Tag Archives: science fiction

New Way To Tell Stories – Star Wars and The Void

Hey everyone!

With our honeymoon coming to a close, I wanted to tell you all about an incredible experience we had here in Orlando!  And that was Star Wars – Secrets of the Empire!

Haven’t heard of it?  Worry not, because I wanna tell you all about the state of the art in Virtual Reality Technology, and the new possibilities it opens for story telling!

Total Immersion – Holodeck-like Experience!

I know, I know, this is about Star Wars, but when I first heard about Secrets of the Empire, the first thing I thought about was Star Trek TNG’s holodecks.  If you’ve ever watched any of the Trek shows after the original series, you’ve probably seen this wondrous technology, where you step into a room, and whole other environments, complete with interactive people, suddenly appear!

Is that what Secrets was like?  Well, we’re not to that level of tech yet, but it certainly was the most immersive experience I’ve ever had.

After signing a waiver, my wife and I, along with another random couple we were paired up with, followed our guide into a room with a big screen, where we received an urgent message from Cassian Andor (from Star Wars Rogue One).  After that, each of us were able to choose the color of our Stormtrooper armor’s pauldron.  There were lots of colors to choose from, but it’s a good idea to coordinate your choice with the other members, because you can double up and this can make it confusing in game!

After that, we were led into the gear room, where an Oculus Rift headset and haptic-feedback suit awaited us.  After putting our gear on and getting them synced up with our wristbands, we were led into a square room, and lowered our visors.

And suddenly, we were stormtroopers.  All of us.  My wife, with her purple pauldron, stood next to me, and was rendered with her accurate height!  I think I even made the joke of ‘aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?’  The other couple was across from us, the tall guy with his black pauldron (I chose blue) and his significant other, who also had a purple pauldon but thankfully was a little taller than Beck so I didn’t lose track of who was who.

We were in a small compartment on a troop transport, and suddenly the door opens…and K2SO pops his head in to give us a mission update!

What was really incredible was that we were free to move around in the rendered environment.  When we moved into another compartment and were asked to sit in the rendered seats, we sat and there were chairs.  When asked to get onto a moving platform, we did and it felt like it moved.  When entering a lift and told to pull the lever, there was a lever we could actually pull, and it was rendered in real-time as we pulled it!

What’s more was the feel and smell.  I don’t want to give too much of the story away, but when we were in a place with fire, there was heat and I could smell burning wood!  When stormtroopers shot at us, I felt the impact and heat from when I was hit!  The designers and creators, The Void, did a really good job mixing a physical environment with virtual, creating an incredible experience!

It wasn’t perfect…to save money and time, there were no gloves, so your avatar’s hand movements were tracked with motion sensors.  This sometimes glitched, and when my hands were in my lap, I’d look over and it would look like I had my hand in my wife’s mouth.  And one of the four blasters kept malfunctioning and not showing up in the game, so they had to start us over two times before it worked properly.  Plus blaster bolts moved annoyingly slow (like Elder Scrolls 4 – Oblivion arrows) and that made the fights a little less intense than they should have been.

But all said, the experience was incredible and immersive, and is definitely the closest we have come to holodecks!

What Does This Mean for Storytelling?

I’m extremely excited about what this represents!  Right now, Secrets of the Empire is the only thing like this that I am aware of, but it opens the door for some unique storytelling!  As the technology improves, things will only get better.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Star Trek jumps on the bandwagon soon.  I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to step onto the bridge of a Starship or fight through a Borg ship?

Or what about Harry Potter??  Some more tweaking of the tech, but as you wave your wand and speak the words, the system reads it and you see your spell unfold before you!

Unfortunately right now, I don’t see sword fights happening with our level of tech, but how long before they figure out a way to make that happen?

What stories could be told interactively?  Sure the settings are finite, but some amazing stories can be told in small spaces.  Such as the Star Trek bridge mentioned above.

Secrets of the Empire was pretty much scripted, but as we’ve seen with video games, stories can change depending on choices, and as long as those choices are planned ahead…there could be some pretty big facilities made for some impressive interactions in the future.

I think that this is just the beginning!!  Now if only The Void would open more locations…like one in Denver!

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Writers Can Shape The Future

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Words most often attributed to Spider-Man, these words have come to mind many times when I see certain movies or read certain novels.

