fi, watching Star Trek, Star Wars, etc. Now when I was growing up, my Dad read lots of sci fi, all the top authors.

Pat C. said...

Watching Star Trek at age 10, I couldn't care less about the science. I was too caught up in drooling over the luscious Mr. Spock (and, to a lesser extent, Sulu). Maybe we need to drop all the nitpickery and get back to what's really important here. You know, the guys.

Serena Shay said...

Oh my the guys for sure! I was of the New Generation era so for me it was Picard (sexy, bald Dom) and Riker (Tall, Dark and delectable with a pro woman attitude!)

Of course there was Worf too, but that was more a fascination with a bad ass alien Top. ~whew~

Savanna Kougar said...

lol... I don't see why we can't have the best of both worlds... the sci fi and the sexy men... I always wanted to fuse Spock and Captain Kirk... and, yep loved the sexy Picard especially when he wore those Italian style shirts, and tight breeches... Riker was damn fine, too.

Pat C. said...

And the accent. Don't forget the accent.

I kind of had a thing for Geordi, too. Sometimes I go for guys with personality and brains. But not always.

Savanna Kougar said...

Know what you mean. I've fallen more for a man's mind, his intelligence and personality, far more often than physical looks... but, when I'm writing my erotic romances... hey, why not have it all?!!!