Write yourself into a corner

The Mhal-Evol’Unt Chieftan flexed its serrated mandibles and activated the translation panel before speaking.
‘Allow me describe now,’ the digitised voice rasped. ‘You trapped are completely.’ It stalked across the cell, its claws scratching against the metal floor like nails on a blackboard. Captain Dash Gallant, renowned hero of the Battle of Tor’Sang, smiled grimly.
‘Is that so?’ he said.
‘Fully correct,’ the translator said. ‘Walls containing you diamond compound are. Also forcefields beyond, instant death causing. Communications impossible. Negotiation impossible. Weapons, ship, equipment destroyed. No knowledge of your presence here has Earth Fleet. Moments away, entire ship with neuropoison gas fills, to which us immune, you vulnerable. Death certainty. To Gallant, Tor’Sang butcher criminal, farewell.’
‘For a cannibal lizard-insect space mutant, you say a hell of a goodbye,’ muttered Dash. The translator made a barking sound that might have been a laugh before the Chieftan turned and left the cell.
Dash examined his surroundings. The thing was right – escape would be impossible. Even if, by some miracle, he managed to get out of the cell, there would be nowhere to go that wouldn’t soon be flooded with deadly nerve gas. Beyond the warship, which had no escape pods, there was only the emptiness of fifty parsecs of space in every direction. His luck had finally run out, he realised. This was the end.


  1. it took me a while to figure out, that there really was no escape. i'm not sure how i came to that conclusion.

  2. There's always an out in Sci-fi, you can plausibly bend any rule of science. .... "Everything flickered and suddenly Dash was in a different room. Weird creatures he had never seen before were muttering amongst themselves and, if Dash was right, trying to figure out how to fix their octa-dimensional teleportation unit."

  3. I dunno, I'd kind of like to read something where a prisoner genuinely can't open a can of whupass and bust their way out. They'll have to use actual plot and character motivation instead. There's still plenty of ways for this guy to survive without resorting to a deus ex machinae. Maybe there are different factions among the aliens, and they aren't all that evil. Maybe they try to use him as a pawn, and lose. What are they going to do with him held securely in a cell, anyway? They must have some use for him, or else they'd have killed him already.(Or is the alien saying that everything including his cell is going to be flooded with poison in a few seconds? I read it as just another security measure in case he does escape. In that case, yeah, he's MacGyver or he's screwed.)

  4. Fortunately for Jack, he still has his Hearthstone.

    Ten seconds of wonky green-leaf animation later, he was back in his favorite inn.

    "I could really use a beer, bartender," he called out to the bar.

  5. Just then, the ship was rocked as a muffled explosion sounded from the bridge.
    "Going on what is?" the translator demanded.
    Gallant grinned. "That would be my ride."

    Oh, come on! Star Trek used it all the time!

  6. I have nothing against you, Joel. In fact, I am in awe. But it looks like you've met your match here. Some of the best sci-fi writing I've ever read, in the comments above me.

  7. I once heard a story about the original writer of the Superman Radio Series. He wanted a pay rise, his employers didn't want to give him one. He decided to end the series with Superman trapped at the bottom of a well, tied down with kryptonite and surrounded by a hundred thousand tanks (or something along these lines). It was a cliffhanger. He then made his salary demands.
    His employers refused and went round every writer in America, but nobody could work out how the original writer was planning to have Superman escape. Eventually the radio guys had to go back to him and meet his wage demands.
    The first show of the next series began "Having escaped from the well, Superman hurried to..."
    There's a lesson in there somewhere, but I've no idea what it is.

  8. Wow, judging by the lengths of these comments, you've really worked up the sci-fi crowd with this Kobayashi Maru you've got going. I have to agree. A man just can't be named Dash Gallant, unless he's got something up his sleeve, even for this one.

  9. Reminds me of "He was led to his execution, and as he did so, the entirety of his life did move before his eyes, a succession of images, each more meaningless than the last. His father's death, drowning in alcohol embittered servants poured down his throat, his brief stint as an army engineer, his mother's tears. He joined with a revolution. Somehow he had not expected death. He was not even sure he believed in the revolution he joined. While their idealism was beautiful, his friends youth and immaturity made them so prone to squabbles, they had no way of organizing the resources he saw necessary, through his engineering experience. If only he had more time, perhaps he could have written something about it.
    But there was no more time. He was an ordinary young man, manacled hands, feet, and head, his head half-shaved in the way of Russian prisoners. Even if he could have run, no barber would give him a haircut, on pain of death. Even if the barber evened the sides, the shaved head would mark him out alone. St. Petersburg was full of soldiers. There were guns pointed at him now. There was nothing to be done. If only he had more time.
    Then, and only then, moments before he was to die, the rider came with the reprieve. Fydor Dostoevsky would go to Siberia. It would not be an easy time, breaking rocks. But it would be time. It would be time."

    See? Doesn't even have to be science fiction. This stuff happens in life too.

