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Show Notes

Words That Authors are Sick of Hearing:

Starting Point – Should Have Hired a Clown:

Worldbuilding Tropes Science Fiction & Fantasy Need to Stop Using:

Intelligent Life That Could Eat the Sun:

  • John H Reiher Jr

    A quick comment: Water Worlds may be a thing. Not just a thin veneer of water over a crust, but a world that’s more or less entirely made up of water. And desert worlds are more common than you’d think. Mars is mostly a desert world, with some interesting terrain features: volcanoes, dry lake beds, dry river beds, massive canyons, craters and CO2 icecaps.

    • I immediately realised I’d made a mistake picking water worlds as an example. They’re boring, but they probably exist.
      But would the one island chain not also be a fascinating place to visit, with it’s volcanoes and cities overflowing onto the ocean? A place for the floating cities to dock, and perhaps the only permanently static nation state.

      • John H Reiher Jr

        Well, volcanoes not so much on a true Water World. The nearest bit of dirt or rock is at the core of the planet, under a blanket of Ice X. But I could see floating living islands made from dissolved minerals in the relatively pure water of the world. Not quite coral, but probably closer to sargasso seaweed.

        • In the case of a real water world the entire surface s dull but how about beneath the surface?

          Talk to someone stuck on a life raft in the middle of te pacific ocean and he will agree after day three, the ocean (especially during a calm spell with not much wind) is so boring he will consider watching paint dry more entertaining. However talk to a Scuba diver and he will show you an amazing alien world full of alien life.

          On that water world deep down beyond all light, eternal night and yet there could be a submarine, engines dead, batteries having a few hours of charge left. The drama and story you could tell…

          Or perhaps there are “Black smokers” and underwater hot vents providing the needed energy for a whole biosphere.

          Or lets take the dullest most desolate and boring place there is, Deep Space. Not solar systems but the space between.

          In the podcast it was mentioned there are lots of stars, but compared to the empty space there aren’t that many after all. (It’s always relative)

          Yet many of us “SF writers” use that very medium to tell stories

    • Desert worlds certainly do exist, but they’d probably have a shortage of oxygen. They’re also dull. Variety is the spice of life.
      The more interesting locations there are on a single world, the less we have to go darting across the galaxy doing impossible things with the speed of light (although that can be fun too).

      I’m taking your desert planet and adding a few temperate swamps where the CO2 glaciers melt and eventually evaporate. There, enormous colonies of bacteria grow as tall as trees, and flying creatures ride the air currents caused by the meeting of cold polar air and warm desert winds.

      • John H Reiher Jr

        I like that vision. Still cold as Hell, but more interesting.

        • There could be a polar settlement called Hell Froze, and a town at the base of a glacier called Thawing Hell.
          Cogs are turning in my mind 🙂

          • John H Reiher Jr

            Jesse was charging up the snowski, his coldsuit leaving steaming footsteps in the frozen carbon dioxide snow. He wore a heated scrubber mask that cleaned the air of CO2 and heated the rest to 10°C.

            Luke cycled out of the community ‘hab and called out, “Jesse? You headed to Thaw’n Hell?”

            Jesse looked up and said, “Shore enuff. Gotta pick up a crate of squeez’ns for the mash. We’re running low on oxymash. Nuth’n to worry about, but better t’be safe than sorry.” He reached up and adjusted a control rod on the front ski steering column. “Besides, Abigail will be working at the store, and I’d like to chat her up.”

            Luke chuckled as he helped check out the snowski. “You gotta about as much chance with her as I have dancing naked in the CO-Snow.” He grimaced as he worked on the opposite side of the front ski. “Jaysus, I think the antifreeze done froze. I’ll fetch the heater pack…”

          • Or a rebel base on a place called Hoth…uh wait..or Rura Penthe, Snowball Earth Delta Vega, EDN III (Ice planets)

            Your gears running and I am on my ladder in my Sci Fi archive checking on water and ice worlds. Of course in the Galactic Chronicles universe there are: Icicle, Kappa VIII, White Out and Federal Prison Colony on Cozy Condition.

            The Night Siders on a tidal locked planet fought a war against the Day Siders. A conflict started over a Vaccu Ball game..

      • There is Frank Herbert’s “Dune” the entire planet is a featureless desert planet with at much appeal as the Sahara desert in terms of diverse climate and landscape and yet there is an entire saga of books and I would say these stories aren’t boring.

        I bet you could write a boring story featuring downtown Manhattan and write a nail biter, edge of the seat story in the middle of a white out blizzard (Jack London managed)

        Also the majority of people like boring,as in a place that doesn’t change much. The aforementioned Kansas has places where there isn’t anything but wheat fields and I am talking wheat fields that are bigger than some UK burroughs and yet most of the folks are happy and feel completely out of place in a big city.

