WHY NOT?

I watched the latest Fantastic Four film a few weeks ago. Now this post isn’t going to be a deconstruction of the film or a look at the merits and failings of what was put on the screen. Instead it’s a look at something which was held up at the very start of the film. The delight of scientific discovery.

Science is very often portrayed as the pervue of terrifyingly intelligent people who just deal with numbers, cells or chemicals all day. Studious sorts that are regularly shown to be socially awkward and so often, not very attractive. But science isn’t just those things.

If you listen to people like Neil deGrasse Tyson speak about their specialist subject you can begin to get an idea about the kind of wonder and splendour which reside within the realms of science. The understanding of the truths at the very edges of human knowledge can be some of the most amazing journeys we can take and wanting to push those boundaries whispers to just about everyone.

If you look at where so many of the classic comic book characters begin, they come from science or unforeseen circumstances in the pursuit of the scientific truth. The Incredible Hulk and gamma rays, Spiderman and the dodgy bite, Fantastic Four and their various cosmic rays all ended up with amazing powers at the hands of science. All these people were trying to expand the knowledge of the human race, trying to see if they could step beyond the beaten path and its possible to say that they were ‘gifted’ the amazing powers almost as a reward for that enthusiasm.

Scientists are trying to crack puzzles. The understanding of something which could expand the standard of life in some way and improve everything for everyone is a noble goal in itself but for so many, the desire to just look beyond how something works, to understand it and gain knowledge of it is almost like a drug. To reach further than everyone else and unlock a new truth drives some like the classic, “Why climb the mountain? Because it’s there?”

But should we always strive to see behind the curtain and get a glimpse of what the wizard actually looks like?

The counterpoint to the almost childlike exuberance of discovery comes when you consider the wider implications of what said discovery could be. Another film quote seems to sum it up well for me. Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park points out that, “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should,” in reference to the relative over reach of the scientists.

Just discovering for the sake of it doesn’t add anything but could, in extremes, cause unforeseen problems. Does that discovery seem as worthwhile if there is enormous collateral damage?

We also see far too regularly in fiction, and no doubt in the real world as well, how a previously benign discovery can be twisted by governments or corporations looking to exploit any kind of new technology. The Xenomorph in the Alien franchise was originally wanted for weapons research and Arrakis is fought over for political power associated with the properties of the spice melange. Add to the mix a healthy dose of paranoia at what horrors are being unleashed by the mad scientist, Frankenstein being a good example, and you end up in a pretty bad place.

All scientific breakthroughs will come with risks attached, even if we can’t identify each and every one of them as we’re discovering but that simple curiosity burns like a flame in our species meaning that there will always be a group of people reaching further than before. Man walked on the moon with technology endowed with less computing power than most modern smart phones and we’ve always wanted to push against what we perceive as being our boundaries. I love that aspect of the human spirit. We want to do more, to go faster, further or longer and that enthusiasm has spread into the realms of science. The problem I think, comes from the fact that where there are people trying to advance the human race, there will always be those who are trying to profit from it, those trying to own it and those who are afraid of what’s going on.

Spread the knowledge as we keep looking for answers, it’s the only way we’ll ever move forward as a species.

REALLY HORRIBLE

Last year, as Halloween came and went, I mused on what I perceived as the relative watering down of Horror as a genre and what it could or should be. I won’t re-hash the whole post here but check out ‘Oh, The Horror!’

So this year, as the celebration of horror rolls around again and I’ve again turned my eye on horror and have had an investigate of the nastiness of the real.

Dracula, Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon. These are all monsters that come and get us with their superpowers and the horror comes from the monsters themselves. It’s very easy to be dismissive of them as a reader as just being made up nonsense but all of these characters can be used to represent issues in the real world, manifestations of problems or issues we all face, and there in lies the importance.

Reality can be so much more horrifying than the fantastical monsters from the imagination of any writer.

Horror doesn’t have to remain in the realms of animated dead bodies or the spawn from Hell to be horrible. The human race is terrifyingly ready to visit almost unimaginable horror on itself. We’ve been happy to declare war on almost everyone else since the beginning of the human race and to do it in more and more imaginative ways. The weapons which have been created over the years have advanced in ferocity and yield, from stones being thrown, all the way up to the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of today.

But warfare isn’t the only horrible thing which happens.

The Saw series of films is a good example of the reality of horror, or at least the first film is. The bad guy is just a man. One who’s clearly crackers but real none the less. It’s a tale where we have to take a look at ourselves and think ‘What would I do?’ as all of the pain starts to unfold. Have we lived our lives in a way that could put us in harms way and what would we do if we woke up chained up in a dungeon?

Hannibal Lecter is a serial killer who is highly intelligent who is going to use that mighty intellect to kill and devour. He has no superpowers, possibly save that great mind of his, but he’s still a terrible threat, coming to end those people who’ve gone to him for help.

