Top 5 Things I Want to See in Future Fiction

Everyone has their own preference for the kind of entertainment they like best, whether it’s watching giant robots slug it out in anime, falling in love with the male lead in a romantic comedy, enjoying some Shakespearean revival, or losing yourself in a world of flashing lights and dubstep. We know what we like and what we’d probably enjoy seeing in the future.

That being said, here are the top 5 things that I’d love see in the future in fiction, whether they’re in a book, TV show, movie, or video game.

5. Genuine Cyberpunk

I’m sure some of my readers will get sick of me harping on about cyberpunk, but to be fair, that’s only because reading Neuromancer had such an impact on me years ago. Still, there is something about the increasing integration of human beings and technology that fascinates the hell out of me. And it’s not as unusual as you’d think. How many of us don’t think of our smartphone as an extension of our brains?

However, most science fiction will find ways of keeping us separate from our technology. We’ll have cooler cars and faster download times, but our visions of the future don’t seem to allow for full-body medical sensor networks or a kind of electronic telepathy achieved through brain implants. Yet many engineers will tell you we’re already moving in that direction, so it baffles me that we’re not telling more of those stories.

Good Example(s) to Consider: Ghost in the Shell (movie and TV show sequels)

4. A More Serious Look at Religion

Historically, religion was a common theme throughout literature and plays, but in mainstream media, it’s more of an afterthought. When it does get mentioned, the use of religion tends to fall into one of three areas:

a) Faith is portrayed as a cheap excuse for vile behavior by fanatics, corrupt clergy, and fringe lunatics

b) A protagonist touches on a struggle with faith or a religious background, but it’s usually forgotten in favor of the story’s actual conflict

c) Religion is explored in inspirational literature, which often follows the inevitable plot of a non-believing protagonist coming to accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior and becoming a Biblical literalist out of nowhere

Unfortunately, we know a lot about the anti-science creed of many devout people thanks to popular media. As a science-friendly Christian, I’d like to see more sympathetic views of religion in fiction, whether it’s someone whose faith informs their morality as a detective or who takes time to help out at a soup kitchen when the bullets aren’t flying. It’d be nice if people of faith weren’t automatically treated as backward-thinking and hostile just because we haven’t let go of our sense of mythology.

Good Example(s) to Consider: “Arrow of Time” (Numb3rs episode), “Two Cathedrals” (The West Wing episode)

3. Mythology Meets the Modern Day

Ask most people and they’ll tell you all the cliches about vampires, werewolves, and leprechauns. And to be fair, a lot of what we know about these mythological creatures has been watered down from the original legends. We’ve had famous creatures redesigned for popular consumption, but I think there’s a whole mountain of myths that we haven’t tapped yet.

I guess what I’m aiming at is to see more mythology explored in modern-day fiction, much like urban fantasy usually does. We know about the sexy Anne Rice vampires, but what about the bloated corpses of Romanian folklore? Or how about the headless horseman known as the dullahan? Or the Sidhe? Or the Cat Sìth? Any research into their folklore will yield a thousand new ideas for storytelling, especially if we want to see how these monsters and mischievous spirits can adapt to life in the big city.

Good Example(s) to Consider: The phouka and fairies in War for the Oaks, the Guides in Gunnerkrigg Court, Celty from Durarara!!

2. A Genuine Latino Protagonist

You’d think that, being in Southern California, Hollywood would have no shortage of quality Latino and Latina actors, yet the majority of leading roles are mostly given over to ethnically white actors. I don’t necessarily judge a film or TV show by the race of the lead role, but I do judge them by the portrayal of certain Latin stereotypes, whether it’s gang bangers, drug smugglers, farm laborers, or the occasional sassy Latina secretary.

Much like how the inclusion of African- and Asian-Americans in lead roles meant seeing African- and Asian-Americans as mainstream, the same standard should apply to people of Latino descent. Unfortunately, most Latino protagonists only show up in stories about Mexico or early 19th-century California. It’d be nice to see someone look at Latino culture and make an effort to create a well-rounded lead character based on that instead of reinforcing more stereotypes. After all, we’ve proven it’s possible to reinvent a stock British character like Dr. Watson using Asian actress Lucy Liu in Elementary.

