Tag Archives: Inspiration

5 Scifi Themes I Wish We Had More Stories About

I know there are fans and writers of the science fiction and fantasy genres who read this blog. Today, I wanted to talk about themes that I wish would be explored more often in these genres and pick your brains. If you know of any books that include these themes, come on over to Twitter and tell me about them.

If you don’t know of any stories that fit these descriptions, maybe it’s time for us to start writing them!

Sentient Plants

By far my favourite characters in the Lord of the Rings trilogy were the Ents. I was enthralled by the idea of a tree-like creature being as intelligent as any person, elf, or hobbit. The more I learned about their physiology, the more curious I became about what it would be like to exist in-between the world of plants and the world of mammals.

I’m struggling to think of any other examples of this kind of storytelling in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. Occasionally I’ll read something about an alien or magical plant that’s surprisingly dangerous, but they’re almost never able to carry on a conversation.

It’s hard to imagine what a plant would think about the world around us. How would staying in the same place for your entire life – more or less – while hoping that nothing eats you change the way you thought about everything from family to how dangerous this planet it? Would a plant be surprised by the human concept of war or understanding of it? How would they compare the seeds they dropped every year to how people raise their young?

If I knew more about biology, I’d have written a story about this already. The more I think about it, the more I feel the urge to research it enough to make educated guesses about what such a creature might be like. There is so much scope for the imagination here, as Anne Shirley would say.

A Replacement for Religion

Organized religion is in a rapid decline in western countries. Fewer people are attending religious meetings or labelling themselves as members of a particular faith with every passing generation.

What will western society be like when the majority of people label themselves as Atheist, Agnostic, None, or vaguely spiritual but without loyalty to any particular religion? Western Europe is a few decades ahead of North America in this process, so there are glimpses of what that kind of society will be like.

My question is, what, if anything, is going to replace religion as a widespread cultural understanding that binds a society together? Will it be sports? Pop culture? A rising interest in science? Nationalism? Has the idea itself of having one thing that most of a population grew up experiencing outlived itself?

How would a post-religious society interact with other countries on Earth that tend to be much more devout?

Yes, Star Trek has given us one vision of what this kind of future might look like, but I’d like to see other people’s extrapolations, too. Science fiction in general seems hesitant to explore religious themes in depth unless it was written specifically to proselytize or as part of the Inspirational genre.

I wish this wasn’t so. There are ways to explore people’s relationship to their faith (or lack thereof) without assuming the audience agrees with the character or trying to (de)convert anyone.

 

Life After Fossil Fuels

Eventually, we’re not going to be able to get enough oil, natural gas, and coal out of the Earth in order to sustain all of the systems that rely on those fuels to keep going. This moment could arrive far sooner than we realize, too.

I’ve read many post-apocalyptic books about people returning to agrarian societies as a direct result of some kind of war or other conflict, but I haven’t read too many that explore what would happen if there wasn’t a single disaster that broke modern society down.

How would you keep communities going after the last drop of gasoline has been used up? What parts of our medical  educational, correctional,and municipal systems could adapt to a world that must rely on renewable resources? What parts of them would become luxuries for the wealthy or fade away entirely as resources grew scarce?

I wouldn’t be surprised if most people began working from home in this sort of future. While I think of that as a positive step for society due to the elimination of commutes, the reduction in the spread of communicable diseases, and the increased freedom that comes with having total control over your work environment, only time will tell what negative side effects from that arrangement could be.

Photo credit: Terminator007007007.

Aliens Who Aren’t as Technologically Advanced as Humans

Imagine meeting an alien species that was a few hundred thousand to a few million years behind us.

How would we treat their planet?

How would humans treat them?

If they could talk, would they be better off or worse off than a species that had no idea what was happening to it?

There are hundreds of stories out there about aliens coming to Earth and trying to steal our resources. I wonder why we so often assume they’d be violent, cruel, and greedy. Is that the way we’d treat them? Is it a quietly lingering cultural guilt over how certain groups of people have been terribly mistreated in the past?

Given how difficult it seems to be for life to take hold in the universe in the first place, I wouldn’t be surprised if any alien species we do find out there is closer to the self-awareness of a houseplant or a lizard than to a fellow humanoid.

 

Crop Circles

I remember hearing all kinds of bizarre stories about crop circles when I was a kid.

Some people were convinced that they were messages from alien races. It was never clear to me what kinds of messages they were or if anyone ever thought they’d decoded them.

