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Posts Tagged ‘Tarantula’

In amongst all of the trials and tribulations of writing a novel (or even a story), every once in a while a miracle occurs. Your story needs something to be True, something you can use as an anchor. This is particularly telling in historical fiction, when you’d like to tie your narrative to a known fact, or place, or person. Trouble is, you may not have any particular fact, place, or person in mind. You just need something to be where you already are, like jumping off a cliff and hoping there’s a deep pool of water at the bottom.

And there it is. I’ve been having difficulties lately with my latest, Marauders from the Moon (no. 4 in the Nemesis series). I’ve always known (not a spoiler) that it would take place on a movie set, but early on I decided it would be better (all right, easier for me) if the action was being filmed on location, in a ghost town, where I could create an air of claustrophobic paranoia due to Mysterious Happenings. Ever wonder why so many 1950s monster movies were set in small, isolated desert towns or on remote islands? (Or if you’re a bit younger, Tremors?) It’s so your victims, er, heroes, will be cut off from help and forced to fend for themselves with limited resources.

That was my plan, except that I put my people so far away that it felt unrealistic. I was going to have to return to the movie lot idea, which would mean scrapping hundreds (if not thousands) of words, and re-writing. But what could I do? Where was I going to find a ghost town that was not prohibitively far from Los Angeles–and which featured mining and was subject to flash floods (for reasons I won’t go into)?

To the World Wide Web-mobile!

It took me about five seconds to find my deep pool at the bottom of the cliff. With pictures. It turns out that for a place only about 300 years old, LA has lots of hidden/lost history. Abandoned gold mines. Hitler’s secret bunker. An underground river. All things an enterprising author can take and build upon.*

Miracles. Sometimes they’re right where you need them to be.

*And did I mention the lost Confederate gold cache?

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It is widely disseminated that if you can take the science out of an SF story and still tell the story, it’s not truly SF. (For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll assume the same theory holds for fantasy.) I myself have believed for a long time that this is a valid, albeit somewhat simplistic, test. But now I wonder.

You see, there has been a lot of “science fiction” that does not really contain any “science.” So what do you call it? Star Wars is a prime example, with many characterizing it as “science fantasy” because it has the trappings of SF, but upon any review its science is well, bad.* Look at the spaceships: They don’t fly right. They act as though they’re in an atmosphere instead of a vacuum. (We’ll ignore the sounds. That’s artistic license.) And it’s based on “the Force,” a mystical energy field (later retconned to be some kind of micro-particles in your blood, but no one believes that). So is it science fiction? Or is it fantasy with spaceships?

I’m a fan of the 50s B&W monster movies I used to watch on “Creature Features.”** Giant ants, spiders, gila monsters, teenagers… Really, even I wasn’t buying it. But it was considered science fiction. Why? The science was worse than what you see in Star Wars. You couldn’t take the science out to see if the story could still be told, because there was no science. And yet we call it SF to this day. (And yes, that applies to Godzilla, too–all the versions.)

The question becomes, then: How do you test a story for being science fiction if there is no recognizable science in the story in the first place?

I guess you could try to recategorize Them! and Tarantula and Village of the Giants as science fantasy, but good luck.*** That ship has sailed (or launched). Better, I think, to avoid ironclad definitions and hope that the next generation of SF is better than some of the things that have gone before.

Or has that ship launched, too?

*When I say Star Wars, I mean the original. Since the first trilogy, it’s only gotten progressively worse.

**Creature Features was cancelled, and years later, revived. Ironically, the host of the new show was a friend of mine.

***These three movies share a distinction: Each had an actor who went on to achieve fame. (Them! actually had a couple.) Points if you can name them.

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