The fact that Fifty Shades of Grey took out the gong for most popular book of the year and E.L. James was crowned ‘Publishing Person of the Year’ has engendered quite a lot of outrage.
“But it’s badly written rubbish.”
“She pinched an idea from somebody else.”
“You want good erotica? You can get it for free on the internet.”
“It’s not even good BDSM.”
and even a few “I’d rather write quality.” So there.
And to all that I say, “tough!” (Exclamation mark intended)
One thing authors can never, ever predict is what will grab the public imagination. Dan Brown did it with The da Vinci Code. J.K. Rowling did it with Harry Potter. Stephenie Meyer did it with Twilight. All those authors have had invective poured upon them while they raked in the loot.
I have not read 50SoG or Twilight and will not. They are not to my taste. I have read The da Vinci Code (a fair bit of it, anyway, until the plot got too silly to hold my interest – but that’s my opinion.)
But back to 50SoG E.L. James has freely admitted her novel started out life as a fanfic based on Twilight. Very often, people jump on the bandwagon for the latest new thing. Look at all the vampire books around and the increasing number of zombie novels. It happened with The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars among others. But often, by the time they’re in print, the wave has rolled over them and crashed on the shore. Self-publishing has changed that paradigm a little. You can get on the wave before it breaks and that is one thing E.L. James was able to do, because the last of the Twilight movies was not yet out there.
She did one other thing and that was take the essence of the plot a step or fourteen further, from YA lovestruck fantasy to horny, slightly kinky sex. (I hesitate to use the word romance. If you’ve read it, you’ll have your own ideas.) Because of that, she attracted a whole new audience. Apparently, for reasons known only to themselves, many, many grown women loved Twilight*. There you have it. A ready-made audience for a firm like Random House to draw in.
No, you don’t have to write a ‘good book’ (whatever that is) to have a best-seller, or win a popular book award. All you have to do is capture the public imagination. I have to tell you, I wish I could.
*This is not a criticism, simply a bemused observation – but then, I loved the Harry Potter books and I’m a bit past the target demographic. To each her own.
The world’s physicists held their collective breaths when the big announcement was made from CERN that the hadron collider had provided evidence that the Higgs boson existed. But science fiction and fantasy knew about it years ago.
So what’s a Higgs boson when it’s at home? If you want scientific type explanations, here’s one place to start. Or you could check out this animated version – careful, though. It mentions quarks and periodic tables. The picture at left is of the six types of quarks.
For all you other low-level geeks (like me), a boson (noun) is defined as “Any of a class of particles, such as the photon, pion, or alpha particle, that have zero or integral spin and obey statistical rules permitting any number of identical particles to occupy the same quantum state.” The Higgs bit is because Higgs was the man (along with a bunch of other people around the same time – mid-sixties) who suggested such a thing existed.
The issue was mass, or what we often call weight. Everything is made of stuff, right? This computer, the desk, my cup of tea, me… And yet anybody who has been exposed to the most elementary science knows that ‘stuff’ is made of atoms, a bunch of electrons whizzing around a nucleus which is made of protons and neutrons. In fact, ‘stuff’ is made up of mainly, er, nothing. Or maybe just energy. So all the mass is in the nucleus? Um, no, not actually. The protons and neutrons are made up of sub-atomic particles which also have no mass. So where does the mass come from?
Enter Higgs et al. These exceedingly clever men asked the impossible question. What gives ‘stuff’ its mass?
It seems the Higgs boson (which is energy) slows down the other particles (with the notable exception of photons) which aggregate, forming mass. Sort of.
Just like in Star Trek’s ‘beam me up, Scotty’ transporter device. What you do is, turn off the Higgs boson, which removes the object’s mass, send the particles that comprise the object as a particle beam somewhere, and then turn on the Higgs boson again. Simple.
You’ll see a similar process in Harry Potter. Wizards can apparate and disapparate, right? Flick off the Higgs boson and flick it back on again. But the transfer has to be in an envelope encasing the object to be transferred. If anything else gets mixed up with it, you get nasty business like splinching in Harry Potter, where atoms from something else are put in the wrong places.
It’s been done before, though. Even before Mister Higgs (et al) dared to dream. Remember the film ‘The Fly’? First filmed in 1958, the movie is about a scientist experimenting with matter transfer, using himself as the guinea pig. He succeeds, but a fly is also transferred, with rather nasty results. Here’s the link to Wikipedia’s article on the subject.
Who knows? Maybe Mister Higgs (et al) saw ‘The Fly’ and was inspired? It wouldn’t be the first time science fiction has paved the way for science fact. Do you have any other examples where matter transfer is used in SF or Fantasy? Please share. Interested parties wish to know.