The Science Fiction genre

(These are my notes and thoughts in relation to the Writing Excuses podcast Season 1, episode 8 and 9. I will also disseminate this information to the topical sections of my resource section).

Why we write/read science fiction

  • Philip K Dick said “Science fiction and fantasy is about writing and experiencing new things.” Science fiction is conceivably possible, fantasy is conceivable impossible
  • Because it is optimistic – telling tables about the wonders of the future, or telling cautionary tales.
  • Science fiction originated as a ‘meant to instruct’ story-telling, but is now more reflective.

These quotes (from BrainyQuote) also speak to ‘why’ science fiction.

  • “Science fiction is trying to find alternative ways of looking at realities. Iain Banks
  • “Science fiction has a way of letting you talk about where we are in the world and letting you be a bit of a pop philosopher without being didactic.” Brit Marling
  • “A good writer should be able to write … fantasy or science fiction that imbued you with a sense of wonder…” Neil Gaiman

I found this to be a particularly important comment that I need to try and remember for the future (no pun intended):

  • “A short story reveals character through actions, a novel reveals action through who the character is.” Philip K Dick

Personally, I like to write science fiction and fantasy because of:

  • the freedom that it gives me to re-imagine social structures, norms and technology.
  • it is a blending of my rational mind and unconstrained imagination
  • ironically, it gives the ability to craft a more realistic story than the classic hero vs super villain story. In an alternate world super-human people (good or bad) can legitimately exist.
  • …and rightly or wrongly, it also means less research is required – it doesn’t have to be as precise as a Period writing

What does it take to write good science fiction

  • An understanding of the current sciences astronomy, biology, chemistry… You need to work out what is plausible. You can do this by reading the work of others, and then researching the aspects which grab your attention.
  • In order to get a unique plot, it is much more important to know what has already been written.
  • More than other genres, science fiction readers are looking more for new, exploration and discovery. (However there will always have new people to the genre and if you write for the young adult market you will know they are likely to have read less).
  • Books and authors they mention: Larry Niven (“Flight of the Horse” and “Neutron Star”), Isaac Asimov (everything, but especially the “Foundation” series), Robert A. Heinlein, H. G. Wells, Kim Stanley Robinson (“Mars” series)

Science fiction sub genres (episode 9)

Note that back in May I provided a summary of genres.

Space opera – travelog, world-to-world, station-to-station. It is the missing link between science fiction and fantasy. e.g. Star Wars. It has a compelling main character and fun comes before science.

Hard science fiction – where science is paramount. It has to be something plausible under current knowledge of science. You have to know your science. It is about inventing the future. e.g. Arthur C Clarke, Kim Stanley Robinson, Stephen Baxter, Larry Nevin.

Military science fiction – the realism of military lifestyle is very realistic. Has a focuses on weapons technology. Credibility as a military personnel is very important to you, otherwise you must consult. e.g. David Weber, David Drake, Elizabeth Moon, John Scalzi. Tom Clancy is a good source of military.

Cyber punk – near future dystopian. Extensive modification of the human form. Blurring the line between humanity and technology, trend projection, privatisation. e.g. William Gibson

Why is it important to know which genre you’re writing?

Because you need to be able to

  • categorise work,
  • to stay on task.
  • write what you’re passionate about.
  • identify what you’ve already written, what else is out there and talk about the sub genre so you know who else is writing in it.
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