Other folks set out to prove that many different types of crop circles could be recreated by humans using simple tools. There have been a few other cases where crop circles were shown to be a natural reaction to archeological remains. When this happens, the same design appears in the field every year because of how those ruins have affected the soil.

For a topic as old and well-known as this one, I’m a little surprised by the fact that I don’t remember reading any sci-fi stories about it at all. This sure seems like it would a topic that could be explored from many different angles, from the extraterrestrial to the paranormal to the bizarre but still completely logical.

How about you? What science fiction and fantasy themes do you wish were more commonplace?

10 Pictures That Are Begging to Be Turned Into Stories, Part Two

I come across so many unique images when I’m searching for stock photos for this blog. It always makes me a little sad when I realize that nothing I’ve written so far fits them in any way.

They’re the kind of pictures that demand an audience, so today I’m sharing ten of them with you in the hope that you’ll be inspired by them. If anyone uses one of these photos as a writing prompt, I’d love to know how you interpreted it! Send me a message about it on Twitter.

I will include brief descriptions of the images in this post as well for readers who aren’t able to see the pictures I’ve found.

This is a picture of a man who has tilted his head back and closed his eyes. He has a neutral expression on his face, and he is balancing a pineapple on the top of his forehead.

It makes me giggle every time I see it. I could see it being an eye-catching opener for a post about meditation, healthy eating, or alternative uses for pineapple for those of us who don’t like the taste of them.

 

This is a picture of a man wearing the kind of thick, white makeup that clowns and other performers wear. He has an American flag draped over his left shoulder and he’s slung a stick or weapon across his other shoulder. We cannot see the end of that item, only its handle. His face has a menacing expression on it.

What a frightening image. It would make great fodder for any kind of horror tale, but I’d personally use it for something that revolved around not realizing a person or situation was dangerous until it was too late. Not every scary thing in life announces itself that way immediately.

This is a picture of a skeleton wearing headphones, sitting at a desk, hunched over a computer, and typing on a keyboard. 

There was nothing alarming about this to me at all. The skeleton looks and acts just like a living person, so I’d imagine them in a completely innocuous setting whose conflict has nothing at all to do with the fact that skeletons shouldn’t actually be able to move around.

For example, maybe everyone else sees a normal person when they look at this character. He or she is the only person who knows their true form, and they honestly find it kind of a boring topic.

This is a picture of a woman grimacing and biting the pages of a blank, open book.

Honestly, she looks hungry. Someone give her an apple before she starts devouring her tale from the inside out before its even had a chance to end.

 

This is a picture of a viking who has a long, brown beard and moustache. There is a small mound of brightly-coloured confetti covering his facial hair.

If this isn’t the perfect image to use for a story about an uncanny parade, I don’t know what is. Perhaps Ivar was magically awoken from his eternal rest, and was terribly disappointed to learn that his new role in modern times was as nothing but the main attraction in parades, festivals, and other large community gatherings. He’d give anything for one serious conversation about who he was, where he came from, and how he died.

This is a picture of about a dozen cellphones that are nailed to a wall. The sign on the wall reads “Please destroy cell phones before entering.”

A luddite lives here, and they have zero patience for cellphones of any sort. This could be horror as easily as it could be a romantic comedy. So much depends on how the luddite reacts when he or she meets someone who refuses to give up their phone.

 

This is a picture of the face and shoulders of a woman who is wearing nothing but a towel on her head. The expression on her face could either be read as shock or surprise.

I find this image unsettling. Is the woman thrilled or frightened? What could she have possibly seen that would make her feel both emotions simultaneously?

This is a picture of a laptop, book, computer mouse, and smart phone being wrapped up in chains.

“Security” was one of the keywords labeling this image on the stock photo site I found it on. To me, though, it looks far more like it’s about limiting nearly every kind of information that’s available to the average person. How could someone learn about the world if they were denied the use of books and the Internet?

This is a picture of a pair of wind-up toy teeth biting down on a few 5 pound British bills.

I giggle every time I look at this image. The first thing that popped into my mind was that dental bills can be very expensive. Maybe it’s a reminder to take good care of your teeth?

This is a picture of a man sitting at a table. One of his arms is robotic, and he is holding his flesh-and-blood-hand in his robotic one. 

Is this futuristic or something happening now? From what I’ve read about replacement limbs, they have begun to be able to do all kinds of things they weren’t able to do before. I’ve heard of people being able to clench their fists, hold a glass of water, and do so much more with their artificial arms.

