Sunday, 21 February 2016

Recent Scifi film series - time to raise the bar?

You may have noticed the recent flurry of young adult scifi film series: Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Divergent, etc. They all have four things in common: they're targeting the young adult (YA) population, they are all dystopian with humanity's hope resting in the hands of teenagers, and they are all science fiction. Of course older generations watch them as well, but they are tightly focused and marketed for the teenage population. What's going on? And I said four, right, and you were counting, weren't you? Bear with me...

A few years ago it was Twilight, Lord of the Rings, and the Hobbit, with Game of Thrones stealing the limelight on TV. There have also been a spate of Marvel and DC Comics films and spin-offs, from X-Men, Iron Man and Captain America, to Flash on TV. The past decade has been ruled by Fantasy, with notable  interruptions from the Scifi world like Prometheus and Gravity. The last big challenger on TV was Battlestar Galactica, on the screen the new (slipstream) Star Trek films. But is the tide now turning in favor of Science fiction? And is this a fad, or can it be sustained?

Ok, what's the fourth thing? No aliens. This is light, easy-to-swallow scifi. Young people can relate to the new film series because they are about the young being oppressed by more mature generations. That trope just never gets old, it's practically hardwired into our DNA!

So, there's a strategic choice facing Hollywood, other than quick money. It can either keep pumping out these kinds of series, and enjoy it while it lasts until Fantasy picks up again and takes over. Or, it can think longer term, and build on the appetite it is creating. First it has to accept a truth - people are not dumb, they're actually pretty smart. Which means they could graduate to more serious science fiction. That doesn't have to mean alien attacks and more dystopia, or even any aliens at all. But it does mean getting off Earth. It also means not settling everything with a fist-fight or more guns, and not building absolutely everything around a boy-girl relationship.

Some series are hard to translate on the screen - or rather, they used to be. But Gravity, Prometheus, and Avatar all show us that pretty much anything can be done now. So, why not turn back to Dune (again), or Rama, or Foundation? Those three book series not only sold millions of books, they converted people into long term scifi lovers.

So, Hollywood, listen up, because we're talking serious, long term return on investment here. You're creating a need, and not doing too bad a job of it. It's time to start planning long term, and moving to phase 2. Time to get more serious about science fiction...

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Read fast, then read again...

I've been watching something interesting related to Kindle and my books. There's a new feature called KENP, which basically tells you how many pages people read in your book (on their kindle) over a period of days, if they borrowed it from the Kindle Lenders Library.  What is surprising me (in a good way) is that people are reading one of the books in less than a week, sometimes in just a couple of days.

I always aim to write stories in three or even four strands that intertwine. I call it tourniquet plotting, because the strands tighten and coalesce as the book climaxes. Well, that's the theory. What it means is that the books are best read in a compressed time-frame. If you read a chapter once a week, frankly it will be hard to keep up  with the twists and turns. There is no equivalent (maybe there will be one day) of the kind of reminder/recap you get when you watch the next episode of a series like Star Trek or 24. Imagine watching one episode a month of something like Game of Thrones...

But the four books also intertwine. They are one story, in four parts. As some people already know, it was meant to be a trilogy. But halfway through the final tome, the story took a turn with the arrival of the machine race and the inevitable destiny of Pierre. Once that entered my head, I couldn't walk away from it, and rather than have an 800 page finale (an oxymoron, by the way), I split it into two books. That was a bit risky, because the third book ends on something of a cliff-hanger, which is not really what I intended. It's one of the reasons I keep the price of book 4 low, even though to an extent I consider it the best.

The other thing I tried to do is layered writing. This means you can read the books more than once and find things you didn't really notice the first time around. I have quite a few readers who've read everything at least twice. The only way to do this as a writer is to write and then rewrite and then rewrite... Something to do while awaiting that elusive publisher... People often ask me how long it takes me to write a book. My answer depends, but it's basically about two years: a year to write the first version, then about nine months re-writing and layering it, then some months polishing it.

People say 'write what you know'. But that doesn't make much sense in science fiction unless you're Stephen Hawking. I prefer 'write what you'd like to read.' I love reading complex stories that immerse me in other worlds, stories I don't want to put down. I remember devouring the original Dune books, and then later the sequels and prequels written by Frank Herbert's son. I lost sleep over those books.

So, it's been gratifying to see a few recent views where people are losing sleep over mine, and appreciating the scope of the tetralogy (yep, that 's the correct term, not quadrology). Sometimes I look over the four books and wonder where it all came from. I've really no idea, just glad it arrived in my head and headed down to my fingertips. Not sure I'll ever top this series.

© Barry Kirwan |
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