Aug 8, 2015

Nostalgia Ain't What It Used To Be

Growing up reading Isaac Asimov, one of my dreams was to become a successful science fiction author. However, actually figuring out how to write good science fiction is very complicated and requires a lot of work and patience to get the science right and the writing perfect.

Zach Weinersmith wrote that reality has two dimensions of time: proper time and remembered time. Proper time is the one we store in watches (for example: August 8, 2015 at 3:32 p.m.) while remembered time is stored in our neurons (for example: the time I visited Costa Rica).

Because remembered time will only remember the things that I liked (and those memories will be further reinforced because I will talk about them and think about them often) humans tend to idealize the past and associate the past with a better state of things. This is what we call nostalgia.

But if our brains aren’t very good at remembering things, they are pretty amazing at making connections (even when they aren’t there). That is the reason for this list of parallels between the lives of John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln and it is also how I feel about Ernest Cline (author of Ready Player One) and Andy Weir (author of The Martian).

You see: both authors were born in the US in 1972, both authors published their first book in 2011, the plot of both books relies on nostalgia and both books didn’t do amazingly well on release but are now considered classics of modern science fiction.

And this brings me back to my original point. Becoming a science fiction writer must be a matter of finding a magical formula that anybody can copy and then just writing lots of words. In order to find this magic formula, I will analyze these two books.

I will start by looking at Andy Weir’s book. The Martian was painstakingly researched in order to have correct science, which required lots of complicated mathematics to get right. It creates rich characters with feelings and limitations, characters who are afraid of losing and uses nostalgic elements to tie them up to Earth and make you identify with them. So, obviously, that is too much work. Moving on!

Ready Player One is far simpler. The basic idea is to throw as many nostalgic references as possible in the hopes that someone will say “hey! I know that one thing!”. The first element of nostalgia appears all the way in page number 2: an Atari 2600. After that references show up every couple paragraphs (always presented in a list of items because that makes it even more annoying to read). We will read lists of consoles (Apple IIe, a Commodore 64, an Atari 800 XL, TRS-80), games (Galaga, Defender, Asteroids), comics (Spider-Man, X-Men, Green Lantern), refuges (Batcave, Fortress of Solitude), fictional worlds (Middle Earth, Vulcan, Pern, Arrakis, Magrathea,Discworld, Mid-World, Riverworld, Ringworld), spacecraft (UFOs, TIE fighters, old NASA space shuttles, Vipers), etc.

Additionally, the book treats the reader like an idiot. Every single joke is explained, and then if people are too dense to get it, it is explained again. Every term that isn’t completely obvious is expanded upon. Don’t know what an NPC is? Can’t be bothered to Google it? Don’t worry, the book says they are “non-player characters” – still don’t get it? No problem, the next paragraph will explain – “computer-controlled humans, animals, monsters, aliens and androids.”

So, insulting my readers and listing things? I can totally do that!!

And so I present to you the first paragraph of my science fiction masterpiece:
"thanks Obama!" – He said sarcastically while rolling his eyes. Some members of the audience were still not getting it – "I was being sarcastic" – he further explained, explainingly (sarcasm is the use of irony to mock or convey contempt) – "in this case I am not really thanking Obama, I just say 'thanks Obama' in an ironic way" -- he added expositionally [1]. 
[1] Expositionally is the adverb form the word exposition. Adverbs are words or phrases that qualify adjectives, verbs or other adverbs. Some of the possible categorizations of adverbs include: Genitive, Conjunctive, Flat, Locative, Interrogative, Collateral, Prepositional, Pronominal and Relative

Some attentive readers might notice that collateral is really a form of adjective, to which I reply: who cares? Determining the correct list would require work and by that point my target audience will be thinking: "ohh!! Look, locative adverbs, I remember those from school!! This book is super cool!!"
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