If I were going to make this a scifi story, the entire right side of this guy’s body would be a machine. Maybe he was in an accident and lives just far enough into the future that machines can take over the work of some of his internal organs as well as his right arm and leg?

For a contemporary setting, I’d go with something more ordinary like him forgetting to charge up his limb the night before and needing to sit quietly until it had enough juice in it to keep him going for the rest of the day.

Previous posts in this series:

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories

My Biggest Health and Fitness Mistakes So Far

Lately I’ve been thinking about how much has been slowly changing for me from a health and fitness perspective over the last four years.

After mulling it over for a while, there are three things I wish I would have done differently when I first decided to start working out regularly again.

I Wish I’d Documented My Progress More Thoroughly

Those of you who have known me a long time probably won’t be surprised by the first item on this list. For everyone else, let’s just say that I find a lot of joy in keeping track of all kinds of statistics for the pure pleasure of being able to go back and look at them on occasion to see how they’ve changed over time.

Today I’m going to ignore the unwritten social rule about women refusing to talk about their weight. It’s a silly prohibition, and I don’t see any reason to follow it when part of this post is about how that has changed for me since 2013.

I weighed 143 pounds when I first began focusing on improving my health. Last year I bottomed out at 118 pounds, but I’ve since purposefully moved up to 124 pounds as of yesterday’s weigh-in. I like the way I look at this size, and I’m planning to stick with it for the time being.

Other than the approximate weight I had four years ago, I didn’t bother to take note of anything else that I could have recorded about my body at that time. Now I wish that I had kept track of everything from the circumferences of my waist to exactly how many minutes of the exercise videos I could do when I first started looking them up on Youtube.

While I do have recent statistics for some of these items now, I would love to have charts showing my weekly or monthly progress over the past four years as I lost weight, toned up, reduced my body fat percentage, and slowly began moving into more and more challenging workouts.

There was a time a few years ago when I wasn’t strong enough to do a single pushup. Now I can do them, and I’d love to know exactly when that changed.

I Wish I’d Paid Attention to My Diet Sooner

Getting into a regular workout routine was easier for me than adjusting my diet, but I didn’t start losing weight until I took a closer look at what I was eating and changed it. I don’t believe in the concept of “forbidden” foods, but there were some tweaks I needed to make in order to become healthier in general.

My diet was actually fairly balanced back then, but I did have dessert a little too often and I wasn’t eating as many servings of vegetables as Canada’s Food Guide recommends.

Along with adding more vegetables into meals I already knew I liked and having dessert a few times a month instead of a few times a week, I switched from drinking rice milk to drinking almond milk. Switching to almond milk was something I originally did to get some of the unnecessary, hidden sugar in it out of my diet, but I later learned that rice milk is about 100 calories per cup while almond milk is only 30.

All of these small changes added up over time. I wish I’d known how simple they were to make and how quickly my palate would adjust.

I Wish I’d Done More Than One Type of Exercise from the Beginning

Nearly all of the workouts I did at first were cardio, and many of them were of various types of dancing. As much as I enjoyed it, I wish I’d started weightlifting regularly sooner than I did.

Being able to switch between a few different forms of exercise makes my current routines much more interesting than they used to be. It’s difficult for me to grow bored with it because my routine shifts regularly.

Weightlifting has also improved my health in all kinds of ways that aren’t at all related to how much I weigh. For example, last year I noticed that the groceries I carried home weren’t feeling as heavy as they used to be. I wasn’t needing to stop and rest like I did in the past when I wanted to buy a whole bunch of heavy stuff like watermelon, canned goods, and multiple cartons of milk.

This happened so gradually that it took me a few trips to realize what was happening. I love the freedom that comes with being able to buy more food at once instead of breaking my trips up when a great sale happened.

With that being said, I’m happy with the progress I’ve made so far with my physical fitness and general health. I’m looking forward to seeing what my life is like four years from now.

5 Reasons Why You Should Read Science Fiction and Fantasy

This past weekend I tried to remember the first science fiction or fantasy book I ever read. After a lot of deliberation, I believe that traditional fairy tales were what originally drew me into this genre.

Some of my earliest memories about books in general involve borrowing fairy tale collections from my local library. After I’d read all of the sanitized versions of them, I moved on the dark and often gory originals.

My second clear memory of the sci-fi genre was watching reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation. There were two episodes of that show that I wanted to watch over and over again because of how much they blew my mind: Genesis and Sub Rosa. Before seeing them, I never would have imagined that people could evolve backwards or that an entity could need a candle to survive.

