Tag Archive: inspiration

“I Am the Law”

Classic Dredd cover by Mike McMahon, showing Dredd and Uncle Ump, probably the saddest Dredd story, IMHO.

With less than a week to the North American release of the new Judge Dredd movie, I felt like I should say something about the franchise, perhaps as a primer for North Americans who aren’t familiar with this very British gem.

As an early teen and subscriber of the comic 2000AD, I grew up with a weekly dose of Judge Dredd. It was pretty much everything a British teenage boy wanted: action filled, imagination expanding, great lines and amazing artwork. I enjoyed every week and the variety of story lines – it went all over the place. Gang warfare, controlled substances, game shows, democratic protests, superhero vigilantes, communist city states, alien invaders and Dredd’s ever-present sardonic one-liners gave the reader a connection to its craziness – as unemotional as he was, Dredd is the person closest to our sensibilities, the quintessential “straight-man.”

A casual reader, perhaps someone who bought the comic on a news-stand – or actually read it in the newspaper since Dredd was a syndicated comic strip in Britain’s Daily Star newspaper – might dismiss the real depth of the content. Judge Dredd is much more than a hard-assed cop in a futuristic world, but a commentary on a future dystopia protected by a fascist police state, a dissertation on culture run-amuck, as well as a parody/prediction about the future of United States of America.

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My Way and Hemingway

Standard Creative Writing headgear. Please exercise caution while using.

I’ve been very lucky to have the opportunity to write professionally for almost twenty years. Perhaps 80% of that writing was creative, in the form of game proposals, supporting stories, blog articles and dialog scripts/screenplays.  However, a much smaller fraction of that work wasn’t actually doing the article writing itself, but writing to merely to generate ideas and solutions to problems that arise.
Very rarely, an idea pops into one’s head fully formed – that is, ready to be put to paper without any further thinking or development. It is so rare, in fact, that you may as well assume it never happens. More often, an idea pops up that is much less than you thought – the words that describe it amount to a few sentences, or less. Panic sometimes ensues, but inevitably so does a sudden loss of enthusiasm for the idea. I believe this comes from the human mind’s ability to abstract concepts. Within your mind, the idea seems fully formed, even flawless, but once committed to some form, either writing, or drawing, or what have you, its issues are brought to light.

Within my own work process, this happens all the time.  The ideas flow thick and strong, but ultimately prove to be sketchy, with holes in their logic. These holes are problems, needing to be filled and threatening to literally undermine the rest of the idea. When writing a story especially, each idea usually needs to connect to another and a small discrepancy with one can derail the entire thought process.  To avoid loss of enthusiasm, I feel its important to keep up the momentum.

My solution for this sort of problem has always been, reluctantly – more writing! (or drawing…)  There are several methods I use, but they all share the same general principle.  Rather than sitting, scratching your head and trying to think the problem through, you should keep writing to maintain your thought process and manipulate that process to solve your problems.

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Sources of any kind can help visualize what doesn’t exist

Anybody who knows me has probably heard me reference the Traveller RPG and anyone who’s read a few articles on this site must be sick of the references to it by now. There is a good reason for it, however, I do believe that Traveller is the best one-stop shop for figuring out science fiction worlds (and it will get better with Traveller 5, due at the end of the year, by virtue of its comprehensive creation system for anything you can think of: characters, ships, worlds, weapons, vehicles, items, etc.). Whenever I’ve needed a place to start in describing a future setting, I think of Traveller. Traveller is rather open in terms of the universe that comes out of the box – everyone has their Own Traveller Universe (OTU), which always seems to drop down from whatever SF books they read, movies they watched. They read the Traveller rules and see their own universe emerge as they digest them.

So it should come as no surprise that now I’m writing my own SF novel and stories (as opposed to other people’s SF projects), that I come back to Traveller for that cornerstone to build from. In this case, it has been for spacecraft construction.

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The Human-Centric Universe

Human beings seem to be very important in science fiction, or indeed, any kind of story that we create.  Just look at how many of them are in our stories! They’re all over the place.  They must be very important!

At face value, this is perhaps simply because we are human and need other humans to relate to. The closer you come to our “Real” world the more likely you are to have humans in your story. However, science fiction (and to some degree fantasy and horror) has more of an excuse to venture further away from this idea, but even with possibility of strange alien life forms being taken for granted, the pervasiveness of humanity, or species directly related to humanity, seems inescapable.

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I’m usually not one to write eulogies for people I don’t know personally, but I have to admit that the news that Harry Harrison had died struck me very hard. Who was Harry? Well, to a lot of people he was the SF writer that influenced people yet they didn’t know his name. He wrote “Soylent Green”, or rather the novel it was based on “Make room, make room!” But to me, he was the author of the Stainless Steel Rat books.

Reading “The Stainless Steel Rat saves the world”, on loan from a good childhood friend, was literally the thing that made me think I could create worlds rather than just reading about them. After finishing that, I read every HH book I could get my hands on: all of Deathworld, Bill the Galactic Hero, Technicolour Time Machine, West of Eden… And of course, every Rat book. I think I slowed down at “A Stainless Steel Rat is Born” simply because it brought the series full circle. Harry’s writing had soul: his pulpy style of writing (and I mean that as an honorific) was fun, fast paced and respected. He knew how to have fun writing, like the grenade dispenser in “The Stainless Steel Rat wants you”… Yep, the tail… Of a dinosaur costume… 😉

Harry’s work was part of a perfect storm for me. It dovetailed with my teenage imagination at the same time I was heavily into the Traveller SF RPG and it led me to learn Esperanto and ultimately put pen to paper writing SF and Fantasy. Even as an artist he influenced me; through his books, I discovered Jim Burns artwork, which in turn influenced my art and writing (specifically his Mechanismo paintings and Planet Story, still influencing me today in the form of my novel).

Harry had a long and amazing career and published his last Rat book only two years ago. While i don’t think he was awarded the title Grand Master of SF, he was one in my eyes.

Sir, you deserve your break! I hope to meet you on the flip side, if there is one. /tips hat

If you want to honor him, go read his books.

Image Credit: the pioneering SF artist Peter Elson for Sphere Books, also sadly missed.

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