clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Land Mines

From Dickelbers, a mine warning sign from Israel.

I liked the old ones showing stylized bodies blown apart and flying through the air. Literacy is a problem in that part of the world and thus the change. This sign makes it more likely to be misunderstood by someone who is illiterate.

No, I'm not kidding.

Fiction is full of landmines.

For writers, one of the most debilitating landmine is the curse of the "believable" critique. It goes something like this: "that doesn't happen and the whole premise is implausible."

Frau Bear says this about all science fiction, for example. I can't tell you how much fun Independence Day was in its theatrical release for me. Star Wars? Forget it. Jaws has trouble in my house.

Of course, Life of Pi was loved (book was better) so there's no accounting for reason.

Which brings me to the point. When a critique arrives on your desk and is marked with "cannot happen" it tells you two things: one, this reader is not your target audience (get over it) and, two; you should consider the degree to which your fantastic elements are immersed in realism.

I like aliens.

To write a story about aliens landing in central park tomorrow, we consider how crazy stupid people really are. There would be folks running to the the space ship (yeaaaa, friends!), they're be people so shocked as to irrationally attempt to ignore the existence of the phenomena (say, a boss I once had who would tell me the Caruther's contract had to be finished, aliens or no ) , there'd be folks at church-mosque-synagogue praying for deliverance (queue banjo), and they're be the mad bombers in militia green.

If we wrote the story, we'd have to account for how the event changes - or not - the people surrounding our protagonist. We'd need to make sure the protagonist's  actions seemed rational and plausible NOT in the face of the aliens but in the face of how the people close to them acted, felt, believed, made pudding. Context - that's the key.

Put vampires in the lemon grove - great! Make them interact with the world that makes sense in light of their reactions to each other, the world, and the odd folks who might understand what's going on.

I hear you. What about Harvey the rabbit? The story there was how Jimmy Stewart related to the people who did not see the giant rabbit. The rabbit was real in the movie. He was plausible in the fiction because the manner in which the character related to everyone else was plausible.

It's a delicate point which I've mashed a bit underfoot.

Basically: crazy shit happens in fictionland and there is a whole section in the library for people who cannot swallow the possibilities you put forward (non-fiction).

The things you write can be fantastic. The characters you write must be plausible. You have to know the difference even if the critique partner does not. There you have it.

Speaking of crazy... I had an inquiry on the nuclear jet engine (here) to the point "was that the craziest thing ever?"

Er, not. Not actually.

The craziest thing ever (now declassified) was the intention to use tactical nuclear devices in Germany.

During an initial pullback of some territory which would cause the Soviets to rush forward and occupy the empty ground, time delayed nuclear devices enhanced to be especially dirty for a short period of time (the time duration part is classified) would be detonated. The front-line A units would be cut off from resupply and the rear area support elements would be - er- disrupted.

No, that's not the crazy part (unless you happen to be German). The crazy part was that in the earliest version, the Brits were in charge of the nuclear (atomic) landmines and their concealment.

To keep the electrics all in warm and toasty order so that when the timer went off the bombs would go off too, chickens were to be incorporated into the devices to use body heat to keep all operational. 

No, it's not a joke. Chickens as nuke warmers. Think of it as "pot pie got even."

Now perhaps my occasional reference to exploding chickens becomes clearer. It's just hilarious to me.

The thing had about a dozen names. Project Peacock was one of the last before the Brits were relieved of the - er - participation.

They were however on the right track.

Look, no one really wants to put resistance heating (electric coils) near extremely high-yield conventional explosives (used in the ignition of the bomb). The explosives used in warhead manufacture "can be/was/is sometimes" a definite "no smoking near here" item. Sparks and heating coils are right out because if the ladyfingers go off in error, the big bad giant living inside doesn't know the difference and he comes out with a big can of whupass all ready to spread it around.

So, when you are thinking of crazy stories and someone says "that can't happen" - just tell them that live chickens were used to keep atomic bombs in good order so they could go off after Soviets drove past them in the Cold War.

That's some crazy stuff from the late 1950's. What do you suspect the mad scientists have been up to since then?

Oh if you can't sleep now, write something. I will.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Chickens? That *is* crazy!

It's pretty annoying hearing that something is implausible. :( I hear that a lot here, too (live with a computer engineer!) But I find that I can suspend disbelief for one really big thing in a story (aliens, for instance) if everything else: reactions, actions, etc. seem plausible in reaction to it. As you said!

Life of Pi...yes, not all that believable. :) Unless we believe that it was a huge analogy/extended metaphor, I guess.

jack welling said...

We're in the "body in the living room" club.

I know what would happen in MY house if Frau came home and found body in the living room - I'd have to clear it up! ( I do mouse, spider, et. al. removal duty. Everyone has a job. SOme pay better than others.).