I don’t know how many of my readers are already fans of science fiction or fantasy, but there are several reasons why you should give them a chance if you’re not currently reading them.

They Ask Questions Without Always Answering Them

One of the things I found soothing about fairy tales when I first began reading them is how predictable they were. It was common to have three tasks to perform, a talking animal to guide you on your journey, an old woman who would help or hinder you depending on how kindly you treated her, and a happy ending for everyone who had a pure heart.

It came as a surprise to me, then, to move into older, darker fairy tales where these things weren’t necessarily true. Sometimes the protagonist ended up with the prince, but in other stories she before they could be reunited. As I gradually switched to reading and watching more science fiction and contemporary fantasy*, this unpredictable nature of the plot only grew stronger.

I love the fact that these genres don’t always tie everything up into a neat, little bow. Sometimes the good guys win. At other times, they might lose or the line between good and evil could be drawn in more than one place depending on how one looks at the facts. The open-ended nature of what it means to be a good guy and why bad things happen to good people appeals to me quite a bit.

*See also: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and many other of Joss Whedon’s TV shows.

They Teach You Important Life Lessons

Not everyone is who they appear to be.

Always overestimate how much time you need to do something. It’s better to impress others by finishing it early than it is to disappoint them.

If you’re able to help someone in need, do it. You never know when your fortunes might reverse and you might be the one who needs help next.

Equality is for everyone.

Don’t wear the colour red if you’re out on a mission.

Dragons and old, tired arguments with the people you love must never be roused from their slumber for no good reason.

These are only a few of the life lessons I’ve learned from fantasy and science fiction. I could have easily filled this entire blog post with nothing but a list of the things I’ve learned from sci-fi. It’s not just entertainment. It can also teach you things that will last an entire lifetime.

They Introduce You to New Ideas

The sci-fi genre is the perfect place to explore things you’ve never thought about before and imagine how our world could be different than it currently is.

Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer not only introduced me to the idea that a woman could save the day, they didn’t make the genders of their heroines a big deal.

Xena and Buffy were both too busy fighting monsters to worry about whether or not other people approved of them being heroic. That was something I rarely got to see as a little girl, so I relished those glimpses of worlds where your gender didn’t affect what role you’d play in an adventure.

They Imagine the Best and the Worst Case Scenarios

At various points in my life I’ve drifted back and forth between preferring utopian and dystopian sci-fi stories. There have been times when I’ve craved the hope that can be found in imagining a world where prejudice and many other forms of inequality no longer existed.

Watching Captain Picard and his crew explore the galaxy was magical. Here was a world where your gender, race, and species didn’t have any affect at all on what jobs you were allowed to do from what I could see. Was it perfect? No, but it was whole lot better than our current world.

On the flip side, sometimes it’s interesting to explore a future version of our world where everything has fallen apart. One of the things I enjoyed the most about the first six seasons of The Walking Dead was seeing how Rick reacted when every attempt he made to keep his children and community safe eventually fell apart in the most dramatic ways possible. At what point should someone try something completely new? Is it okay to stop admitting newcomers to your safe area once they’ve betrayed you a few times?

They Prepare You For Uncertainty

Will the future be paradise or a post-apocalyptic hellhole?

Nobody knows, so we must prepare for both possibilities. I love the fact that sci-fi is so focused on showing where we’re headed as a species and how small changes in our society today could have a massive affect on whether future generations will bless or curse our names.

A few years ago I underwent some testing for a possible medical problem. (Spoiler alert – it ended up being nothing to worry about at all).

While I was waiting to hear whether or not the abnormality my regular doctor had discovered was actually something to be concerned about, science fiction and fantasy showed me how to exist in that narrow space between health and sickness.

I hope I won’t have to walk down that dark passageway again for decades to come, but I know that my stories will be there to comfort and distract me if I do.

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned into Stories

I come across the most beautiful, scary, haunting, and fascinating images when I’m searching for stock photos for this blog. It always makes me a little sad when I realize that nothing I’ve written so far fits them in any way.

They’re the kind of images that demand an audience, so today I’m sharing a few of these unusual pictures with you in the hope that you’ll be inspired by them. If anyone uses one of these images as a writing prompt, I’d love to know how you interpreted it! Send me a message about it on Twitter.

 

An Unbroken Doll

The fact that this doll’s face was broken at one point doesn’t surprise me. Toys break all of the time.

