Special Items: Science Fiction

Hi, gang. Craig with you again. This is going to be the wrap up of the special items series. The rules are mostly the same, but there are some differences across the genres. Today’s topic is science fiction items.

In paranormal, or fantasy, you’re generally dealing with magical/holy items. Science Fiction is a bit different, because they’re supposed to be advanced technology. No magic involved. Sure, there are some titles that mash it all together, but let’s keep it clean for the purposes of this post.

All genres seem to have a rift among their fans. Science fiction probably has the biggest rift of all. You can interpolate for your own genre, but in this one it involves the science.

Some fans believe the only worthy science fiction is all about the science. They want explanations about how things work, and you’d better do your homework about the latest physics theories and such or they’ll know. Some of them can get pretty absurd, but they have a right to enjoy what they enjoy. I don’t particularly care how the robot’s joints are lubricated. (At my age, I’m more worried about my own.)

The type of science fiction I write is more about people who live in an advanced society. I believe stories are about people, no matter the setting. (People is an all encompassing word that does not always mean human in my vernacular. Don’t worry, there’s not going to be a test.)

If you’re writing a story about the creation of a faster-than-light engine, you’d better do the research. If you’re writing about people who take a cruise on a ship with FTL engines it isn’t so important. To me a cell phone is miracle technology. I use one every day; don’t need to know how it works.

You get to decide which protest group you’ll stand with. After that, we get to consider the rules once more. Here they are as a refresher:

• Enhancing the world you are building.

• Balancing the scale between ultimate power and limitations on usage.

• Resale Value.

• Costuming.

Special items can really enhance the world building in science fiction. Take something as basic as a gun. If you style it after something from old Buck Rogers comics, it may have curves, even a fin, some rings around the barrel. It gives a sense of style that you should carry through your environment. In steampunk it might have a lot of cogs and gears and even attach to a battery you carry on your back. If the story takes place aboard a clean shiny spaceship, maybe the gun looks more like an acrylic remote control.

Science fiction is huge, so you’ll have to do some interpretation for exactly what you’re writing. Consider these tales: I Robot, Jurassic Park, Planet of the Apes, The Time Machine, Star Trek, Terminator, Frankenstein. All forms of science fiction.

If you’re writing about an alien invasion, don’t overlook regular weapons and how you can make them look pitiful against what the invaders brought with them.

Put some thought into the power of your special items. We’re all familiar with a blaster from Star Wars. It shoots pulses of light that destroy your enemies. Change that to one solid beam and all you have to do is sweep it across the field to destroy a whole army. Might take a lot of tension out of your story.

Resale value matters here, too. The question is, if this item existed right now, would I want one? Give me a teleporter that would eliminate a 40 mile commute every day and I’m in line with my credit card. Fans are like that. They buy in and get invested if you can pull it off.

I published a cyberpunk story early this year. One of the things I projected into the future was Alexa and systems like home security. What might this look like in a hundred years? My stories included both holographic companions with all those capabilities and robotic pets that could also complete the grocery orders. I got a lot of nice comments about a robotic cat. (No links, this isn’t a promo post.)

We should also consider costuming when writing science fiction. It won’t work for all stories, like in Frankenstein you kind of have to go with the era. In the future, it’s possible that textiles will have advanced to some degree. I wrote a character with a programmable purse one time. She could download and install any skin she wanted on it.

That brings me to one of the big points. Double duty. That purse involved costuming, some resale value, and world building. A single item can do multiple things for the environment you’re creating, and should if possible.

There you have it, a broad brush look at the bulk of the speculative genres with special items as the focus. I didn’t get into sub-genres, or even cover horror. I think at this point you can interpolate and apply what we’ve done here to your own spec fiction.

Give me some feedback. Did you enjoy this small series? Was it too broad for your tastes? Are you inclined to write your own spec story with this primer as a game plan?

Halloween is getting close and you could still create some fun blog stories. Maybe a one sheet, or a two-fer where you have to visit twice to get the whole story. A bit of science fiction/horror like Alien? Maybe a science fiction backpack like those in Ghost Busters? Take up the holy crossbow of St. Wafflebender and chase the bog beast across the moors at night.

Have fun, and don’t cut yourself with that laser razor.