Good Example(s) to Consider: Matt Santos (played by Jimmy Smits) in The West Wing

1. More Female Lead Characters

I’ve touched on this matter in another editorial I did on gender writing, but the point remains the same: I find certain female protagonists more interesting than some the cliche male ones we keep getting. When I’m watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I get more interested in the struggles that Lisbeth Salander faces instead of identifying with the aging journalist Mikael. I’d rather follow Chell from Portal than John-117 from Halo (a blasphemy in the gaming world, I know). Even in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, it’s the women who get more interesting and active storylines, while the men sit around and whine.

Of course, there’s always that double standard about female protagonists. We allow male leads to range from dashing and handsome to overweight and quirky, but any female lead has to be good-looking and fit. We demand a sex symbol more than a human being in that regard. If we’re going to make any progress, then we need to look beyond the superficial and get down to why this protagonist is interesting and why we should be following her story in the first place.

In other words, what we demand from every protagonist ever.

Good Example(s) to Consider: Kim Ross in Dresden Codak, Annie and Kat in Gunnerkrigg Court


I don’t consider these attributes set in stone. The thing about finding something new to enjoy in a story is that it’s always unexpected. There’s no guarantee that I really would like, say, a live-action cyberpunk film with a religious subplot and a Latina vampire hunter (though, come on, how awesome would that be?). But seeing Hollywood and network TV and big game developers take a chance on these storylines would certainly draw my attention, if not my enthusiasm.

If my readers have their own ideas about characters or stories they’d like to see more of, feel free to talk about it in the comments below. Your participation is, as ever, most appreciated.

Flash Fiction: “Street Saints”

I’m aware how controversial organized religion can be, even in general terms.  Well, despite being a devout believer myself, I can’t help but add some fuel to that holy fire with a short “theopunk” story.

Street Saints, by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 1,032

Silvio pressed his forehead to the ground in reverence.  “Thy will be done, Most High Majesty.”

From behind, he heard a triple knock on the door.  As he got up, Silvio closed the small altar.  He went to the door and slid the peephole open.

“Hey, pater, I need sanctuary,” Reuben called out.  He rolled his eyes and shook a black pouch at the peephole.  “Like right now.  Guard’s just around the corner.”

Silvio unbolted the door to his cell and let him in.  The acolyte entered, clutching the pouch by his belt.  He went straight for the concealed altar while Silvio locked the door and went over to his humble stove, where the tea had started to boil.

“Was there any trouble?” asked the pater.  He poured the tea into a pair of ceramic cups and listened to Reuben setting up in front of the altar.

The acolyte laughed.  “Trouble?  No, not at all.  I think Horatio might end up excommunicated, though.  He said he’d keep the Vice Watch busy while I got out.”  He fell silent, focusing on the glass bottles he was setting out and the liquids he mixed in them.  “If they don’t know he had raw carmot by now, they will soon enough.”

It took another minute for the tea to brew.  As Silvio drank, he looked over the display on the altar.  A simple table under a white cloth, with the Holy Visage emblazoned on the wall above.  Two red wax candles burning.  And in between the candles, a bowl of dark orange liquid.  Carmot mixed with cheap elixir and a few drops of sacramental wine.

“Getting caught with carmot can only get you excommunicated,” Silvio murmured.  “Transubstantiation is worse.  A life sentence in the oubliette.  And only two people in the history of the Ecumene ever tried it.”

Reuben frowned at the concoction in his bowl.  “But it’s got to be worth it.  True beatific vision.  Out in the open, you know?”

The pater nodded and passed him a cup of tea.  They shared a quiet toast and watched as the bowl’s contents began to swirl and bubble on their own.

One more day until the Theophany.

An hour after sunrise, the streets of Roma Nova were filled with white and gold banners.  Somber-faced paters in red vestments formed a vanguard near the main procession, leading scores of the Faithful to the front steps of the Solar Temple.  The sky was clear and the air was heavy with the scent of incense.

“Great is Our God!” the paters chanted.

And Holy is His Name!” the faithful responded.