You see, a storyteller does more than just entertain, even if that is their ultimate goal and nothing more.  More-so if you are a story teller writing for a high-visibility medium such as major motion pictures.  We inspire, we spark imagination, and we have the potential to shape the course of the future.

Image Source – https://chalcids.deviantart.com/

In fact, this is what makes science fiction such a popular genre.  It’s a perfect platform in which to explore current-day social and political themes in a malleable future, and the very best ones do so without being obvious about it.  Even Fantasy has this ability, as demonstrated by the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit novels, or more recently, The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, which a recent article claims explored World War 2 and The Cold War respectively.

Most writers don’t even consider the potential impact they might have on a single reader, or many readers, or entire generations of readers.  Through popular media, we can shape our very future, if ever so subtly.

Which is why I’ve been concerned about an upcoming major motion picture, Geostorm.  However, in thinking further about it today, I’ve considered the possibility that my initial skeptical attitude towards the message itmight send may have been unwarranted…

Geostorm – Creating Fear of Technology

The Terminator

It’s nothing new – sci-fi has often portrayed how technology could potentially cause our society greater harm.  Terminator is always the first example I think of, where an AI of our own creation overthrows humanity (a theme later revitalized by The Matrix, but there have been many more examples throughout the decades.)

Is AI something to be feared?

Is weather control technology something to be feared and avoided?

Geostorm

In Geostorm, the story revolves around global weather control technology that appears to go haywire and starts creating devastating storms all over the world.  As the story progresses, they discover that a single person has actually intentionally programmed this malfunction, for some political or even perhaps personal gain.

As I watched the very first preview, my initial thought was “great, something that could actually be beneficial to humanity and the world, and now people will be afraid of it, and the invention and deployment of such technology will probably be delayed as a result over the course of the next century.”

Popular media is good at that – using worst-case scenarios and playing on the fears of people to draw them into the movies.

However, there’s another aspect to this kind of movie that I’ve suddenly become aware of…

Setting Expectations of Responsibility

With great power comes great responsibility.  And lets face it, the ability to control the weather on a global scale would be an immense power.  It potentially could give a single entity the ability to affect global policy at their whim.

“I want you to follow my political agenda,” this person might say.

“We don’t want to, it opposes our fundamental beliefs,” a world leader might reply.

“Very well.  You’ll not see a single drop of rain until you accede to my demands.  Or maybe even constant floods.”

It’s frightening to think about.  But then, that’s why it’s important to have a system in place that does not permit a single entity to control such power.

And while some might see Geostorm as a story of why we should never ever invent weather control technology, others could see it as a cautionary story, one which suggests safety protocols must be made inherent to it.

Image Source – memory-alpha.wikia.com

The same can be said about Artificial Intelligence and any story that shows such an AI ruling or destroying humanity.  If you give something the ability to destroy you, and give it reason to, then it most likely will.  On the other hand, as Star Trek has explored many times, if you give something, such as an artificial life form, sentience…then how you treat it is as important as how you treat any others.

“What If…”

One of my favorite movies is the 2002 version of The Time Machine, and there is a line in the movie that I always strongly related to: “You’re a man haunted by those two most terrible words: What if?”

We as writers get to explore “What If” with every tale we tell.  What if weather control technology became a reality?  What if that technology was abused?

This is where our greatest power comes from.  Because when we explore “what if,” so do our readers.  And while we can write cautionary tales like The Terminator, we also have the power to write the opposite, like Star Trek.  We can show people the consequences of “What if it goes wrong” but we can also show people the amazing future in store for us if it goes right, if we make it right.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading,
-Jon Wasik

The Return of Stargate and the Prequel Trend

Hi everyone!

If you haven’t heard yet, Stargate is finally making a comeback!  And I’m not talking about a reboot of the movie franchise, which has either been fully cancelled or at least postponed.  Rather, this is the next ‘chapter’ in the SG-1 Universe.

…Except, it isn’t.  Announced only a few days ago, it’s called Stargate Origins (click here to check the announcement on Gateworld.net.)  It takes place…sometime before SG-1, though we don’t know when yet.  And reportedly follows an adventure of young Catherine Langford as she defends Earth against an unimaginable darkness…  More on why this is a problem for me further down.

Sci-Fi and the Prequel Trend

Image Source – http://www.techtimes.com

Back in 1999, George Lucas released the first Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace.  At the time, I was extraordinarily excited about it, I’d always wanted to see those first three episodes, to see the origin story of Darth Vader, and, well, I was excited to see more Star Wars on screen.