37 thoughts on “Special Items: Science Fiction

  1. I’ve only written one sci-fi story that I can think of–a Christmas themed one about a taxi driver who takes people from planet to planet. But if the science gets to be too much, I have no confidence I’ll get it right. Have to say, I’m reading Staci’s The Nine right now, and she’s killed the science AND the characters. I’m in awe. Then she threw in Atlantis, and it’s like…wow! I don’t think I’m up for that, even though your post does make it sound tempting:)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m always about the characters, whether I’m reading a modern day thriller, a fantasy, a historical novel, or a sci-fi. You nailed it when you it’s more about the people. Give me good characters with a strong backstory, flaws and motive, and I’m in for the long haul. By the same token, I would love to chase “the bog beast across the moors at night.”
    I started reading sci-fi in grade school, and it’s still a huge draw for me—as long as characters come before plot.


  3. I enjoy science fiction that has a great story but doesn’t get too caught up in all those small details that don’t matter to the storyline. I enjoyed your take on this

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have a little sci-fi in my latest and your caution about research is a good one. I spent a ton of time researching the root program of AI. Would have liked to use real names but couldn’t get clearance since the eventual outcome of the AI experience was not good. Great post, Craig.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    C. S. Boyack wraps up his latest series of Story Empire posts today with Special Items: Science Fiction. I think you’ll enjoy this one, and hope you’ll swing by to check it out, then will share it far and wide. Thanks, and thanks to Craig for another interesting and informative post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This has been a very entertaining and informative series, Craig. I’m sorry to see it end. I’ve never even attempted to write science fiction, but I do read it now and then, and I’ve certainly read a lot of it over years gone by. Today, I lean more toward fantasy, though don’t write the kind that would have special items. (Rabbit thinks refrigerators, electricity, and running water are magical.) Before your series of posts, I never gave a lot of thought as to the creation of all the special items included in various genres. Maybe that says the authors handled it brilliantly, and I just accepted them as being as real as the characters, without focusing overlong on them. But if I were to give sci-fi or speculative fiction a go (and anything is possible), now I have some solid information on how best to do so. Thanks for your clear and concise explanations! Great post in a great series! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Another interesting post, Craig. You bring out some very solid points about science fiction, but the one thing that really stood out to me is when you said, no matter the setting, the story is all about the characters. Yep! So true. I only attempted one science fiction short story that took place on another planet, and it’s part of an anthology. I’ve never published it separately. But, it was really fun to write. Thanks for this series. I’ve found each one interesting and helpful!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m with you on the joints. I’m more concerned about my own. To read a book that described every little detail like that would bore me to tears. Wait a minute, I wouldn’t waste my time. If I want something like that, I’ll watch a documentary.

    Give the characters some depth, weave an intriguing plot, and you’ve captured my attention.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m just about to publish the last of a science fiction series and have another on the horizon after I’m finished writing a suspense trilogy. I’m admittedly a sci-fi junkie and have been since I was very young (I still watch an episode of the old Planet of the Apes show every Sunday morning), but I’m also interested in science-fact. I watch a lot of the Science channel and am constantly fascinated with new technological developments. All that said, I’m definitely in the “I don’t need to know how it works” camp. I want my stories to be realistic, but regardless of the genre I write in, my work is about the characters, not their tools. No matter which side I (or anyone else) falls on, I think items that do double- or triple-duty is a fabulous idea.

    Great post. And great series of posts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Staci. I don’t like to get out in the weeds about technology. People in that environment use what they have. I remember walking about two miles on Saturdays, quarter in hand, to watch the matinees when the new Planet of the Apes movies came out. The originals with Roddy McDowel.

      Liked by 1 person

      • He’s in the show, too. I know they’re kind of cheesy and completely unrealistic (especially by today’s standards), but to me, the classics will never go out of fashion. I’m still hoping to someday find Lost in Space reruns on TV.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You’ve just given me another interesting thought. Speculative fiction was always fun, even before the level of today’s special effects. It was the imagination that helped us, the suspension of disbelief that allowed for clay animations to become cyclops and dinosaurs.


  10. Thanks for another fun and informative post, Craig. You had me chuckling about the joints … mine too! In my book Fallout, which was essentially apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic, I wrote in quite a lot of advanced tech. Sop while it had plenty of sci-fi elements–including transporters (beam me up, Scotty!), the story was definitely all about the people. I’ll be bookmarking this series of posts, along with many of your others, for future reference. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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