The last time I made a thread with this title, I believe the topic description was "Give me some," and I was foundering while trying to plot out early chapter 3 of Anathema.
Ancient history aside, this time my purpose is very different. I wanted to discuss where it is that you draw your inspiration and influence as a plugin-maker/programmer/writer. What plot elements really get your gears spinning? How about ship design? Politics? Universe? General "feel"? Characters? I'll get mine out there, because I've got the writing bug bad right now, and to give an idea as to what sorts of things I mean by inspirational and influential, and to get the ball rolling conversation-wise.
It would be a crime if I didn't start with the Escape Velocity series. Escape Velocity found me back in 1996, and I was lucky it did. I played through pretty much blind, thinking the game culminated in the "T.A.G. – You're It!" mission, then discovering that you could join the Rebellion or the Confederation. The whole experience sandbox game with a driving narrative force was something completely new to me (I'd mostly played oldschool Mac games like Crystal Quest and Dark Castle and Sega Genesis up until this point). It even got me into editing, as my 5th grade brain struggled with the ResEdit templates and eventually settled for the unreliable EV Edit – and still had a blast.
Since then, I had a few brief flings with SF, but nothing that really held my attention. I met Ender's Game with a resounding "meh," read Dune in 6th grade (terrible decision), dabbled in Star Trek and Star Wars , and enjoyed StarCraft. In high school I found and devoured the Foundation Trilogy and the works of Heinlein, but never really drew anything from them – apart from occasionally trying to ram Psychohistory into my own plots and a brief and unhealthy flirtation with Heinlein's political sensibilities. But it wasn't until college that I found the works would really speak to the writer in me.
The Big Ones
One of two seminal pieces in my development. My dad had talked about Babylon 5 frequently, but I hadn't seen it, and as a high school student certainly couldn't afford to buy the series. I had to settle for having the plots explained to me over and over during long car trips, and then experiencing it to an extent through the fabulous B5 Escape Velocity: Override total conversion. Then, in college I learned about Hulu, and my life was forever and hyperbolically changed.
B5 was the story that convinced me that the SF genre was a relevant, genuine medium through which to explore not only question of morals (like Trek), but also questions of policy – while, importantly, supplying a riveting, epic, poignant story arc, powerful characters, and a look at various SF tropes from a perspective I'd never seen before. For example, I've seen two works that adequately, I feel, explore the ramifications of telepathy and/or telekinesis: Babylon 5 , and Second Foundation. What I took away from the series was a great appreciation for a story that "goes somewhere." It was obvious that JMS wrote the series with the narrative largely constructed, and with full knowledge of the messages he wanted the story to convey. And whether or not you knew it, the whole time, everything was pushing that narrative along and driving those messages. (Incidentally, the only other time I've gotten that same impression was from an anime called Haibane Renmei , but that's neither here nor there.)
Plot and themes aside, Babylon 5 has a lot to teach about the character arc. Having grown up with so much Asimov, I was under the impression that plot and character could be disintegrated. Not the case. You can have a stellar story without much character dynamism, but the story itself will usually suffer for it. The way that the characters (Kosh, Sheridan, G'Kar, Mollari, etc.) interact and drive J. Michael Straczynski's story-driven arc was an absolute joy for me. Those who have played Anathema can probably see a little bit of this influence; throughout the course of the early chapters, the main characters morphed from "people with names and attributes that I need to drive the plot" to, I hope, something more closely resembling dynamic, utterly human, beings.
As a final thought, Babylon 5 convinced me that even in a world of technological marvels, there's plenty of room for mystery and discovery. If I ever actually dedicate myself to telling a story of my own, I would want it to represent Babylon 5 above anything else, in drive and intention if not setting or message.
Second only to B5, but important for completely different reasons. Most importantly, just like Babylon 5 convinced me that SF was a legitimate way to tackle global politics and human nature, Mass Effect was above all the game that convinced me that video games, when done well, are every bit as powerful of a medium as novels or theatre – or perhaps even more so. Past that, which I feel doesn't need much elaboration, BioWare's fascination with the details of the universe they'd created (which at times borders on the obsessive) was truly inspirational. The planets were realistic and fully fleshed out. The aliens, while pretty thoroughly humanoid, were carefully realized. The technology was obviously well researched, didn't seem at all forced, and meshed wonderfully with the story. Sure, as a homage to '70s space opera there were tropes up the wazoo, but I felt most were done in the traditional BioWare fashion: begin with a framework of the familiar, then give every last aspect just enough of a twist to make it fresh and engaging. (Can you tell I'm a huge BioWare fanboy? Have been since Shattered Steel. Still have the CD.)