What I didn’t know was the trend that it would begin…and that is a trend in Sci Fi that has endured for nearly 20 years.

Prequels.  Though I don’t believe Phantom Menace was the first ever prequel, it was the biggest hit I’m aware of.  Since then, here’s what we’ve seen…

  • Star Trek Enterprise (followed by the 2009 Star Trek reboot, and now Star Trek Discovery.
  • X-Men Origins and X-Men First Class
  • Prometheus (prequel to Alien)
  • The Thing
  • Caprica
  • Oz The Great and Powerful

And that’s just a small list of well-knowns.  Now with Stargate Origins coming out, I find myself crying out “NOOOOO!”  I for one have grown tired of prequels.  Especially in Sci-Fi universes that are supposed to be about exploration and moving forward (Star Trek and Stargate both being examples.)

But why?  Why is this continuing?  Especially…well, do an experiment with me.  Go to google.com and type in the search parameter “Why are prequels so popular?”  I know that Google can tailor search results based on past browsing habits, but for me, the first 10 results talk about why the Star Wars prequels are so hated.

So if the first major prequel of a franchise was so horrible, once again, I have to ask…why is this trend continuing??

Theories of the Trend

One of the most common opinions I get when I ask people this question is “Hollywood can’t come up with anymore original ideas.”  An interesting theory, but I wonder how true it actually is.

Image Source – http://www.irishnews.com

In fact, until recently, I didn’t really have a response except “maybe that’s true.”  Until…Bright.  The name of an upcoming, Netflix-produced movie, Bright is about modern-day Earth, with elves and orcs and faeries living side by side with us.  Will Smith’s character is a police officer partnered with what appears to be a young orc.  This is radically different from any major sci-fi/fantasy movie I’ve seen in recent years.

But it’s Netflix.  It’s not a major motion picture studio, it’s a relatively brand new production studio.  And I think this is a key point.  Netflix broke the mold with movie rentals, and now is breaking the mold by producing it’s own TV shows and, now, movies.  Like Amazon, Netflix seems to be all about trying new things, innovating, and moving its company in an unexpected direction.  And it’s succeeding at it.

Major motion picture studios, however…it’s like an unknown author sending a manuscript to an agent or publisher.  You’re a big, big risk.  They are highly reticent to invest time and money into you, no matter how good your product is.  So more likely than not, you’ll be rejected.

I think the same can be said about major motion picture studios and TV production studios.  They want to invest money into something that has a proven history of making money.  And even as reviled as the Star Wars prequels are, they made a ton of money.  So prequels make money.

This, I think, is why we keep getting prequels and, for that matter, sequels, rather than truly original content.

This is also why I am becoming a big proponent of Netflix, and of self-publishing.  It allows those with innovative or new ideas to get their ideas out there.  They may not always succeed, but at least they can try.

Parting Thoughts on Stargate Origins

Image Source – http://stargate.wikia.com

I’m really really sad about the direction they are taking to try to revive Stargate.  I really want more Stargate, but a prequel?  A prequel that, at least at first glance, blatantly ignores established timeline?  For those who aren’t as familiar with it, before the Stargate was opened by Daniel Jackson in the motion picture, the Stargate was only opened one other time after it was unburied in Giza, with disastrous results.  It was subsequently shut down for decades.

Yet this premise seems to indicate that Catherine travels through the Stargate, either before or after Ernest is stranded off-world, to confront some darkness that, apparently, SG-1 and the SGC are never made aware of.

In essence, it’s making the same mistake Star Trek and Star Wars made in their prequels: ignoring continuity.

Worse still, the series is being released as 10 episodes…each episode 10 minutes long.  I can’t imagine why anyone thought this was a good idea…but then again…I’m kind of eating my own words now.  I released 10 short stories which will later be compiled into an anthology (The Orc War Campaigns.)  So…maybe this is a result of the trend of online and subscription based TV shows?

Anyway, I hope I’m wrong about Origins, but I really think this effort is going to fall flat on its face, and Stargate will once again be thrown into proverbial mothballs.  :(

What are your thoughts about all of this?

Thanks for reading!
-Jon Wasik

Self Publishing Success – The Martian

Hi everyone, welcome back to A Writer At Heart!  After a short hiatus, I’m back for more writerly goodness!  Please note that starting today, the posting schedule will be once a week every Sunday.  This will give me Friday night and Saturday’s to write new content for you all :)  And now, on to today’s post!

