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Friday, June 17, 2011

The Friday Challenge — 6/17/2011

This week in The Friday Challenge:

Bruce Bethke gives Ma & Pa Kettle a belated apology, and learns how helpful the staff at his local B&N can really be. • Join the discussion...

Henry Vogel dares us all to follow through with the next logical step from the "big dream." (For xdpaul, that involves planning the most aduacious identity theft in history.) • Join the discussion...

Daniel Eness tells a joke. So far, nobody gets it. • Join the discussion...

Bruce Bethke analyzes CSI, and does not mourn the death of a single furry. • Join the discussion...

Allan Davis revisits his past NaNoWriMo experiences, and psyches himself up for the next one. • Join the discussion...

Bruce Bethke calls for brainstorming action. Apparently when geeks fail to think, things break. • Join the discussion...

Triton wins the Childhood's Lend (of an Idea or Two...) challenge, and narrowly avoids getting hauled away by his own Stormtrooper Knights. • Join the discussion...

All this and more, as Smile Power Day causes all sorts of people to wonder about the naughty things their neighbors have been doing, and the inmates discuss the view from their respective places in the asylum.

Ernest T. Scribbler's Unbeskorrnt Mnebeholiths: A Fanzine of Impromulgable Proportions

As of the deadline for our current challenge, we have received the following entries (listed in their order of appearance within Files > Friday Challenge 2011-06-17 ):

  • “Fanfic for the Fanzine” by Arisia

  • “Flexus Emergency” by xdpaul

  • “Jiggle Juice and Cleavage” by xdpaul

  • “Lost Time” (a.k.a. “Perils of the Internet”) by Ryan J

An enthusiastic “Huzzah” to all who have (bravely!) entered! The judges are now considering your submissions. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 19 June 2011.

Clarke's Third Law

And now it is time for this week's Friday Challenge, courtesy of Triton:

The genre of science fiction is filled with stories about strange technologies, whether they be old, new, alien, or something else entirely. The various gadgets and doo-dads are often really cool, though perhaps not always scientifically realistic. Oftentimes, the characters in the story take the stuff for granted, as if a teleportation device was no more life-altering than a musical wristwatch.

Sometimes, though, the characters don't play nice. One will occasionally come across a tale where the ordinary folk aren't quite comfortable with Dr. Genius and his new whiz-bang device. A common result is for the peasants, after reaching a suitable level of fear and hysteria, to take to their torches and pitchforks and run the good doctor out of the village. This phenomenon has been efficiently described by Arthur C. Clarke and is known as his Third Law:

Any sufficiently advanced technology
is indistinguishable from magic.

There are numerous examples of this kind of behavior in fiction. Television, in particular, is ripe with this stuff. Stargate: SG-1 practically did it every week - whenever the team arrived on some new world, the locals were almost always some pre-industrial society who took the space-faring humans for gods or witches or something. One could count on seeing this attitude from the human aliens almost as reliably as one could count on Colonel O'Neill reminding everyone around him, at least once per episode, that he was as smart as a box of rocks.

A more creative example of Clarke's Third Law would be the Technomages from Babylon 5. These are men who use technology to simulate magic. What makes this example interesting is that the Technomages are not the major characters; Babylon 5 flips the script a bit here, putting the stars of the show in the role of the relative simpletons and having the technologists play an incidental role in the overall story arc. Also, even though everyone knows that the Technomages are using technology, and not actual magic, the fact remains that they often respond to the “spells” as if they were magic, exhibiting the usual superstition-tinged emotions. Once again, Babylon 5 kicks it up a notch.

I should also point out that, sadly, Clarke's Third Law is a real-world phenomenon, not just some literary device. Some primitive peoples in third-world areas, the so-called “cargo cults”, have been known to build straw replicas of airplanes and other such idols in the hopes of currying enough favor with the gods (or ancestral spirits, or whoever) so that another crate of food and equipment might fall from the sky. For them, modern aviation is indistinguishable from the supernatural.

And it's not just the Stone Age tribes that act like this; people from advanced societies can succumb, too. Remember the Large Hadron Collider? In the days prior to its activation, there were some reasonably intelligent people from first-world nations who were certain that the LHC was going to destroy the earth, if not the entire universe. Some theories even included a religious aspect (like time-traveling demons coming to the earth from an alternate universe through wormholes created by the LHC). There were all sorts of strange predictions floating around at the time. Needless to say, catastrophe failed to materialize.

So that's this week's topic. Write a story that is based upon, or at least incorporates, Clarke's Third Law. This is a weekly challenge, so I'm setting a limit of 2000 words, but it's not a flash fiction challenge, so I'm setting a minimum of 500 words. So grab your torch and your pitchfork and show me something really cool!

Anyone can enter, except for Triton. You may enter as many times as you wish, but each entry must be independent of the others. You are not allowed to supply a more lengthy Technomage-tale in 2000-word chunks, and you are not allowed to build on anyone else's setup.

Everyone is asked to vote, and to say a few words about what they liked, and why. Or to say a few words about what they disliked, as the case may be; by submitting an entry, you implicitly agree to accept criticism, because there will probably be some handed out, and no one is immune. When voting, please rank a work as either “0” (not so good), “1” (not as bad), “2” (could have been better) or “3” (pretty good stuff!). If you give either a “0” or “3” vote, feel free to argue in support of your reasoning.

Don't like the negativity? Feel free to think of the levels as “0” (Not bad for a first attempt), “1” (Right on!), “2” (Holy cow, I wanna buy this now...) or “3” (Sweet mother of God, how did you write something this awesome?!!). The point is to clearly differentiate, and rank according to your own preference.

For the purposes of this challenge Triton will be serving as Ye Olde High Marker, Voluntarily Walking th' Plank.

As of now, we are playing by the loosely enforced and slightly modified rules of The Friday Challenge. All entries are due by 6 AM Eastern time on the morning of Friday, 24 June May 2011. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 26 June 2011.

The Thing without a Name (A Greater Challenge!)

Finally, as a reminder, there are three weeks of writing time left in our current Greater Challenge:

A little over a year ago, our founder said, "One of my deeply held beliefs is that science fiction is merely horror with an engineering degree, and that a lot of the "classic" stories of the genre are memorable not for their SF stage dressings, but for the emotional impact of their horrific stories."

We never really did anything with that, did we?

Okay, here is your chance! Think about the all things that frighten you. Think about the monsters under the bed. Think about the scary things that dwell deep down... and then show us how they tick. You can have up to 7,500 words to frighten me as much as possible. Your entry must be at least 1,000 words for me to even consider it.

For this challenge, I only want complete stories. If it's a beautiful fragment, but not convincing as a whole, it will be disqualified.

Anyone can enter. No exceptions. You may enter as many times as you wish, but each entry must be independent of the others. You are still not allowed to build on anyone else's setup... unless you receive their permission, and they agree to a collaborative effort.

All entries in this greater challenge are due by 6 AM Eastern time on the morning of Friday, 8 July 2011. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 24 July 2011. (That's approximately four three weeks in which to write, and two weeks in which to judge. Use your time well.)

Oh, there is one more thing... but it is the most important! Have fun. Always have fun.
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