Alternate Reality

Maddd Science

Writing a 100% perfect alternate reality story is, in my opinion, impossible. There are too many miniscule factors involved in building your own functioning universe, and you would need god-tier knowledge of every vocation and industry in order to account for everything. I mean, you can write a good one with enough research, and I suppose you could argue that nothing's perfect. Alternate realities are a tough gig, is my point.

Here's an article that illustrates the immense burden that writing an alternate reality presents: Tiny changes can have big ripple effects, and as the creator behind an alternate reality, you need to flex that god-like ability to account for every single effect, no matter how subtle, in order to set the milieu.

This One Detail About ‘Watchmen’ Is Driving Me Nuts
Jeremy Gordon, The Outline

On the other hand: alright, sure, whatever. Maybe I’m being overly detail-focused. Maybe I’m being a huge pedant. But the Watchmen show is so defined by its fidelity to imagining what the world would be like in the wake of the Watchmen comic that it’s simply unbelievable that Future would exist there as he does in our world. (“Crushed Up” is from his seventh studio album, released this year.) I can forgive plenty about Watchmen because it is just a TV show, and thus not that deep, but this is just wrong.

Can you argue that this point is just pedantic and doesn't ultimately matter? Yes. Can you argue it's wrong? Not really. Anyone with a love of pedantry should get into writing their own alternate reality epic. It would take them decades.

A confession: I actually hate oral histories, so I just ctl-F'd for the word "Mead" on this next article and only read everything Syd Mead had to say about the process of working on Bladerunner. Apparently this was where he first worked as a "visual futurist." His predictions for the future are interesting, too, albeit not because I agree with them. They're another example of the challenges of writing an alternate universe or imagining a future one: You're framing it entirely from your own time and perspective.

An Oral History Of Blade Runner's 2019 Los Angeles, Because The Future Has Arrived
Mike Roe, LAist

The trick in science fiction, to me, is that you must have a recognition trigger. Then you can overlay that — you can get away with a lot of visual stuff, because you have the recognition trigger, and people can say, "Oh, I recognize that — the rest of it must be real too."

The only way to get better at understanding the future is to take a closer look at the past. Wow, I'm sorry, that was a really cliched and obvious thing to say. Look, I'm just trying to transition to the next article here.

How Gary K. Wolfe Is Immortalizing Science Fiction of the 1960s
John DeNardo, Kirkus Reviews

Wolfe continued, “When I started rereading lots of novels from the 1960s, it became apparent that the first half of the decade looked a lot like the 1950s, but the last three years or so looked like something completely different, more stylistically adventurous (as with Delany, Zelazny, and Lafferty), with more nontraditional characters (Delany again, and Russ), and at times offering a pointed critique of the earlier genre, probably most notably with Russ.

That last article linked to the next one, a look at 1950s-era sci-fi. It covers the "Golden Age" of sci-fi, and succeeded in making me more confused about what that term refers to. Apparently it might have been the 1940s?

Why the 1950s?
Gary K. Wolfe,

The once-dominant pulp magazines were increasingly under siege from television and the burgeoning paperback book market, which had discovered science fiction as long ago as 1943, when Donald A. Wollheim’s anthology The Pocket Book of Science Fiction became possibly the first American book to use “science fiction” as part of its title. More important, major publishers such as Doubleday, Crown, Simon and Schuster, and Random House began publishing science fiction anthologies, and some began programs of original novels as well. “Until the decade of the fifties,” Silverberg writes, “there was essentially no market for science fiction books at all”; the audience supported only a few special interest small presses.

The troubling age of algorithmic entertainment
Navneet Alang, The Week

TikTok's runaway success is also changing music, and artists are both making their songs shorter and focusing more on memorable hooks so that they play to the short video format of apps like TikTok.

Media has always changed in response to both shifts in delivery and culture. The popularity of the novel in the 19th century, for example, arose because it was more convenient to read extended stories in one place rather than serialized in pamphlets and newspapers. Moreover, the novel was a place to play out the increasing tension between competing ideas — itself a novel invention after the decline of both monarchies and the church.

In other news, looks like my 70s Sci-Fi Art twitter feed isn't coming back, if you've been following the saga, which is what I'm calling my 5-tweet-long thread that Twitter never contacted me about. C'est la vie, etc. I'm probably just going to switch to @70sscifi and start auto-posting the same feed over there, so give me a follow there if you're an art fan, and spread the word if you have any Twitter friend who followed the old account.

My New Favorite Hyperspecific Middlebrow Music Genre to Binge on YouTube: Groovy 60s Spy music.
Here's a full half hour of the stuff, ripped from The Thriller Memorandum, a 1996 vinyl record (the 30 year nostalgia cycle strikes again). And here are three more playlists, if you want more.

Next Time on Maddd Science: Pulp Beacons

Header image: “Meet the Me-Tree,” by Daniel Williams. Man, where was this when I needed a Halloween illustration two issues ago?!

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