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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Speaking of Powers

   
Author Topic: Speaking of Powers
Kent_A_Jones
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Are there powers in the SF&F omniverse that are taboo, off limits or just plain shouldn't be used?

The one I laugh myself silly over on occasion is precognition. I imagine an incident from which the power arises, and then I go on to imagine the most boring story ever written. It's true, I suppose, that dramatic conflict could arise when the precog tries to defy terrible outcomes only to realize that things get worse through the defiance. But I just can't get past the laughing myself silly part.

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LDWriter2
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Well, that might be why in a lot of cases it's incomplete. Only works sometimes or seconds before the event occurs or gives confusing info.

Benedict Jacka's hero has a form of it, but it can be confusing or gives him warning just seconds before something happens. In an ongoing fight he manages to escape most threats but Jacka does a good job of allowing him to miss a warning or be in a spot where knowledge of what is about to happen does him no good.

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extrinsic
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Not quite what you mean, but close in some regards is The Science Fiction Encylcopedia article "Taboos." One point of note from the article is society and culture changes over time. Moral values weaken or strengthen by era. Yesterday's taboo is tomorrow's fair game and vice versa.

Generally, use of any motif gratuitously is often deprecated. Sex and violence, for example, when pointless in terms of plot and event, setting, or character development, are disparaged as gratuitous. Western genre motifs of the lone gunslinger arriving in town, going to a saloon, ordering a bottle and a room with a whore and a bath, facing down a another gunslinger before leaving the saloon's taproom, showed up in science fiction too. That scenario is generally considered passé for science fiction.

Other motifs grate on readers nerves. Past WotF coordinating judge K.D. Wentworth had a bęte noir about any uses of terms like orb for planets or eyeballs or spheres of any kind, and color descriptions using stygian or obsidian. Wentworth also exhibited a bias against narratives with revenants, stock fantasy magical creatures that were equivalent to artless MacGuffins: unicorns, dragons, elves, gnomes, wizards, etc. Her viewpoint was too many artless uses of those creatures left her frustrated. She did claim that they were not deal breakers, if they were intrinsically essential and fresh innovations. She loathed coincidences and coincidental and gratuitous motif uses.

For prose, of course, generally, use of long and untimely summary and explanation passages are deprecated. Untimely, injudicious, innopportune purple prose is also widely deprecated for all fantastical fiction and, if rhetorically clumsy, any prose genre.

Precongnition or prescience, sometimes labled farsight, or scrying, as well as a host of other metaphysical ability terms, is not per se any more deprecated for prose or poetry than faster-than-light travel, time travel, mystical species, or magical powers.

Any fantastical motif may pass reader muster, including prescience. Fantastical genre portrays many impossible motifs that otherwise raise skeptical, cynical, and sarcarstic reactions from a fraction of readers.

We live in an age where the general population's skepticism of the fantastical is at an all time high with regard to metaphysical motifs. Different beliefs have replaced them, one superstition of which is that fantastical motifs cannot exist in the real world. Yet the same folk practice "luck" beliefs and other forms of magical thinking and belief practices.

Readers of the fantastical want to believe they are part of a larger and more mystical existence than their everyday routine alpha lives offer them and no other existence channel provides. This is the fundamental principle underlying J.R.R. Tolkien's "Secondary Worlds" theory. Even back yards, front yards, for that matter, can be exotic secondary world settings. That's a principle used to good effect in the zanny science fiction film Honey, I Shunk the Kids.

I don't see prescience as either impossible nor laughable. I have had a few prescient experiences, mostly from dreams. If prescience occurs in a narrative's milieu, basic principles must be met for it to work for its intended audience: credible, authenticated motif developed so that willing suspension of disbelief is preserved, consistent natural laws of the milieu, tapping readers' want for and acceptance of the motif, and an intrinsic influence on the events and plot, settings, and characters of the narrative. Prescience, for example, is a recurring motif of the Herberts' Dune franchise.

Precognitive awareness of future events is generally managed as a slipstream timeline where time and the events thereof are mutable, unfixed, and subject to vary based on the science principle that observation changes an observed phenomenon.

