Saturday, 6 October 2012

Science Fiction and Superheroes

Just got back from this event at Morley Town Hall as part of the Morley Literature Festival.

'When Superman landed on our planet in 1938 to single-handedly birth the superhero genre, he came from the science fiction tradition.  But how far has superhero fiction moved from its science fiction roots?  And how have superhero stories fed back into SF?'

Comics writer David Hine and science fiction authors Adam Christopher, Samit Basu and Justina Robson explored the point at which two genres meet.

David Hine has been writing comics for several decades.  Previously he was an artist at Marvel and DC - Spiderman Noir, Batman.  He has recently self published his own comic 'The Bulletproof Coffin' with Image.

Samit Basu lives in Delhi and has written three fantasy novels, the first of which 'Turbulence' launches in the UK with Titan Books.

Adam Christopher is a novelist (Empire State, Seven Wonders) with his third book The Age Atomic due out in April 2013.  He will also be launching a comic in November.

Justina Robson has written nine novels since 1999 of sci-fi and fantasy (Quantum Gravity, Keeping It Real).  In Quantum Gravity her heroine gradually transforms into a superhero.

Each author gave a background in how they were hooked on comics.  David said that he only read
sci-fi and comic books, but in American comic sci-fi, superheroes was the dominant genre.  He was bothered about the vigilantism of it.  When he was asked to write for DC it was after a horror story he had written.  District X was for mutants who had rubbish powers, which he found much more interesting - mutants as outsiders rather than superheroes.  He no longer writes for Marvel, DC but his first independent book 'Storm Dogs' is real sci-fi and due out in November.

Superman started the superhero fiction genre, but books by others such as Warren Ellis had a lot of science in them and the greek and roman myths were soap operas with superheroes.

Samit considers himself a sci-fi writer, because sci-fi with superheroes gives him a sense of home.  He first discovered comics in England ten years ago when studying.  'Turbulence' is sci-fi superheroes with modern mythology.  He feels all sci-fi is a commentary on the world to reflect the social and political senses of that era.  It is more about who you are and what you do with your powers rather than how important the science is in the novel.

Justina feels a lot of pressure to be as accurate as possible to current science, to be creative without straying too far from it.  The aesthetic with sci-fi is to draw it back to reality whereas fantasy doesn't have to toe the line.  There is much debate about how seriously you should take your science in sci-fi on-line.

Adam is a Dr Who fan and his novels have a lot of sci-fi in them, but feels that sci-fi is not purely fiction about science.  To him, Star Wars is sci-fi, but others may argue it is fantasy.

David revealed that he is starting a space opera series in a couple of years, but it is not science as there is no manipulation of anti-gravity hard drives etc.  In the 1960s magazines like New Worlds began to redefine the whole genres as speculative fiction (SF), but David feels that all the most interesting fiction is the stuff that crosses the boundaries of genre.  He wrote Spawn for three years, but he sees that as a horror series.

Samit likes that it is amorphous and Justine believes that it allows more creative freedom if you don't have to stick to real science.  When asked if Twilight hurt the genre, she thought that it didn't, as there are some very exciting novels that have started in the paranormal romance genre.

David believes that 'The Bulletproof Coffin' is metafictional - where the superheroes enter the real world.  He admitted that some people were let down by it making sense, because he had tied it all up as some liked the madness of the ending normally.  He thinks it is impossible to make it into a film or a tv programme, which was a big mistake as his co-writer's ambitions are to have a hit movie or to draw Captain America!

When they were asked if they hoped to see their writing made into films, Samit admitted that he thinks it will happen at some time, but he has resigned himself to how different it will be from his book.  Justine also wants hers to be made into films and admitted that she was always a writer, but like the others, felt that she only admitted to people that she was, when someone had agreed to publish her work.  Samit said that after dropping out of business school in India to write novels, he only admitted it after two novels.  David said that even though he wrote sci-fi serials, he believed that in your head you are a writer, but you don't tell anyone until you are in print and get paid for it.  This is a big shift in your own psychology and it is wonderful once you feel that it is your vocation.  But he believes that a lot of great writers out there will never be published. 

David still draws because he writes in a visual medium, so does thumb nails for every page, but the artist doesn't get to see them because it would restrict their own vision.  It is not the same as writing a script.  For that there is dialogue and setting, but never what they are thinking or feeling.

Samit feels that writing your own comic is the best organic way of getting yourself to write more tightly - you only have so much time and space, so you have to eliminate anything superfluous and working to a monthly format is restrictive in that it forces you to be disciplined.

Adam felt that in a novel you have the room to explore feelings and thoughts.  Empire State was collaborative when he'd written the book as it was the first time a publisher had given permission for fan fiction.

It was felt that the edges of superhero fiction are blurring when films like Batman all tell his story in different ways and Heroes and Misfits stripped it down to people with strange powers in the real world.  Samit feels that action movies are all modern mythmaking.

The writers all would be happy if their stories were chosen for computer games.  David felt that The Darkness is a very successful game and that more people would be playing the game than reading the comic books now.  The dialogue is very good as it was written by Paul Jenkins who wrote The Darkness comic books for a while.  Shattered Dimensions, Spiderman Noir and Batman Imposter have been made into games, so David has experienced this before.  Justina said she thinks Quantum Gravity would be too much fun to be a game and revealed that the writer of Mass Effect 3 was fired because players were furious with the ending.  She feels that The Witcher was very good because it had 16/7 different endings, so it was more rewarding and akin to reading a comic book.  World of Warcraft and Star Wars have imaginative storytelling that makes you feel like what you do matters, but the game playing is not as good.  Samit feels it would be a most daunting experience as there are writers and designers.

When asked how difficult their roads were to publishing David said that getting a novel published is not a lot easier than comics.  Nowadays you can self-publish on the internet and get some feedback and you can turn out a slick magazine on your computer, but publishing the traditional way is always difficult.  Adam suggested that if you write a really good book and be really, really lucky, perseverance could see you through.

At the end of the event there was a book signing, but unfortunately as there was no provision for credit card payments, I could only purchase one book.  I chose Samit Basu's Turbulence, but I will be putting the others on my birthday/christmas list and I can't wait to read them.

For further information on these writers go to:





1 comment:

  1. It was an interesting talk and I look forward to hearing/reading what you think of Samit Basu's Turbulance once you've read it.