        My home town is a little place in the center of Texas. One of my neighbors spend most of his life outside. He feels uncomfortable with a roof over his head.

        Another guy asks me to drive him to Austin when he needs to go there, because he gets scared in city traffic. Yet he drives the biggest John Deere there is.

        Go outside of Amarillo Texas, and you see a landscape so flat you can see the on Tuesday who’s coming for dinner on Saturday. You can actually see the curvature of the Earth , something you usually see on the ocean or high up in a plane.

        I spend some time in Alaska . Out there when there was no wind, it was so quiet you suddenly believed you have become deaf.

        Yet a character might breakout from such a place and that story could be quite entertaining, or vice versa a person coming from a diverse place having to cope with that.

        How would the first colonists of Mars cope with the incredible loneliness and desolation?

        So in my opinion a place or an entire planet does not need to be diverse and still could be the setting of an incredible diverse story.

        I got a water world that is the home of one of my core characters.

        I like to think of the place as quite interesting and not boring at all.

        Nilfeheim, a water world with only small islands (the largest one the size of Ireland) the rest are tiny rock piles. Each Pile occupied by a Clan. The planet could be described as dull, but how society developed there and how they deal with is,I believe quite entertaining.

  • John H Reiher Jr

    The character that goes against the racial stereotype: The Klingon Greengrocer. Or the Ferengi Marxist. Or the Orc who’s into knitting and scrapbooking.

    • Do you think David is right about the atypical alien being a trope?

      Also, I wonder how gagh is farmed, and how many Klingons are involved in it’s sale and distribution. Hmm.

      • We are taking about the stereotypes of an entire society.Would you not agree that England is a diverse society with everything from soldiers to greengrocers and warriors to sissies. Atheists and catholics and what not, but that there is also a certain English flavor that makes an English person or more so the English society very distinctive even compared to the Welsh or the Scots or the Irish?

        Or that there are certain aspects that are typical “American” , unique japanese or unquestionably German?

        Would not a species or a culture from another planet altogether have certain species characteristics that are considered “Klingon” or “Ferengi” ?

        Does the fact that you are a caucasian male liking fiction and that bloke in Hyde park who feeds the pigeons and never seen or heard of Captain Kirk , can’t tell the difference between Dr.Who and Dr.Zoidberg not still make you both English and that both of you have character traits and certain behavior patterns or cultural backgrounds that make both of you typical “English” in the eyes of an Italian?

        What I am saying is that it should be perfectly alright to describe a species or society with certain characteristic traits and it still leaves room for all sorts of characters, non conformists and eccentric beings within that society.

        Since I made quite a few samples of Gagh for the franchise. I can tell you it contains ingredients found in your local grocery store colored with beetroot sap and put in a bowl with a two or three ballon bladders underneath and simple squeeze pumps –and voila they move. Hero shots (close ups of the dish that is not eaten might include food dyed worms mixed in with latex / worms. Cooled down so the critters start moving when the hot camera lights are on them…

        and there is a company in Burbank called “Bugs are my business” where you can buy anything from cockroaches to spiders and flies and maggots and pretty much everything in between.

      • John H Reiher Jr

        I’d say yes. The problem is that most aliens are like “We’re all Vikings, except for Sven the scribe.” That is, the alien that doesn’t fit the “norm” for a species’ portrayal usually has a job that is totally opposite what the rest of his species does for a living or acts.

        We know from our own history, that a certain class of people: warriors, nobles, etc. are supported by a pyramid of other classes. This is lacking with most SF alien species.

      • The atypical alien? rather the atypical character. 99.99 % of all characters are atypical and not regular members of their respective societies, groups or species. Harry Potter was an atypical student. Batman is the atypical Billionaire, Superman the atypical superhero (even though he is the first) why? In his case his secret identity is Clark Kent but underneath he is Superman. (see Kill Bill Vol II for a great explanation on that)

        Moses was the atypical Hebrew, he was raised as an Egyptian prince. Jesus is the odd man out…he is the only one without sin…

        Speaking od Klingons…Worf is the atypical Klingon being raised by humans and drinking Prune juice, Captain Kirk the only one ever to beat the Kobayashi Maru scenario.

        I challenge you to find a single story or even real life event that was not featuring a single odd man out.
        Joan D’ Arc, Queen Elizabeth I, Einstein, Columbus, Gallileo. Not a single event in history was created by the masses, by the conformists. No matter what event you pick,it boils down to One person who started it.
        So either it is the Ultimate trope of all, as it is the core of almost every story or it is simply the basic element of basic elements needed to tell a story we want to read or hear about.