The Martian

Movie Poster for The Martian

In recent years, the movie The Martian has garnered considerable attention.  Based on a novel by Andy Weir, the producers and director of The Martian went to great lengths to ensure (mostly) scientific accuracy, working with NASA on an unprecedented scale, and creating what some critics call one of Ridley Scott’s best movies.

The novel itself was becoming a success before the options for the movie rights were sold in 2013.  However…what if I told you The Martian was self-published?

And not even self-published in the ‘traditional’ way, but in a rather unique way.

Chapter by Chapter – For Free

When Weir started working on the idea for The Martian, he had already been rejected by traditional publishers for other works, and decided to go a different route.  He published The Martian, for free, chapter by chapter on his website.

The Martian hardback novel

It was only when his growing number of fans asked him to publish the novel on Amazon Kindle that he started charging, at only 99 cents (the cheapest KDP allows authors to publish their novels.)  Within three months, he’d sold 35,000 copies!  In 2013, an audiobook publisher and a print publisher both bought rights to The Martian.

So how did he go from an unknown, posting his story for free on the internet, to making hundreds of thousands of dollars, and getting a multi-million dollar movie adaptation?

I’ve not actually read The Martian myself, but a part of it I think has to do with the quality of the story (based on reviews.)  Weir went to great lengths to make his novel scientifically accurate, and from some articles I’ve read online (including, yes, Wikipedia) he listened to what readers of his chapters said when they corrected scientific inaccuracies and had suggestions about characters.

Perhaps this is part of it, too.  Not only does he have a compelling topic in his novel, one which is growing in everyone’s mind as NASA prepares to send humans to Mars in 2030, but he listened to and engaged with his readers.  He didn’t dismiss them.  He didn’t belittle them.

To quote a character from Stargate SG-1, “Never underestimate your audience. They’re usually sensitive, intelligent people, who will respond positively to quality entertainment.”

What do you all think?  What was the secret to Weir’s success?  Is there another element that took him from an unknown to a best-selling author through self-publishing?  Curious minds want to know :)

Thanks for reading!
-Jon Wasik

Writing A Series – A Love Affair

Hi everyone!

Have you ever seen the movie “Cloud Atlas” or read the novel from which it is based?  There’s a quote in the movie that kind of inspired this blog article:

"A half-finished book is, after all, a half-finished love affair."
“A half-finished book is, after all, a half-finished love affair.”

Off and on, I’ve toyed with the idea of going ahead and publishing the first Chronicles of the Sentinels novel in the near future, rather than waiting until I finish the Sword of Dragons series.  So I started reading through old blog entries while I mulled it over, and came across a blog I wrote earlier this year.

In it, I had talked about deciding, after almost landing an agent for Chronicles, to self-publish.  But instead of self-publishing Chronicles, I decided to self-publish what I called “my first love,” The Sword of Dragons.

And that’s when the answer came to me.

Commitment To A Series

I can’t stop working on Sword of Dragons.  I want to see it through to the end.  And I know as a reader, I hate when a writer takes years to come out with the next book in a series.

Image Source - stylecaster.com
Image Source – stylecaster.com

Just like I’m a one-woman kind of guy, I’m a one-series kind of guy :)  I can only really and truly focus on one at a time, otherwise I get distracted, and the series suffers for it.

Even writing The Orc War Campaigns has put me behind on the main novel series, and I’m genuinely worried I won’t be able to get book 3 out on time.  I haven’t even started the first draft yet!

So I’m going to stick with my original plan.  Work on one series at a time.  And while that unfortunately means I’ll only be releasing one novel per year (excluding the Orc War Campaigns anthology,) it’ll be well worth it to focus on one series, one story, at a time.

The Long Term Plan

So, assuming I can get book 3 out on time, my plan is to release one Sword of Dragons novel per year, leading up to the epic conclusion in book 6 in 2020.

Images Source - http://bramleegwater.deviantart.com
Images Source – http://bramleegwater.deviantart.com

From there, I want to finish the Chronicles of the Sentinels trilogy.  Even though book 1, Legacy, is already done, it needs work and TLC, so I’ll likely hold off releasing that until 2021, making that series go out to 2023.

From there…well let’s just say that I have enough story ideas to continue publishing a new book every year until 2030.  But after Chronicles, I’m not sure what I want to do first.