Ocassionaly, an immutable future precognition premise is also artfully managed. Struggles to detour an unwanted outcome are more common for that motif than one in which a character closely follows predetermination toward a prophesized, prescient outcome. The underlying motif for any of this type is one of destiny is predetermined, a convention held over from pre-Rationalism philosophies and reasserted during the Romanticism era, that free will is an illusion, that everyone is born into their predetermined, proper station and destiny, without exception a poetic justice outcome convention.

A feature of Romanticism-era conventions was that a high-born person was predetermined as good and could do no evil, and was rewarded as such by the high station of birth, though much evil was done; and a low-born person was predetermined as evil and deserved punishment due to that accident of birth, though much good was done.

Realism and its followers Modernism and Postmodernism responded to that Romanticism convention with more realistic to real world circumstances, that not all evil goes punished, is often rewarded, and good is unrewarded if not punished. "No good deed goes unpunished."

Where poetic justice fits on an axis of audience appeal is a fickle matter. As well as a desire for belonging to a larger life and wanting the excitements of mystical experiences, at varying degrees and times, we also want to feel safe in an uncivil and cruel world. We want to believe most times that good will be rewarded and evil punished so that we feel reasonably safe and satisfied in our lives. This is evident from audience fascination with crime dramas. Many television crime situation dramas portray the noble justice system catches and punishes the wicked. More than nine out of ten episodes end with that outcome. That's simply not true to life. Barely more than half of all discovered crimes result in a stable conviction, in countries with a preponderant degree of fair and impartial justice anyway.

[ April 20, 2014, 01:54 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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JSchuler
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Any power is fair game, provided it's appropriate for the audience. I mean, going for the worst power I can think of that I've actually seen used, even someone with preternaturally deadly flatus could, maybe, be a valid part of a story. Not one that I'd ever write, of course. At least, not without a good pseudonym.
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rstegman
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quote:
Originally posted by JSchuler:
Any power is fair game, provided it's appropriate for the audience. I mean, going for the worst power I can think of that I've actually seen used, even someone with preternaturally deadly flatus could, maybe, be a valid part of a story. Not one that I'd ever write, of course. At least, not without a good pseudonym.

Not really on the subject,
but you could have a guy with super powers, UNTIL HE RUNS OUT OF GAS...

* * *

On seeing in the future, the future view might not quite make sense to the person, though in hindsight, it is clear. An example might be "When you will see the star hanging in hoop, the battle will be won."
The fight seems to go on forever. When he kills the last man in his area, he looks up and sees an arch and there is a shadow on a distant hill that resembles a star. He now knows the battle is really over.
That is not a great example, but it gives the feeling.

When it comes to what is taboo, the best thing I can say is bad writing is taboo. Some subjects are weak and dumb and overused, but if it the story is compelling and the writing is up to the story, anything can be written. If it is a subject that the editor considers too well worn, you had better grab him with the first paragraph and never let him go.

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legolasgalactica
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I read a series about a boy who could have out-of-body experiences at will. Quite fascinating, actually.
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Robert Nowall
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One of my aborted novels had a heroine with assorted nanotech superpowers. I kept adding them and adding them as I went along...till I realized I was just substituting "nanotech" for "magic" and there was no end to the superpowers or the story.
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wetwilly
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My stories tend to be "science" fiction, in which technology is really just magic by another name. I am okay with that. I have no interest in writing hard Sci fi. In fact, my current WIP is full of intentionally silly science for campy effect.
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rstegman
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quote:
Originally posted by wetwilly:
My stories tend to be "science" fiction, in which technology is really just magic by another name. I am okay with that. I have no interest in writing hard Sci fi. In fact, my current WIP is full of intentionally silly science for campy effect.

I feel that if you can give a "scientific" explanation for magic, you then have science fiction. In my story ideas, I did not do fantasy for years. I came up with science fiction explanation for any magic in the idea. Later I added fantasy and got out of that. I was very imaginative in coming up with a scientific explanation. That was half the fun.
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