We look at stories of abductions (not by aliens), deviant and corrupting behaviour and all kinds of other ideas which show that we don’t have to only rely on the beasties or the supernatural to do the scaring. The real world has more than a small power to be awful for all of us to see. People are more than able to be evil without giving them magical powers to help them on their way.

As I’m now a proud uncle to little baby Lucy, it became clear that there are so many more terrors out there than just thinking about the monster under the bed.

Maybe we should all remember that when we read anything and be ready to help everyone we can from the horrors we all face.

Now, on another note. As Halloween is going to fall on a Saturday this year, I thought it would be a pleasant little idea to release another short story on here. So everyone, keep an eye out for the next view into my twisted little mind.

IS CHANGE GOOD?

Awkward isn’t it? You start out on any project, you’ve completed all of the planning phase despite wanting to get stuck in, you’ve made sure that everything is set in the way you want and you’re confident that the open road of creativity is clear and straight ahead.

And then it isn’t.

The wheels have been turning smoothly for a while when the once straight road starts to bend just a little as the previously well crafted plan gets nudged ever so gently by a new bolt of inspiration. “Instead of making the driver of the car his father, how about his mother instead? Would make the choice later of where they should eat a whole lot more interesting” etc.

So simple a thought but all of a sudden that idea grows another limb, then another head, a third face and pretty soon the demon spawn of Frankensteins bum hole has reared it’s head, your efforts to control the beast next to the route you started out on have crumbled and the confidence you had to start with ran off to join the French Foreign Legion.

The story I started out with ended up being quite some distance away from where I finished. It did indeed start out planned to travel a set route but as described above, the slightest hint of an idea and off I went.just adding fuel to the fire, most of which being the shredded pages of my planning.

But surely that’s a good thing? Surely you have to go with the inspiration rather than just stick with an idea because it happened to be your first? Right?

Wrong.

I did grab onto that crazy bucking beast of inspiration on more than one occasion only to be thrown painfully off and have dust kicked in my face as it laughed its way into the distance. I’d started writing along a new tangent but hadn’t given it enough thought as to how to stitch it into the main narrative. I’d fallen prey to the ‘short term gain, long term load of crap’. Sometimes the ideas made sense and were able to fit into the wider story and they sit happily on the page forever but the tough bit is working out which is which.

As I’ve said in a post on here before, I hate the planning bit. I just want to get stuck in and write. It tends to be though that when I dive in with the wildest abandon, the problems seem to crop up. It’s all about the balance.

Changing what you’re doing mid stride has the chance to deliver the greatest results, therefore change is indeed a good thing, but it also has the power to make an absolute mess of things if you let it, so, also a bad thing.

With so many things in life, you need to strike that careful balance between the methodical crafting of future events or just running off with every new idea just because you can. Just make sure any changes are well thought through or you wind up face in the dust and at least ten chapters further away from finishing.

DREAMS

Do you dream?

Do remember your dreams in vivid technicolor or are you just left with the ‘feeling’ from your nightly mental workout?

I do remember my dreams and I get them both in stark clarity of image but also in the more deeply affecting after taste which travels back with me to the real world.

We’ve all no doubt been there. Startled awake in the middle of the night by a creeping dread of unseen monsters, of being chased by the bogeyman, of falling or of any other of a limitless landscape of possibilities. You can’t drop back to sleep easily because of the apprehension of just picking up where you left off. Not that fun.

The other side if the coin is waking up after having a great dream and just wishing you could find your way back in. These dreams always seem to happen just before the alarm goes off, blocking your return with the resolute horror of a day at work. Those dreams never happen at the weekend. Bugger.

People the world over have made an industry of trying to interpret their meanings and everyone has some kind of opinion on what the most bizarre or mundane dreams could actually mean.

But is that all they are?

Dreams are also the spark which have helped people give life to ideas their subconscious was working on. Elias Howe solved a problem with his new invention the sewing machine thanks to a dream about cannibals with spears with holes in the head threatening to eat him. James Cameron saw the image of the Terminator in a dream and both Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde were nudged by the minds of the authors when they were asleep.

I pay attention to my dreams. I write down the good ones. My first novel, The Circle of Fire, came in some large part, from a dream, as did several of my short stories, some I’ve written, others are coming soon. I’ve been able to create very compelling ideas without any conscious effort. The stitching of them into a coherent whole is the tough bit though and I’m yet to discover the way of doing that while I’m in the land of nod.

Maybe I should explore that little idea for another story?

The mind is the most beautifully terrifying object that we all possess. At once we can create images of utter wonder but have them surrounded by the most sickening horror. Comedy and tragedy can be meted out so readily if we so desired. Why wouldn’t you listen to what your mind is saying when you’re not able to keep it chained up with the bonds of rational thought and the dreaded awake. All those thoughts are lurking away in the dustier corners of who you are. As a writer, those places I go when I close my eyes are intriguing in the highest order.

Do you want to see too?