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Iím never stuck for an answer

1/07/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

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...even if Iím not always aware of it at the time. With Science Fiction, thatís a rather crucial element that divides it from fantasy. After all, for those who are new and those who forgot, my definition of SF is defining a rule structure, staying within it and not cheating the reader of a solution that they might work out for themselves.

Hello everyone

Iím very rarely stuck for an answer to anything asked of me. I might have to ponder on something where there are multiple solutions but thatís to choose the appropriate and best reply. Sometimes, I have an answer even before I know the question and hadnít really thought about it. Such is the effect of a multi-ordinal mind but you can blame a background in General Semantics for that. As an editor, Iím also supposed to be a problem-solver. I think thatís on my CV somewhere.

Take my short story last month, ĎPrivate Enoughí, and the boss asking in the SFC newsletter how could a prison exist that could house the entire population of thw world to hide one manís secret? Had I made a mistake? Did he anticipate I might turn it into an editorial point? Probably not the latter but it makes for a useful discussion editorial topical subject on just how much information should I or anyone give in a story and how much should be left to speculation by the reader? Thatís you reading here and who might have read it last month. Use the internal SFC search engine in case you missed it amongst all the other goodies last month.



With Science Fiction, thatís a rather crucial element that divides it from fantasy. After all, for those who are new and those who forgot, my definition of SF is defining a rule structure, staying within it and not cheating the reader of a solution that they might work out for themselves. Have I actually broken that rule by not including how this was done last month?

In this particular instance, I left the solution more open-ended. I mean, in our reality it would be a bit difficult to put everyone in jail but this is a Science Fiction website, so I must have seen a solution to see what might have happened had it been possible. All Iím guilty of is not disclosing how it could be done simply because it wasnít needed for my story which was really the absurdity of putting everyone in jail to keep a particular secret. It just doesnít work in practice, does it? Especially with a divergent set of different laws across the world.

As for a story, you donít always have to explain everything to make a point. Itís more a question of showing the extreme and then put a twist in the tale than worry about every detail. Then again, had I made a mistake? I mean, my boss is right in a way as prisons canít possibly be big enough to house an entire population of a city, let alone a town or even that of a world. Wouldnít it be simpler to just put the man in a room or cell of his own and say, ĎThatís your privacy sorted, now leave us alone to get in with something that is more important than your squalid secret that is important only to you.í Even so, that doesnít give an answer for such an impracticability of jailing a population, does it? But hey, Iím a problem solver, letís see if I have one.

Thereís one very obvious one. Who said this was happening on Earth or even if the two displayed characters were human? If they were, say, alien termites, a termite prison wouldnít be a problem. All a matter of scale. If thatís too alien and I at no point determined the species or if they would have a similar problem, letís stay with humans and a practical solution that would fit with approximately two-metre tall bipeds. Who says that a colonised city or world would have a big population or a prison empty enough but with the potential to house everyone after a drunken night with not too many prisoners but made for the time when there would be a need to lock the majority up?

A multiple choice solution but as this is also Science Fiction website, a little bit of lateral thinking is expected and hopefully, like with any puzzle, something there for the reader to speculate would I have an answer or left for you to come up with an answer? I didnít even really need much beyond that to make the point of the story possible nor did I have to put in any cheat.

With short stories, itís possible to leave a story up in the air and let the reader speculate what happens next, although in that respect, I laid that out with the plans of the criminals being released for time served and who didnít want their prison full of otherwise innocent people. Iíve left stories up in the air, so to speak, in the past as well as long-term readers here might have noticed. If written well, itís possible to guide readers in one particular direction so they draw the same conclusion without having to give every last detail. I didnít need to worry too much about how big the prison population was, just the effect of having everyone locked up to fulfil one personís misguided privacy. No need to even say what it was just what that was as that makes the story flexible for any shenanigans.

