A Note Regarding Alien Races
The GAF science fiction universe is founded on the following three basic principles:
1. Empirical Demarcation
2.path of least resistance/Occam’s razor
3. Imperial over Mystery approaches
The entire point of the GAF Mainframe Universe is that it is a fantastical science fiction panoply to explore that is at the same time as closely explicable in human terms as possible. By making the GAF universe something that is defined by every aspect of the human experience, from biology to commerce to psychology, we ensure that the completely fantastic aspects of alien races, gigantic space battles and absurd science fiction tropes are utterly believable to the reader.
1. It is a lazy science fiction construct to give alien races powers or skills that trangress the border of science fiction into magic. We thus adhere to the constraints of empirical demarcation. A skillset possessed by anyone, be they human or alien, must have a definable, explicable basis in their corporeality… be that one like the extradimensional Golden Ones or the cartilaginous Gendlers. Plot points are neither advanced nor surmounted by the addition of alien ‘powers’ that are not explained explicitly by their natures.
If a special power is absolutely required by the mechanics of a plot (ie: not solveable by point 2), said power is not simply pasted onto an individual like a Experience Point power up. In such cases, we develop a race of aliens that possesses the necessary corporeal characteristics that could explain the ‘power’ or quality required to surmount the plot point. In this way, we are constantly expanding and developing the richness of the GAF Mainframe Universe, adding to its engaging qualities instead of straining the belief of our readers and fans to the breaking point.
I like to call this the anti-Marvel phenomenon.
It prevents on its face the Jean Grey/Pheonixization of characters that make them at once both completely inaccessible to the reader and effectively useless to the writer due to their massive power base. We are all corporeal beings here, even energy beings or extradimensional beings, and as such, we all must be bound by certain restraints, conventions and limitations.
By adhering strictly to the Emprical Demarcation tenet of the GAF Universe, we keep ourselves honest in the spatial/temporal world. Keeping to the constraints of our physical existences defines the nobility of our struggles and makes it satisfying for our readers to finish our stories, so that they can watch us all emerge wiser, stronger and more experienced in the end… not just ‘powered up’.
In short- when in doubt, refer to the Design. What is your character’s race? What is it made up of? What could it do, and what would be beyond its scope? Don’t have a Gendler be a heavy lifter- it’s made of cartilage. Don’t have a giant Space Lithomorph be into working with Battenburg Lace. It’s just not gonna happen.
2. This leads us to point two- adherence to The Path of Least Resistance.
We are all annoyed when characters in media go right to massive, unobtainable psychic/magical powers to solve simple issues. Don’t degrade our vibrant GAF Universe by lazy writing that turns to powers either beyond the scope of your character or beyond the scope of the reader’s experience.
If a character needs through a locked door, have them pick it, or hack their way through the computer (or hack their way through the door, for goodness’ sake) before you have them develop interdimensional or psychic superpowers.
If your character is threatened by an enemy or danger, have them shoot the damn thing before they ‘bamf’ it out of existence. Have them run away. Have them negotiate, distract or overcome it using means that any cool human could use.
In this way, we keep the reader engaged with our characters. People gloss over characters that are too unobtainably awesome, or too preposterously gifted. They lose respect for characters that overthink or overact in a given situation.
We all laugh at McGee when he tries to ‘think’ his way through a computer-guarded doorway that he assumes is locked … and we laugh harder when Gibbs tries the doorknob and walks through the door that wasn’t locked in the first place. People with arcane, ephemeral skills tend to overthink things and overlook the Occam’s Razor- or simplest- solution.
As in medicine, don’t go chasing zebras, when you’ve got a perfectly valid horse right in front of you to treat.
When faced with an obstacle, humans obey the 3 F rule: they fight it, they flee from it, or they… well, let’s put it nicely and say they come to an accord with it, one way or the other. They rarely pull out massive PSI skills or cray-cray abilities. And every show, from Buffy to X-Men, suffered for the addition of too many unobtainable-to-the-average-human skillsets.
We like it when people solve matters concisely and elegantly. Do that in the GAF and people will stay engaged.
3. Imperial over Mystery Approaches
This last set requires two terms defined. Let’s begin there, as the words in this point are used in a different sense than the one commonly used.
“Imperial: definied by an undeniable REALITY. Corporeal in every sense of the word, including in its psychology, approach to problems and psychic powers. Plain-spoken and plain-thinking in which one’s word is one’s bond and a door is a door, nothing more. A tendency to be plain in dealings with others, not holding aspects of itself back but confidently displaying all its known cards on the table in any process or negotiation. Imperial defines most of what we think of as classic qualities, from Red Hair and Freckles to Heroism to Duplicitousness to Giant Spiders from Mars. Imperial.”
– taken from The Black Tower Dictionary
“Mysterious: defined by a pathologically introverted withholding of some or all of its nature in defense of itself. An unwillingness or inability on the face of it to engage in complete and honest exchanges. A basic lack of understanding of membranes, boundaries or borders between one Mysterious thing and another, while at the same time having an innate and intrinsic aversion to anything Imperial. Anything that appears to be only so big or such-and-such on the surface, to the point of cliche (even surrealist cliche), then turning out to have much, much more underneath. Mysterious defines what we think of as mythos: those eternal concepts that have resonated with the Universe long before they came to have physical form, yet nevertheless resonate with us all. A Mystery defies description or definition and always evades attempts to Imperialize it, with varied success. The Autumn Monarch, the Pool in the Desert, the Door, even Aragorn II as Strider. Mystery.”
– taken from The Black Tower Dictionary
Armed with these two terms, we define their scope in the GAF. The GAF Mainframe universe favors Imperial approaches over Mysterious ones, as evidenced by points 1 and 2. When confronted with a barrier, a character will not simply discorporate its atoms and transcend it; it will find a feasible way to overcome the barrier.
Mysteries will avoid or make irrelevant the barrier. Imperials will inherently respect the barrier’s existence and develop a response to it predicated on that respect for its existence. We follow the Imperial method almost exclusively in the GAF, in part because we are dealing with concepts of science fiction, future technology and wondrous advancements. We have suspended the belief our audience quite a bit by making our writing universe a Galactic one. It is therefore best to ground it in approaches that respect the fundamental abilities and limitations of our human corporeality.
There are worlds of StarkLight Press where writing in a Mysterio-Magical way behooves it; the GAF Universe is not one of them.
When in doubt, refer to the definitions. If your idea falls into a Mysterious vein, discard it in favor of a more direct, honest, problem-solving Imperial one. This keeps the GAF gritty, well-developed and engaging.
There’s a reason more wasn’t written about the Mysteries: until they were defined by Imperial corporeality, they just weren’t very engaging. Other than a Doors song here or a psychedelic trip there, there’s not much to say about a place where up is anus, down is orgy and purple is Tuesday.
Keep it Imperial, follow the Path of Least Resistance and remember to respect Emprical Demarcation- this keeps the GAF Universe in top form, ready for expansion and further entertaining adventures!
– Tony Stark
Originally written September 3, 2008.