    I think something we forget about Dostoevsky's and Dickens and Victor Hugo's fiction is that they wrote in a general time of little opportunity for the poor - so that the situations in which they put their protagonists would have seemed every bit as helpless as Superman tied down in a well with Kryptonite wire, or that iconic hero, Dash Galliant, when he made his brilliant multivalent escape from the hands of the Mhal-Evol'Unt.

  10. "Well, here I am."
    -Captain Dash as Jubal Early

  11. Dogberry – that is a great anecdote and should empower writers everywhere. The lesson? Use continuity to screw your employers.

    Ashley – it serves me right for not knowing my Whedon, but I had to google that character name and ended up trying to work what out what the hell kind of civil war reference that was. A confusing few minutes on Wikipedia.

    Wallis – a very good point. No genre has a monopoly on ridiculous plot devices – it's just that SF makes such a convenient punching bag. And, of course, Dickens had the added temptation of writing episodic fiction, where cliffhangers mean sales.

  12. hope the next one is "use deus ex machina!"

  13. This is, actually, perfectly acceptable writing if, for example, Captain Gallant is not the main character.

  14. The AntipodeanSunday, May 23, 2010

    I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane ... I mean, neuropoison gas.

    OK, maybe it's not strictly SF, but that's where I went. Very, very impressed with CT and Ash's references; also Wallis for being, y'know, literary.

    Of course we could also insert an odd wheezing sound and the sudden appearance of a blue police box...

  15. Hahahaha. Sorry, Joel. And I'm glad Captain Dash found a happier fate in the latest installment.

  16. So, when are we going to get the Adventures of Captain Dash Gallant?

  17. @Richard: I'm getting them, what blog are you reading?

    "In this way they went on till he had quite a good drink, which was all the better for coming in little doses, for that is more thirst-quenching than one long draught."

  18. The AntipodeanTuesday, May 25, 2010

    Oooh: Try too hard to be C.S. Lewis. Wait, is it possible to write like C.S. Lewis and write badly? I suppose if anyone can do it, Joel can... *ahem* in the nicest possible way.

    And is anyone else getting the "SciFi Dating" and "Meet Star Trek Fans!" ads? Please say yes, because otherwise GoogleAds is being quite nasty about my personal life.

  19. "Wait, is it possible to write like C.S. Lewis and write badly?"

    Ah, so you didn't see the Lost finale?

  20. Depends on how you define "writing like CS Lewis". His combination of good SF and good Christianity has inspired infinite combinations of shallowly characterised, wish-fulfilmenty, designated-hero-designated-villain SF with the kind of Christianity where all you have to do is believe and Jesus will solve all your problems for you, no need to do good deeds or take any responsibility for your own life.

    So I'd say it's easy and common to write badly in the style of CS Lewis, if you define "the style of CS Lewis" as "using SF to get your religious message across". Doesn't have to be Christianity - I've seen a published Jewish version or two, I've seen neopagan versions published and otherwise, and I keep running into one particular fervently atheistic teenager who's annoyingly evangelistic and intolerant and thinks he's a good writer.

  21. The weird thing is, I JUST finished reading "Till We Have Faces," and wondered immediately when "Try Too Hard to be CS Lewis" would surface here.

  22. Never got into Lost, partly due to lack of time - all my blog commenting and nit-picking keeps me *terribly* busy. Now I'm intrigued!

    @Margaret Pye, that is an interesting point. There is also the Golden Compass series for the atheists, although that doesn't necessarily qualify under bad writing. I would argue that, firstly, CS Lewis certainly wasn't about wish fulfilment and so anything wish-fulfilmenty (great term, no doubt the grammar types will let us know the name of whatever it is you've done there) isn't in his style. For me, the courage and realism of his characters, faults and all, (for the time) is a strength of the stories.

    Secondly, when I think about writing in someone's style it is more about voice; about the way they write in terms of vocabulary, structure, and yes, topic, but it is not about plot. I'd be interested to see 'Try too hard to be CS Lewis' attempted to find out what there is in CS Lewis' writing that could be exaggerated and overused to the extent of being 'bad.'

  23. It's an interesting one – I can't really think of anything stylistically distinctive enough about C.S. Lewis to parody. Maybe he was slightly of his time, but there's nothing that leaps out like Tolkien's digressions or Lovecraft's hyperbole. A Lewis parody would have to be all about plotting – in the case of Narnia, your targets would probably be heavy-handed symbolism and casual Islamophobia.

    I have to admit that it's been many years since I read any of his SF, so that could be a different situation entirely. Or maybe Screwtape Letters would be good for a laugh.

  24. First of all, I LOVE that so many of us consider Lewis above badly well writing, however, if you must go there, it might fall under "Get Really Into Arthurian Legend and Screw Up Your Otherwise Brilliant Sci-Fi."Sigh.

    That's a potential post regardless of Lewis, though, now that I think of it, maybe you've already done something along the lines of changing course mid-stream (Another example would be Tender is the Night...I'm sorry, what story am I reading, Mr. Fitzgerald?).

  25. The man sitting in the bar next to the notorious Captain Dash asked, "So, how did you escape?"

    Captain Dash replied, "I didn't. They killed me!"