Monday, June 28, 2010

Inspired by Science

I write science fiction because I am inspired by science, the tool humans use to understand the workings of the universe, and how it impacts us as people.  It has been interesting to see how the stories I read as a kid growing up have turned into the news stories and facts of our lives today.  
Science fiction is a literary art.  I would say it is probably the one the general population is most familiar with when it comes to forms of creative expression inspired by science.  It is not the only one, however.  Other artists in other fields can find inspiration in our efforts to understand our world.  Here are a few examples I thought you might find interesting.  
One of the most memorable scenes in the movie "Back to the Future II," was when the main character, Marty McFly, uses a 'hoverboard' to outrace a gang trying to blackmail him into helping them commit a crime.  We don't have working hoverboards yet.  But that didn't stop someone from making one for himself.  
It what he calls a 'study in sculpture and experiment in spatial autonomy,' French artist Nils Guadagnin has built a working replica of the Back to the Future hoverboard.  It uses electromagnets to float above the surface of its pedestal and a laser to stabilize its position.  It can't bear the weight of a person, but the system is pretty good at keeping the sculpture in place.  Click on this link to check out a video of the work.  

Lisa Randall is a theoretical physicist at Harvard University specializing particle physics and cosmology.  Her book, "Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions" was named one of the New York Times' 100 notable books of 2005.  Her book alone would make her a person any science fiction writer or fan of science ought to know about.  But Dr. Randall took the further step of turning her scientific work into a work of art.
"Hypermusic Prologue: A Projective Opera in Seven Plans" is a one hour experimental opera that had its premiere at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in June of 2009.  Based on Dr. Randall's work on hidden dimensions, she wrote the libretto for the opera as well, it is the story of a character who explores the unseen dimensions that affect the four dimensional reality wee see around us.  Hector Parra, a Spanish composer who is the son of a physicist and who has written works influenced by particle physics, wrote the score for the opera.  The music is altered to signal changes in energy, mass, time and gravity.  For example, as the explorer, played by the soprano, enters a gravitationally strong part of the universe her voice is electronically altered to make her phrases shorter in increments that are mathematically precise.  Dr. Randall has been quoted as saying that creating the opera, "has a little bit to do with why I do science and why I think there's more out there."  It's the same sense that there is something missing, she goes on to say, that drives her that she finds in the people she's met in creative fields.  
The "Art of Science" Gallery has at the top of its hope page a quote from Leonardo da Vinci: "Study the science of art and the art of science."  The exhibition is set up to explore the interplay science and art, and to give record to those moments when "what perceives suddenly becomes more than the sum of its parts."  Each year the gallery picks a different theme, and then chooses work that best reflect that theme.  The theme for 2010 was "Energy."  The 45 pieces reflect that theme in the broadest sense.  They are not pieces of art for art's sake, but are striking images that were produced in the course of scientific study.  The Art of Science Gallery has links for previous exhibits going back to 2005.  
While writing this blog and picking these examples, I was reminded of a couple of my own experiences.  
The first one is a personal observation that has influenced my own work.  As I've noted in previous blogs, I have written several scripts for comic book stories.  When I first started working in the field of visual story telling I noticed something about how my creative partner at the time worked.  While we were having lunch together, I noticed him drawing an image of one of the characters in our story sitting down and having lunch as well.  I pointed out to him that the character never had a pose like that in the script I had give him.  
"I know," he replied, continuing to work on the image.  "I just wanted to see what she'd look like sitting like this."  He went on to explain that it was a common practice for him, and other artists he knew, to create a notebook of sketches when working on a character showing them doing all manner of things, even if the piece they were trying to produce didn't require those actions or poses.  This helped them become more familiar with the character and better able to imagine whatever it was the script required of them to draw.  
Since that time, I started keeping a separate document, my Word Palette I call it, on any story that I'm working on.  I use the Word Palette as a place to mix words together about the character.  Lines of dialogue, descriptions, opening passages and written down and rewritten, even if they aren't going to be in the final story.  It's where I work out all the aspects of the characters and plot before I actually start writing the 'real thing.'  I also use the Word Palette while writing the story itself.  If I find myself blocked,  unable to see how to get the character through a moment for instance, then I switch over to the Word Palette and start writing about the scene.  I'll ask myself questions, I'll try different versions of the passage, I'll go back and rewrite what came before to get a running start in the direction I want to go.  The purpose is to 1) Keep Writing and not sit there staring at the screen and the blinking cursor challenging me to put something there and 2) free up my mind and refocus it on what the character's dilemma is and how he/she is struggling to overcome it.  Once I break through the blockage, I will cut whatever is useful from the World Palette, paste it into the story document, and keep going.  Since using this method I've not had an incident of what I would call writer's block.  
The second experience was that of a story I had read some time ago.  Unfortunately I don't recall the name of the story or where I read it.  It may have been an entry in one of the Writers' of the Future contests some years ago.  
The basic idea of the story revolves around an alien artifact found buried in an asteroid orbiting our own sun.  The asteroid is quarantined after the military explores the artifact.  The soldier that explored the artifact reports having a vision of horrific images of the Earth being invaded, billions of people killed and the planet being laid waste.  Clearly, the military concludes, the artifact is some sort of weapon that needs to be defused and studied.  
It turns out that the artifact is a work of art.  And like all great works of art, it reflects exactly what is inside the person observing it.  
Science is the tool to see what is there around us, while Art, in all its varied forms, is the means we use to express what is inside us.  When these two endeavors meet, interesting things are brought out.  
I sent a prologue to the editors at Angry Viking Press for SoftMetal, the comic I've written about previously that will be reprinted this summer.  From the artist I've received word that the publishers at Angry Viking are already asking for additional issues even before the first volume hits the stands.  This is encouraging news to me.  I'll relay more information as it comes to me.  


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