“Holiest of Holies!”

Most High Majesty!”

And so the chanting continued as all gathered in front of the temple.  The Hierophant stood behind the altar with his arms raised to heaven.  His attendants were busy adjusting the diadem on his brow and the hem of his robe.

“Through this mortal shell, His Majesty of Heaven speaks!” the Hierophant thundered.  His lips were coated with a layer of angel’s tongue, the mystic balm used by the prophets of old to raise their voices to the crowds.  “Behind the veil of this earth, the Light of Heaven shines eternally!  And though the Ecumene is fleeting, it is also the Body of God Himself!”

Hail, Most High Majesty!” the faithful cheered.

Normally, at this point in the rite, the Hierophant would recite one of the sacred mysteries and apply it to a major issue of the day.  But he was concerned.  Reports had surfaced of carmot being sold in the streets and young men becoming secret apostates.  The Vice Watch believed that a group might attack the faithful with ghouls summoned from Tartarus.  The Hierophant took them at their word and had rewritten the ceremony script to be short and succinct.

Let the fools try an attack; they would find the crowds gone and the Temple Guard lying in wait.

“Your Majesty be blessed as You have blessed us,” the Hierophant continued.  He took up the pitcher of sacramental wine and began to pour it into the chalice.  “Let us share in Your Glory and be counted as Your Children.  Let us hear from Your Own Voice—”

He froze.  It didn’t occur to him until right after he had poured the wine into the chalice.  Now he saw what was wrong.

The inside of the chalice had been coated with a dark orange fluid.  Now that the wine had mixed with carmot, an alchemical reaction was occurring.  The Hierophant stepped back from the altar as a plume of thick white smoke and heat erupted from within the cup.  He heard the Faithful stir with excitement as the smoke spread out over the altar and down the temple steps.

And then, deep within his bones, he heard a voice from within the smoke.

PEACE BE UNTO YOU, MY CHILDREN.  AS YOU HAVE ASKED, SO NOW WILL I ANSWER.

Hail, hail!” the crowds cheered.  The Hierophant trembled in fear—and not just in fear of his God.

THIS DAY IS SACRED UNTO ME, BUT YOU HAVE MADE IT ANOTHER CUSTOM.  I GAVE THIS CITY TO YOUR FOREFATHERS THAT YOU MIGHT SHARE MY JOY, BUT YOU HAVE MADE MY CITY A PLACE WITHOUT LAUGHTER.

The crowds fell silent.  No one stirred, not even the Vice Watch.  How could they?  They’d failed to stop this illegal theophany.

LET THE TRUTH OF THE ECUMENE BE KNOWN THROUGHOUT THE LAND.  YOUR GOD IS DEAF TO THOSE WITHOUT JOY IN THEIR HEARTS AND IN THEIR DEEDS.  SO HAVE I SPOKEN!

Slowly, the smoke cleared and the light faded.  The air was still ringing from the divine Voice that had cut through their ears and minds.

The Hierophant fell onto his knees.  He distantly heard the clamor of the masses and the few paters trying to hold them back with futile words.  A few of them, though, were probably stirring up the crowds to revolt.  He knew the Vice Watch would try to round up any apostates, but there was no point in trying.

A schism was inevitable.  The Ecumene would surely fall apart.  After centuries of pious rule, the Voice of God had finally broken through.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Only The Devil Knows What This Story’s About: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita (cover)
Copyright © 1967 by The Estate of Mikhail Bulgakov.

Note: This review was written a while back on Goodreads, but I’m reprinting it here for my usual audience’s benefit.

Mikhail Bulgakov is not a Russian writer you’ve probably heard of, not like Tolstoy or Dostoevsky.  But he is notable for being a Russian novelist whose main work, a magic realism story about the Devil wreaking havoc on the lives of ordinary Soviet citizens, was banned in the USSR.  And besides that, it’s a story that features a black tomcat who drinks vodka and plays tricks on people.

In all honesty, that second line might have had more of an influence on me than the first (I’m a sucker for cats these days).