  • John H Reiher Jr

    The ancient race, (Actually, I’d use the word “Species” instead of race.) may hate other species for the standard xenophobic reasons: Other sentient species are evil because they are competitors and must be obliterated from existence.

  • John H Reiher Jr

    The term “Hard Science Fiction” is more about being consistent with your science than it is about adhering to “Real Science”. For example, the novel Celestial Matters by Richard Garfinkel, uses Ptolemaic astronomy and Aristotelian physics and biology and explores the ramifications of them being true. And it’s Hard Science Fiction.

    Soft or “Fantasy” Science Fiction just makes stuff up and ignores the implications and unintended consequences of the “technology” it’s created. For example, Transporters short circuit the plot in many Star Trek stories, so they had to break them many times to keep the crew from being rescued.

  • Single use worlds

    Why can a planet not just be a desert world ? Mars is basically just a desert planet not much. A water world is entirely possible.
    A world that is tidally locked might have a steady set of convection storms leveling every mountain.
    If you look in our own solar system, all but Earth are pretty much dominated by one climate,one prevailing landscape.
    On the other hand if a sufficient advanced star faring society has gigantic corporations ,instead of having an entire state (Kansas) turned into a wheat field
    turn entire planets into agricultural production worlds? With terraforming and climate controlling mirrors not even impossible with near future tech.


    • OK, fair point. But would such worlds be habitable, and sustainably so?
      I just think it’s a little dull. Should we not have variety in our planets? Would Planet Kansas not also have industrial cities to supply the machinery (and provide consumer goods to the workers)? What are the houses made from? Importing wood, stone, and metal from other planets is probably expensive.

      • Lets say Carnegie corp has control over an entire planet, could the atmosphere lacking desert planet not be a gigantic mining colony with smelters while another world is dedicated to leisure and carefully landscaped, while yet another serves to produce potatoes. giving rise to entire societies of freighter spacers and traders doing nothing but providing metal and fertilizer to one world and food and chicken to another.

        Here is one such world in my universe:

      • Harvest 12

        Corporate owned – Union Planet –

        Planet is owned by SII Agra and one of 56 very similar worlds (Harvest 1 -57)[1]

        The planet in the Wapah System is in the Goldilocks region of its system but was only a marginal garden world, prior to SII claiming the planet. SII Planet Adjustment intensively terraformed the planet by sterilizing the surface, its ocean, leveling mountains and raising coast lines. The Continents are all leveled and communities strategically placed. The atmosphere optimized and weather control put in place.

        Everything is maximized to agricultural production and Harvest 12 is specialized in the production of grains.

        Harvest 12 is online since 3520 and produces approximately 600 million tons of Wheat and grain annually. It imports fertilizers, compost and top soil.

        There is a population of about 600,000 of which almost all adults work for SII Agra. The planet is also a registered Union World and has the basic Union Facilities such as Bus Stop (1 Weekly), School and Post Office.

        A Med Station is not installed as Medical services are provided by free SII Clinics. Harvest 12 is managed by a Planet Admin Team and the Planet Representative is a SII Employee.

        Laws are Union + Corporate Rules

        Law Enforcement : Private

        Harvest 12 has a SII Agra Tech School and an Agra Bot Service Technician school that offer courses also to Non SII Employees.

      • Here is how a resident of such a world describes it:

        .“You’re getting of at Arsenal as well?” Asked a male humanoid sitting next to me.

        “Yes!” I answered, putting the film cup into the waste recycler.

        He was about my age, had almost white blond short cropped hair. His skin had a rosy shine and his face was covered with freckles.

        ”I am Derek Simmons from Harvest 12.”

        “I am Eric Olafson and I am from Nifleheim.”

        “I am guessing you never heard of Harvest 12, but then I wouldn’t blame you no one ever has.” “Nope I never heard of Harvest 12, but then I don’t think you know about Nifleheim.”

        He smiled.” Actually I think I do. I saw a National Galactic show on Gal Net. Isn’t that the planet where they have those really big fish?”

        “Yep, sure enough that’s Nifleheim, we call them Tyranno Fins and they are the biggest carnivorous fish in the known galaxy. Why don’t you tell me about Harvest 12?”

        He sighed.” We don’t have anything exciting on Harvest 12. It’s a boring planet, entirely dedicated to raise agricultural products. The planet is owned by SII Agra Corp and completely terra formed. If there ever was any native live in the past, there isn’t any now. Our entire planet was sterilized, homogenized, leveled and plowed over a thousand times. We have no seasons, weather control and collector mirrors see to that, but we have wheat fields as big as continents and that’s all there is to Harvest 12, Identical cookie cutter world to Harvest 1 through 56.”

        He sounded cynical, sighed and he continued:” My father is an Agra Bot technician, my Grandfather was an Agra Bot technician and so was his father. I simply had to get away or I would have ended up doing the same thing.”