Image Source - http://best-sci-fi-books.com
Image Source – http://best-sci-fi-books.com

There are a few one-off novels I want to write, including a sci-fi story idea I had recently, but there’s also a series of sci-fi novels I want to write that totally cross boundaries of genre, in ways that I think are really cool :D

Anywho, that’s all for today, everyone!  Sorry for no vlog today, but maybe I’ll work up the courage later this week :)

Thanks for reading!
-Jon Wasik

Challenges of Writing in a New Genre

Hi everyone!

There was a time when I thought, “Fantasy is fantasy.  There are no sub-genres.”  I was wrong.  Only in the last few years have I discovered that there are a whole slew of different sub-genres in the fantasy realm!

Even still, after making that discovery, I thought, “Writing in one sub-genre probably isn’t much different from writing in another.”  Once again, I was proven wrong.  But this isn’t the first time I’ve changed which genre I write in.

In the Beginning – Sci Fi

Image Source - http://www.thenextweb.com/
Image Source – http://www.thenextweb.com/

I think I was around 11 or 12 when I wrote my first story, however old I was in 5th grade.  It was a Sci-Fi fan fiction (though I didn’t know it was considered fan fiction or even what fan fic was at the time.)  It was horrible.  Never-the-less, I loved writing it!  For the most part, every story I wrote after that for many years was Science Fiction.

In fact, I’d say about 90% of the 100+ short stories I’ve written in the past 18 to 20 years were science fiction, the rest were ‘literary fiction’ (whatever the heck that really is) for college.

Much of what I wrote was fan fiction throughout those years, but I did try my hand at an original novel, which I sadly lost after 12 chapters (learned the hard way to back up my work.)  My fan fiction series ran for 7 years with 70 short stories, and up until these last couple years was my most prolific time.

There’s no getting around it, at the time, I thought I was going to get published as a Sci-Fi writer :)

High Fantasy

As I think I’ve mentioned in my blog before, what eventually became known as The Sword of Dragons started out very different: Star Dragon Legion was a science fiction, and Sword of the Dragon was a single short story within that universe.

Image Source - Google Images
Image Source – Google Images

Sometime in 2002 or 2003, I don’t remember when exactly, I had the idea to take that short story’s concept and turn it into a fantasy story instead.  By this time I had a lot of practice in writing science fiction, but I also had a lot to learn, as I would later learn in my creative writing classes.

I honestly have no idea why I made the change.  I think it really was just because I saw the short story as something that could make a great fantasy, and hey, I’ve read as many fantasy novels as I have sci fi, why not?

What I didn’t realize then was that my novel wasn’t just fantasy, it was considered High Fantasy.  Furthermore, it took me time and practice to find my voice in High Fantasy.  That first novel in 2004 was atrocious!

Eventually I did find my voice, and my inspiration.  I still believe that The Sword of Dragons and its sequel are the best stories I’ve written to date, and are the first novels I’ve written that are publishable.

Chronicles – YA Modern Fantasy

A good example of a modern fantasy written in another universe - Final Fantasy 7
A good example of a modern fantasy written in another universe – Final Fantasy 7

The more appropriate genre term for my new project is probably Contemporary Fantasy, but I think Modern Fantasy sounds better :)  In any case, this is essentially a new genre for me, very different from High Fantasy where you get to build the entire world from the ground up.

Chronicles of the Sentinels is set in the here and now, modern day Earth.  The characters, for the most part, are us, humans, normal every-day humans.

Surprisingly, I am finding this a bit challenging.  A fun challenge, to be sure, but I am not flying through the chapters like I would another TSOD novel.  In fact, as of today I am 4 pages into chapter 3, and that’s it.

It’s hard to pin down what exactly about it makes it a challenge, but I think a big part of it is my brain saying “this is set in a world everyone knows, so you don’t have to describe things like you would in high fantasy.”

That is not the case.  I would say I shouldn’t describe the world and characters the same way I would high fantasy, but I still need to.  I don’t need to invent the world, but I do need to build it for the reader.  They need to be able to see the characters, see their surroundings…in fact as I write this, I realize there’s still some more I need to add to chapter 1, lol.

The thing is, I want readers to fall in love with the characters.  I want me to fall in love with them. Which means I need to show who they are and what they believe.

This needs to be about them as much as it is about the plot, perhaps more-so.  I can’t afford to be lazy.  Especially when so many people have told me they are looking forward to this story more than any other I’ve written.  I don’t want to disappoint you all!!

-Jon