Monday, April 12, 2010

Art Imitates Life - Ideas for Speculative Fiction

Art: "Trip to Mars" by Fiery-Fire  
As I was looking for additional inspiration for writing, I came across the artwork featured at right, "Trip to Mars." It caught my attention for a number of reasons, one being pretty obvious - it has an uncanny resemblance to what one might see on an actual trip to Mars, as long as one is willing to look very close up.

Just in case you are not familiar with the images from the NASA (MER) Martian Exploration Rovers (still) operating on Mars, I provide here a close up of the "Martian blueberries" imaged by a rover. These are small spherules of hematite formed by hydrothermal processes. They therefore indicate the presence of both heat and water sometime in the past geologic history of Mars. How far back is not certain, and in this case "far back" might also include "more recently than we expected." Even though hematite spherules exist on Earth, finding them on Mars was quite the eye-opener.

Before these minerals were imaged by NASA, I would never have looked at the above piece of art and thought of something so very concrete.  I would not have thought of actual minerals.  I might have considered it only in the context of providing a general feeling or mood of space travel or planetary exploration.  Instead, the real universe has once again provided something stranger than fiction, and art imitates life in a whole new way.

This has me looking at art and thinking, what if this were a close up, or an extreme zoom out?  What if this were a different color, or upside down?  Then I re-evaluate what the image means to me, or could possibly represent.  And conversely, I'm looking at the real images and doing the same.  What if that image of the blueberries, above, were really intended as an allegory for space travel?  What if it were a shot from above of the domes of a space colony?  Perhaps we are seeing are turtle-like creatures carrying shells on their backs?

Thinking in new directions is not only a great exercise for the brain, it provides a chance to put something really different or original in a story.  We all know the standard tropes in our genres.  These are not bad plots or poor devices for storytelling, they are simply plots that have often been seen before.  If you can put a new spin on them, they can carry great power as they call to mind compelling stories of the past.  But if you can't make them original, then they very quickly become boring to the reader.  I strive to find ways to twist the old tropes, or find untrodden territory when I am writing.  It isn't always possible, partly because I love some of those old tropes, especially space opera, ray guns, dragons, vampires, and other oft encountered phenomena in speculative fiction.  Still, bending my mind around is a good way to help make it less likely I will present those tropes in old, stale ways.

Do you have a favorite means to keep ideas fresh?  To generate new ways of looking at favorite themes?


Martian Blueberries:  NASA/JPL/Cornell via Science reported by MSNBC
"Trip to Mars" used with generous permission by the artist Fiery-Fire on deviantArt

My comments:  "Trip to Mars" is an evocative piece of fractal art with embedded 'marbles.'  I enjoy this kind of art for its insistent symmetry, and when that symmetry is broken it makes such a strong statement.  One idea that came to me when looking at this art was another trope, but still, an elegant one - that all the spheres, big to tiny, are universes embedded in a never-ending repetition.  Note that the artist had not seen the images from NASA before creating this piece.


Amy said...

Wow, that's amazing. Art imitating life, indeed, or perhaps the other way around.

Bryce Ellicott said...

It's a beautiful piece of art, isn't it? This more abstract art, that is the fractal or psychological, leaves a lot of room open for the viewer to impress their own interpretation. This one seemed so obvious to me, but I wonder how someone who was unfamiliar with the 'blueberries' might have seen it?

Anonymous said...

From Fiery
Thank you so much for using the image 'Trip to Mars' in your blog.
As it happens I have always been a big fan of NASA and space travel.
And I'm always looking for some of my pieces to explore my imagination on what 'if' ....
this time even without seeing the original Nasa image it seems I must have had some unearthly connection to the Universe, to pick the palette and the shapes - I'm awed in surprise ...
Maybe we really are a part of grander scheme we don't even know about ;)
Thanks Bryce

Bryce Ellicott said...

Fiery - Glad to have you stop by the blog and leave a comment! I think all artists dealing in fiction, whether writing or 'painting' would like to find that connection to the universe. Something that takes us out of our current perspective, and allows our mind to open to the possibilities. Of course, we need to do that and still have enough of 'real life' in our work that it still feels relevant to the reader/viewer.