    • I like single use worlds. If every world was as diverse and interesting as ours, scifi would barely need cool spaceships!

      • Besides would that not be sort of a natural progression if civilization as we know it survives. First agriculture and industry was one goat and a ox drawn plow. Items were made by local guys in the village. The next step was small cottage industries and chieftains / priests receiving a part of the agricultural products the whole community produced. Then guilds and manufacturing groups appeared – larger farms, with irrigation and hired or pressed labor. Industrial revolution brought the tractor and larger plows. Nitrate fertilizer and harvesting machines, Factories producing goods. Fields get larger , work force specializes and buys food in supermarkets..population grows…more food needed
        Would a farm planet or an agricultural world be so far fetched? Or a place with factories producing one line of products only?

        • John Hawkins

          We do have farming towns and fishing towns, farming planets doesn’t seem that unreasonable. Maybe a planet with a high level of nutrients in the soil? Still, it’s not sensible to say that it’s only farming, as Mark said, you still need to supply machines and consumer goods. Economies form in niches, and a niche as huge as the entirety of consumerism would never stay empty for long.

          • The farming and fishing communities you mention do not produce the tractors or boats, or nets or even the seed or fertilizer. It’s being produced in other special communities, such as cities with factories. The workers in the factories don’t farm or fish but buy the produce and the food in supermarkets, processed yet in other factories.
            What makes it work is trucks, trains, ships and the whole schebang called logistics and distribution. An entire industry on its own btw.
            In my universe. freighters are big (very big) and that makes the cost per ton transported reasonably affordable to have specialized planets.
            The Agra robots are not made on the farm planets, neither are many other consumer goods.

  • Pablo Mendes question

    A civilization that is 1 Billion years old may have entire different concepts and morals than us.

    For example could the Billiontilas not just be perceived as evil because their actions are not understood?

    for example a sentient ant .

    How would it describe a boy burning them with a magnifying glass?

    The ant would certainly describe the boy as evil. While the society the boy belongs to,thinks of him as an innocent kid playing. Not even a thought wasted on the ant.

    How would you describe the motivations of God?

    Sending floods and fire to destroy most of creation? Is God evil or good or simply beyond our grasp of realization?

    Imagine a civilization that continuously evolves over a billion years. Do you know the entire concept of Homo Sapiens isn’t around that long?

    Our perceptions of morals and ethics have certainly evolved for lets say changed from the early cave men. The entire concepts of all world religions including atheism , had to be discovered and place their influence on people.

    Why was it perfectly acceptable to burn a witch or a heretic or behead an American in the name of religion and now it is seen as barbaric and unacceptable?

    Now expand this concept of moral and ethic evolution across 1 billion years and you will have a result no one of us could understand.

    Could you explain to a Viking why his behavior would not be acceptable in let’s say a big office of today?

    Or perhaps explain to a stoneage man how a light bulb works, let alone a computer or a nuclear plant?

    I think no matter what Paulo will try as an explanation would be flavored by our perception of morals and ethics. Why not simply leave it a mystery

    And explain that whatever motivates them to sterilize lesser life forms is evil from the perspective of the destroyed life form but perhaps beneficial and borne out of necessities never even considered .

    A bacteria would never condone oral hygiene and call mouthwash an evil invention (kills 99 % of all germs) Yet the benefits of a clean mouth would be lost to that colony of bacteria under your tongue.

    The development gap between a 10,000 year society and a 1,000,000,000 year old society would be so profound different .

    I doubt we would compete with them for food, space or any other requirements we would consider necessary or motivators for violent action and war.

    I doubt you could explain the needs and motivations of a corporation to a three year old, in terms the child could comprehend.

    Either make the species or civilization less advanced and thus more understandable or simply state :

    “They came and they exterminated bilions, yet all attempts to communicate failed .When contact was finally made, the explanation given was “The Garum seeks the Igohom therefore all nuff must be netoled.”

    Made perfectly sense to the Billionite but puzzled the most advanced thinkers until the end when Graum finally nuffed and all humankind was exterminated.

  • And finally I am back wearing a skirt. These Grumpy Pants made my behind look fat..

    • John H Reiher Jr

      Sorry if I stretched them out first. The grumpy pants are a sort of a badge of (dis)honor for us!

      • I am afraid neither one of us are completely of the hook. The next topic will come around, perhaps with a scientific or logical issue, Where neither of us can possibly be silent….and we will get that “badge of honor” back ..I have no doubt

  • Paulo R. Mendes

    I think I add this Pod Cast page to my Bookmarks. It is full of good ideas for sci-fi settings. 🙂

  • michael pulleine

    have you not heard of the goliath corporation? now that is an evil empire of evilness!