Who painstakingly glued her back together, though?

That isn’t the kind of chore that can be finished in a few minutes. It probably took days of carefully sifting through the sharp porcelain pieces of her head to figure out how every piece fit together and what kind of glue works best for this sort of delicate project.

It would take a lot of determination to see this project through to the end. I imagine only someone who had a strong emotional urge to do it would succeed.

 

The Pretty Poison

None of the household poisons I’ve ever seen look anything like this.

The purple liquid sure seems like it would smell nice. I’m imagining a light, floral scent that almost disappears once air hits it. You’d have to be quite close to it to catch a whiff of anything.

That wouldn’t make it any less dangerous, of course. Every apothecarist knows that.

Leg Day

Look closely at the picture above. It may take you a moment to notice the strange twist in it.

My first thought when I saw it was that it was some kind of genetic engineering gone weird. The horses legs look almost human at first glance. Is a horse still a horse if some part of its DNA somehow came from a human?

I’d love to read that book and find out.

Happily Ever After

The bright colours and whimsical scenery in it caught my eye. immediately. They’re exactly what I’d expect to find in a fantasy romance novel.

This is the kind of cover that would make me pick up a book to find out more about its plot. If nothing else, I’d want to know if there was an entire forest of heart-shaped trees for the characters to skip through or if this tree was unique in that way.

Knock, knock!

This is another one of those photographs that seems perfectly ordinary when you first glance at it. I was actually planning to save it for a future post about something cheerful and ordinary like going on vacation until one strange little detail in it popped out at me.

That detail catapulted this post from it’s original purpose into possible story territory. The explanation for it could be completely logical and scientific, but there’s also room for science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, or even horror elements to it if you prefer. Stop reading now if you want to figure out on your own what I noticed.

For anyone who needs or wants a hint about, pay attention to the body language of the woman in the centre of the photograph. How has she positioned herself? Do you notice anything unexpected about it?

The Insincere Smile

The stock photo site that I use most often has dozens of pictures that are similar to this one. The models are always nicely dressed  but have completely insincere expressions on their faces.

There are many explanations for why that might be so. Sometimes I like to come up with some reasons for the fun of it. Were the models worn out from a day of posing? Are they trying to secretly warn their audiences about who or what might be lurking behind the camera? The possibilities are endless, and the sci-fi writer in me prefers the unexplainable ones.

All that Glitters…

What I like the most about this picture is how versatile it is. Off the top of my head, it could be interpreted to be part of the erotic romance, regular romance, science fiction, fantasy, or even the older end of the young adult genre. You could probably even find a way to turn it into a mystery or a thriller if you massaged the possibilities enough.

That ambiguity makes me smile. I like it when stories leave room for more than one genre to flourish in them. When its done correctly, this can be a wonderful way to introduce people to types of storytelling that they might not otherwise be open to trying.

Deep in Thought

I both love and hate seeing gorillas and other apes at the zoo for the same reason: they remind me so much of human beings.

Everything from their mannerisms to their facial expressions can be eerily close to the way that people behave at times. When I look at them, I feel like we are this close to having a conversation about the weather or which kind of fruit is in season now.

While I’m glad that they have a safe place to live, it also feels wrong to cage them up. They feel too intelligent for that fate to me.

The nice thing about this picture is that it could be used for non-fiction just as easily as it could for fiction. You don’t have to invent anything about the intelligence of other primates in order to write about them. We already know that while they might not be exactly like us, they’re also not exactly like other animals either.

When Justice Is Blind

Is it just me, or does that water look uncomfortably cold?

The first thing I thought when I saw this scene was that it looked like a test of some sorts. Is he expected to swim in that chilly water or simply stand in it blindfolded for a predetermined amount of time?

The One Who’s Watching You

Obviously I had to save the best picture for last today. This is the creepiest thing I’ve stumbled across in a long time.

Not seeing a character’s face always scares me.

The fact that we can see his or her hands doesn’t help the situation, though. Their nails look sharp and rough. Their skin looks leathery, and I’m not entirely sure it would still be warm to the touch if they brushed against you.

What does he or she want?

I’m afraid to ask, but I’m even more afraid to turn away before they do.

Why You Should Be Following the Mystery of Tom Thomson’s Death

Tom Thomson was a famous Canadian painter who died nearly a century ago. His landscapes influenced the Group of Seven. Had he lived longer, there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have become an official member and they would have been called the Group of Eight instead. If you haven’t heard of this artist or the kinds of… Read More