My Superpower is a regular guest column on the Skiffy and Fanty blog where authors and creators tell us about one weird skill, neat trick, highly specialized cybernetic upgrade, or other superpower they have, and how it helped (or hindered!) their creative process as they built their project. Today we welcome Adrian Reynolds to talk about how the power of selective stupidity relates to White Lily, an upcoming SF short film.
Hi, I’m Adrian Reynolds, and I’m selectively stupid. Not generally stupid, but specifically stupid around some stuff – like science. Which, seeing as some of what I write is science fiction, could be thought of as limiting. Actually, it’s not: being selectively stupid is my superpower.
I caught online comments from some people who’d seen Gravity and were dismissive of the physics. Me? My mouth was open the whole time. That’s called awe by the way, not snoring. And why? Well, I don’t need an in-depth understanding of science to be blown away by an awesome film. And seeing as I aspire to writing awesome stories, I don’t allow my lack of science smarts impede me. It’s an asset.
This lack of intellectual rigour doesn’t stop me reading science. Not at all. I’ve got oodles of pop sci books, and I love them. Just don’t expect me to actually understand them the way their authors intended. For me, it’s enough to be breathless with excitement, without knowing the particulars. And that’s OK: I’m not a mechanic, whose career depends on a sound understanding of Newtonian principles and the like. I’m here to create stories. And whether or not they acknowledge it, people connect with stories at an emotional level above anything else.
Inspiration comes from all kinds of places. Some of mine comes from half-understood science books, concepts from which I glom together with fragments of theme and character to assemble the skeleton of a story.
White Lily, a short film I wrote that’s being filmed in January, features a spaceship that’s going to investigate a comet. I didn’t even know why, until it came to developing ideas for a feature derived from the short. Then it all fell into place. What if the comet was packed full of those minerals I can’t remember the names of that make mobile phones work? And which the Chinese are building a future monopoly of through striking deals with countries in Africa to build their infrastructure in return for mineral rights? That would be incentive enough for a ship to be sent to check the comet out, which then opens up another dimension to the story. Straight away, I’d got a credible backdrop for the journey, which fit with some of the other ideas I knew would be in it. More than that, it felt real to me.
What feels real matters more to me than what’s technically credible. My understanding of the latter is necessarily fuzzy. And that’s fine. I don’t need to understand the nuances of quantum theory, just note that I get bored reading other people referencing Schrodinger’s Cat, so no way am I going to do so in my own work. I have no notion of the mechanics of cloning, but I know that if you set out to kill a clone, only to find out it was physically a child when you were expecting an adult, the experience would be unsettling – a turning point in the comic Dadtown that I’ve been developing with artists Raben White and Jess Parry.
Besides, it’s not as if science is consistent. A friend who is scientifically inclined described science education as being given a set of generalisations at one stage of education that are swapped for a more sophisticated set at the next stage. Keep on doing that, and at some point – a PhD typically – you get to come up with your own original science. Until someone overturns what you’ve found, and then your theory goes out of favour and someone else’s model is flavour of the month.
I respect those who do use science as a more foundational part of their writing than I do, but for me stories are about inspiration and heroes and understanding the myriad aspects of what it’s like to be a human. And for me, genre fiction is a joy because of the ability to create environments and details that amplify the themes and emotions of a story. Those are what counts more than anything. Long after you’ve finished dismissing the design of the Death Star, you’ll dream about Luke taking his ship down a canyon of weapons aimed at him, and switching off his targeting computer. What he connects with then is a force, or indeed Force, we all resonate with in a story that moves us. And I’m pretty sure that has nothing to do with midi-chlorians.
Adrian Reynolds writes scripts for genre stories. Supernatural serial Making Sparks will be available as an app soon (makingsparks.tv), as will fantasy audio serial Dragon Run Saga. He blogs regularly over at www.writebyyourside.net, and is currently immersed in developing a fantasy MMPORG. For an overview, see about.me/adrianreynolds