The Master and Margarita is the story about a series of strange occurrences in Soviet Moscow, when a foreigner named Professor Woland and his retinue arrive to play tricks and sow chaos wherever they go.  This Woland, however, is no mere mortal, but Satan himself in disguise.  He seduces away a mortal woman named Margarita from her lover–a poor writer who later goes by “The Master”–and uses her to seduce others on his behalf and embarrass many respectable citizens with her charms and frequent nudity.  And yet it’s Margarita who proves to be essential to resolving the plot–her love for the Master is what saves her, as does her sympathy for other human beings.

Reading The Master and Margarita requires some mental gymnastics and more than a little patience for Western readers, but it isn’t a bad novel. I don’t think it’s the best thing ever, but it has some spirit if nothing else.  The key thing to remember is that this is a story that pokes fun at the way ordinary citizens and authority figures think when things go wrong. Its use of slapstick is pretty good, bringing sheer chaos and turning over assumptions in every corner of Moscow. It’s Bulgakov’s jab at Soviet discipline and rationalism, using a Satanic ensemble of tricksters to elude the authorities and turn everyone hysterical.

The central tension in this novel is the conflict between the materialism of everyday Russia and the supernatural intervention of the Devil and his assistants. While the State is trying to strip away religion and superstition, Bulgakov brings it back into vogue by making the Devil a main character and taking frequent “flashbacks” to Pontius Pilate and the last days of Christ. I actually like the passages that touch on this tension of faith versus rationalism. However, the story at times becomes an endurance contest of how many more demonic tricks and cons can be pulled before the end of the book. As good as the slapstick can get, it does get a little tiring and holds the plot back.

I’d recommend this story if you want to know a little more about 1930s Russia and enjoy some light Soviet satire. But if you’re not a patient reader, you might find yourself drifting away from the central theme.

The Master and Margarita is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can also get the paperback edition from Book Soup, the largest independent bookstore chain in Hollywood.

Bibliography: Bulgakov, Mikhail.  The Master and Margarita.  Trans. Mirra Ginsburg.  New York: Grove Press, 1967 (1997 renewal).

Cylons, Survivors, and Saviors: The Reimagining of Battlestar Galactica

Title card for Battlestar Galactica (2003).

If you grew up in the late Seventies, you might remember an old sci-fi TV show called Battlestar Galactica.  And if you’ve watched the Sci-Fi Channel during the last six years, you’ve probably heard about the reimagining of Battlestar Galactica by Ron Moore.

This franchise is a major staple of the modern sci-fi fandom.  While I’ve no doubt the original show has its merits, I’ve never actually seen it, so I’ll just talk about the premise of the 2004 reimagined series.

To sum it up, this is a science fiction story with the trappings of a fantasy. Human beings are traveling through space toward a mythical planet called Earth, while trying to survive an uprising from a race of sentient androids called the Cylons.  It’s typical sci-fi fare so far, but when you get into the story itself, all these spiritual and psychological elements keep popping up.  The human beings have a civilization called the Twelve Colonies of Kobol, the Cylons are fighting a war in the name of their One True God, and the whole journey through space is just one big Exodus narrative.

For all the ups and downs this show has taken, it does raise a lot of good issues like the concept of identity (given the Cylons who can impersonate human beings), the struggle to maintain one’s values in the face of annihilation (or to reject them and merely survive at any cost), and just what religion should be in a time of war (Fundamentalists v. Healthy Skeptics).

There are also a lot of memorable characters, thanks to the great cast in this show.  You’ll admire the leadership of Adama, you’ll despise but secretly root for the self-interested Gaius Baltar, and you’ll get whiplash in trying to figure out just how malevolent some Cylons truly are.  And despite what some may say about the series finale, I really think everyone who had a major storyline got a decent ending.

Battlestar Galactica is an excellent drama and adventure, with conflict that never lets up.  And if you’re interested in a more domestic but no less gripping drama, then I recommend you check out its prequel series, Caprica, which chronicles the rise of the Adama family and the Cylons.

Bibliography: Battlestar Galactica (TV series).  Created by Ronald D. Moore and Glen A. Larson.  Developed by Ronald D. Moore and David Eick.  Sci Fi Network.  October 18, 2004 – March 24, 2009.