Probability, Improbability, & Humor

One of the problems I find myself running up against in writing from the standpoint of ‘probability’ rather than ‘improbability’ is it is much harder to think of it as humorous. My favourite all-time science fiction series are the ones by Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I know it’s an odd kind of sci-fi but that’s what it is and I love it.

My own series, The Modest Proposal Institute, has a dry, ironic flavour that is somewhat humorous but it isn’t funny the way The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is. That’s what I was looking for in the second series. However, that’s when I discovered the problem I mentioned in my opening sentence. Why is that? I’m not sure but I think it has to do with the thought that ‘probable’ is uncomfortably close to ‘actual’, whereas ‘improbable’ is too fantastical to be dangerous. Or maybe I’m just struggling to find anything humorous to say in 2020:-)

Traditionally, science fiction has dealt with the possible and likely, even the monsters we conjure up are usually not far away from things that already exist. I mentioned Dr. Who’s Daleks the other week and what are they but individual tanks. The Aliens in every movie often look just like something that shows up on a camera trawling the depths of Earth’s oceans — Loch Ness Monsters for moviegoers. They may be monsters but they’re too ‘real’ to be funny. What I was planning was things that are so improbable that they’re funny, like the Douglas Adam’s Bloodbladder Beast of Trall. It hasn’t come to me yet. I’m too focused on my new series of cozy mysteries, perhaps. If you have ideas for real monsters that are so unreal they’re funny, let me know in the comments below. You’re monster might get into the first book.

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Different Lifeforms

In last week’s post, concerning the next series of The Modest Proposal Institute, I mentioned the probability of non-carbon based life being the dominant fife form on Earth, had the conditions been only a little different. And how the traveller using a Probability Drive might encounter such an Earth with a large enough change in probability. Another possibility that has been used in books and movies is that of a dominant species in the past, like dinosaurs, evolving to be capable of what we would call ‘thought’, rather than just reacting to stimuli, had they avoided extinction. Asteroids pass by Earth all the time so the probability of one large enough to wipe out almost all existing life is pretty small but very possible.

Dinosaurs have been used in books and films but other possibilities are the mega-fauna that followed the extinction of the dinosaurs. I’m something of a fan of those giant creatures so an Earth where they still lived would be an interesting place for my probability traveler to visit. Similarly, the time before the age of the dinosaurs has plenty of possibilities too, though many of the creatures there look a lot like dinosaurs to everyone but an actual anatomist. Anyhow, if there are any lifeforms from the Earth’s past you particularly like, leave a comment and if I can make it happen, it will appear in one of the next series books.

While you’re waiting for the next series, be sure you’ve read all the first series, which you can find here.

Book 1 of The Modest Proposal Institute

Improbability vs Probability Drives

Last week, in my post about DrWhoOnline, I talked about the advantages of the Tardis, Dr. Who’s spaceship, as a vehicle for writers (and not time or space travellers:-). In particular, how it was faulty and often didn’t arrive where the Doctor had set it to go. Like Douglas Adams’ Improbability Drive, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Tardis allowed the writers a wide range of story possibilities. My thinking in that, and previous posts, suggested that a Probability Drive narrows the field a lot — for writers! I’ve decided now, it doesn’t. After all, at some point in Earth’s past the conditions arose that favored carbon-based lifeforms, like us, and didn’t favor lifeforms based on other elements. But it’s possible there was a level of probability at that time where that wasn’t true and, consequently, one or more of the parallel universes running alongside ours is, for example, silicon-based.

If something as fundamental as that could have been different, then anything can be and my concerns for the number of stories are unfounded — thankfully. My first stories will be of small shifts in probability with small differences in outcomes. Al the obvious ones have been done to death (Nazi Germany winning WW2 seems to go on forever as does the British winning the War of Independence or Revolutionary War depending on which side you look at it from). The problem now is to find something that would have really made a difference. I’ll leave that to next week. While you’re waiting, why not visit my Amazon Author Page and check out all the books there.

The Complete Modest Proposal Institute Boxset

With DrWhoOnline

Recently, the website, DrWhoOnline, has been featuring a The Modest Proposal Institute banner, which is drawing new readers to my boxset. I enjoyed Dr. Who when I was growing up and my kids did too so it’s neat to partner with a website entirely devoted to the whole history of Dr. Who. For me, there has only ever been one ‘real’ Dr. Who and that was Tom Baker but I’ll (try to) understand if you have another favourite:-)

In keeping with the Tom Baker favourite, I have to say my favourite villains were the Daleks. They still are. Admittedly they were clunky by modern cinematographic standards, not to mention their impracticality as fearsome warriors that couldn’t do stairs, the concept is better than anything else movie or TV science fiction has come up with since. Every villain from then to now has been a man wearing a funny costume and makeup, pretty well — or a CGI creation that looks like a man in a funny costume and makeup.

Similarly, I’ve been thinking a lot about Dr. Who’s transporter, the TARDIS, and how it resembles the Infinite Probability Transporter I’m imagining for my follow-up series. Dr. Who sets the Tardis to go places but when he (or now she) arrives, it is never quite where or when s/he expected to be. And no one is ever pleased to see him (or even her) — to quote Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I think my transporter has the same exciting feature. The pilot can say ‘take me to 95% Probability‘ and the Transporter will take him there. However, none of us have any idea what a world that is 95% probable will look like. And you can be sure what or who lives in it will be as pleased to see us arrive as we are to see ghosts and UFOs in our world.

The Complete Modest Proposal Institute Boxset