It's hard to encapsulate what I took away from ME at the end of the play, apart from the "gimme" of the legitimacy of the medium. Sure, it was refreshing and tied for my favorite game of all time (along with Morrowind , for the curious), but how did it influence me? I guess you could say it taught me that you can go both big and small and succeed. Less cryptically, (assuming enough time and money), you can create a world that is fully realized on both a minute and grand scale, and that level of dedication can take what would otherwise have been a great, if not groundbreaking, experience and turn it into a masterpiece. It also, much like Babylon 5 , taught me that even in a plot with an unreasoning, absolute evil, you can still have understandable, reasonable, and sometimes downright sympathetic antagonists (although we could talk all day about whether the Shadows count as an absolute evil, or if Saren qualifies as sympathetic). Last, but certainly not least, I learned just how crucial said antagonists are to a compelling story, even if said story would be able to move along just fine without them – a lesson I unfortunately learned too far into the writing of Anathema to leverage in any noticeable way. (Next time, guys!) In fact, I didn't play ME until a few years ago when I got my first Intel iMac, so Anathema was mostly written already, but it may have ended up being even more influential than Babylon 5 to my current "I'm not really sure what I'm going to do with this yet" project, Shadows of Terra.
Hyperion , by Dan Simmons
At the suggestion of someone on this forum (thank you, whoever you are; I honestly don't remember), I picked up Hyperion a few years back. This book is poetry. Probably one of the cleverest SF book I've ever read. Whereas Babylon 5 proved that there's room for mystery, Hyperion demonstrated that you can build an entire universe around it and still deliver a completely satisfying product (in my opinion, at least).
This is another that I have a hard time saying exactly what I took away from apart from the above. I may actually have to get back to you on that one. However, I can say that I picked up a voracious appetite for the "wheels within wheels" plot structure, which, in a round about way, brought about two central tenets of my own writing: there is always more to the story, and no one can ever comprehend the ramifications of their own actions. (And if Mass Effect 3 picks that up and runs with it like the series has done with every other modicum of an idea that's flashed through my head, that's it. I'm done.)
** Actually, I'm not that huge of a fan of Firefly. But I'll say this for it: it made me realize that there are some things I just suck at, and witty banter and character-driven charm are two of them. And accepting our weakness so we can shore them up or write around them is crucial in any endeavor.
The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. Le Guin, and the Riddle-master trilogy by Patricia McKillip
Whoa, hold on! Fantasy books?
Well, yeah. Fantasy books. Despite the fact that my favorite genre is SF, these are my two all-time favorite series. They're both high-fantasy adventure coming of age stories, but they're terribly different. Earthsea can be compared to Star Trek – while it's a continuous series, and you're following the same character through the duration, and the books are episodic in nature even if events of past stories crop up again and again. Each is a self-contained arc. Riddle-master , on the other hand, is more like Babylon 5. Yes, there are individual – if entangled – plots, but the whole time there's one defining narrative direction and everything else serves to advance it.
But the real reason I love these books to death is their language. Essentially, they taught me how to write. They are what shook me out of my comfortable school-essay-writing voice and forced me to take my first tentative steps into the world of writing like a person instead of writing like a textbook. (Don't take my forum posts to mean anything; for some reason I go back into college mode when I post anything online.) Both Le Guin and McKillip are masterful practitioners of the English language, and their evocative language can make even the mundane mesmerizing. Which is good, because frankly both series get off to really slow starts. That they, to me, never seem slow or laborious is testament to their respective author's skill.
The works of Carl Gustav Jung
(I'm taking a bit of a risk here; I don't want this thread to turn into a discussion on Jungian psychology, but he's too important to leave out.)
OK, now I'm going way out there. But honestly, I have never encountered a body of work that, in my opinion, better encapsulates and describes the psychological and social condition of humankind than Jung's. Clinically, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of practicality to his methods, but in terms of characterizing what makes us tick, he's a master. If you can wrap your head around what he's saying, that is; he's one of the most abstract, nigh-incomprehensible writers I've ever endeavored to read.
So how does that fit into inspiration for fiction writing? Well, maybe not inspiration as such, but he's certainly been influential. My greatest joy in writing is to explore the political and sociological realities that we face, not as a particular generation, but as a species. And Jung gives a pretty robust and staggeringly comprehensive framework for your conjectures. Shadows of Terra, so far, is essentially an exploration of social trends through the matrix of Jungian thought, to the point where I've jokingly referred to it as "Jung in Space." (Here's a tidbit: "Shadows of Terra" is a double entendre.)
I'm sure there are some major works I'm omitting, but that's all I'm coming to me for now. I'd love to see people's thoughts on the above and what community members draw on. Assuming anyone made it all the way through 4 pages of me babbling about my favorite TV shows.