Public persona and privy are a weird mix at the best of times and as far as I know, I think at the time of writing this editorial in June 2011, am the only person to write a story on the potential problems of the subject. Personally, I liked the response of the people of our reality and made such things a Spartacus moment making naming anyone and their secret a Spartacus moment and impossible to hide or arrest all the people who pronounced it over the Internet. One can only hope that this will happen again until this aspect of the European Human Rights Act be sorted so the wealthy canít abuse this law to hide infidelity purely because they have the money and the lawyers. This was NOT why they law was put there in the first place!!!

As a lateral thinker, I could still come up with different solutions or any story I write. Does it make me a better thinker or you a lesser thinker for not coming up with alternative solutions? Iím not sure. I think, if anything, writers tie up loose ends too much these days so you donít have to stretch your grey matter too much beyond the happy or not so happy ending. If anything, for the writer, this makes for a decent safety net and theyíve covered all option and not cheated the reader. However, it doesnít mean the odd story like mine canít be used as well.

The whole point of the tale was to show the impracticality of the super-injunctions using a flaw in the European Human Rights Act as currently practiced in the UK. If enough people know someoneís seedy secret and announce it, as was done recently on Google, then it becomes a Spartacus moment and impossible for it to police. After all, you canít lock up everyone and as my story pointed out, you canít time who will get out first and decide enough is enough. Of course, as my story pointed out, if you did lock up everyone, you have no guarantee who will get out first and what their actions might be to you which is sorta poetic justice after the fact.

The whole point of laws in the first place is that there has to be some consensus in their use. There are certain crimes, like murder and rape, where the perpetuators are a danger to everyone and need to be imprisoned for public safety. Some laws are impossible to attempt. Anyone old enough out there to remember an early British Tory Government wanting to forbid copying off the television with video recorders and being told by the police it would be impossible to enforce with the number of machines already available and in use? You canít police the impossible. The same also applies to super-injunctions and the sooner this is resolved the better.

Thank you, take care, good night and watch your step just in case any law becomes enforceable across the world.

Geoff Willmetts
editor: SFCrowsnest.co.uk

A Zen thought:If you stand outside long enough it will surely rain.

Observation:Would a vegetarian look at a triffid as being a nice meal?

What did the man say at the open door?
No catch.

Anyone interested in reviewing books for me, especially fantasy as we have a surfeit of books, and lives in the UK should contact me through the normal channels. Iím always recruiting and details are through a link on the top of the SFC main page and in the SFC Forum.

PPS Donít forget to join on in the new SFCrowsnest Forum. Join up and express your thoughts in leaving typed words that make sentences. Iíve noticed many of you are joining up but the Forum isnít supposed to be a passive site. Remember the editorial above. Iím not advocating a vow of silence. Are you going to be a lurker or a typer??!! Remember the editorial above, passivity is for sheep not a sentient species. Write something and others will respond. Equally, you could just be a guest and look around but the more the merrier when you have something to say. We havenít been spammed since inception with this new version now so you should feel safe to come and communicate on anything Science Fiction. Iím dying to see you people fill in the survey polls. They wonít bite yíknow and are active when you sign in and you must be dying to find out why I consider Element Lad the most powerful Legionnaire. Itís postponed another month due to my knee hitting the ground after slipping on some ice and canít get in the attic to check some vital information.

Speaking of the Forum, if you want up-to-date info of book signings and such, have a peak. You donít have to sign up to have a look as to when these things are happening and Iíve yet to hear of a flash crowd turning up for such things but thereís always the first time. Weíre not libel if you do such a thing, just to keep my boss happy.

Donít forget, Iím always on the lookout for new reviewers as well as articles, interviews and stories and after some recent changes, letís see if the full details about that appears below. If they donít then look in the new Forum or on the link line at the top of the main page. For potential book reviewers in the UK, itís a good way to keep up your reading habit and show you can write. There are detail links scattered over the website and on the forum. If you donít think youíre up to scratch, youíll discover why Iím the dutch uncle.

Another real Zen thought but this time for potential writers: If you can express an opinion independently of others and arenít likely to bend to the masses then you might show potential as a writer.

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The all-new SFcrowsnest is now running at www.SFcrowsnest.org.uk. This is now the archive for pre-2012 content. Nothing new is being posted here.

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