Tag Archives: storytelling

How much science does a science fiction writer need?

Not just scientific knowledge, but technological, economical, social, geopolitical… you need the lot to be able to write believable near-future science fiction. Or so says the latest missive from Jason Stoddard discussing the burden of the modern science fiction writer:

If you want to write believable near-future fiction, you can’t choose a single point of advancement. You need to have a good understanding of advances in many different fields, and you need to be able to imagine how these can come together, for good or for bad. And to be really believable, you’ll need to know more than you ever wanted to know about how the world works, economically and socially, as well as where the trends are heading.

Otherwise, your fiction will soon read like that Golden Age lit, filled with spaceships manned by human calculators and spinning reels of tape.

He may have a point. But then again, he may have missed the point, or focussed on one that matters more to some than others. Jeremy Tolbert responds to Jason’s closing statement above:

If you’re intimidated by the accelerating advance of the future, don’t let that stop you from writing SF. You don’t have to write it that way. Personally, I take great enjoyment in throwing reality out the window when I write my SF. SF has only ever been about believability to a small subset of readers.  Believability in the context of tech, anyway. It, like all literature, does revolve around the believability of human action and emotion, however. Keep that in mind and you’ll write great fiction, and very few people will care about that other stuff.

I’m not an experienced enough writer to know which angle I prefer, but as a reader I’m quite fond of both – and while we keep the focus near-future here at Futurismic, I don’t think we’re anywhere close to the line of science fiction that’s so hard it’s rigid.

Which do you prefer?

Has science fiction’s sensawunda lost its sense of wonder?

Tomorrow, The Stars - old science fiction anthology coverEveryone looks for something a little different from their fiction fix, science fiction readers included. But science fiction is also a special case, because it has been traditionally tied to the “sense of wonder” – that gosh-wow feeling engendered by reading about something previously inconceivable. Indeed, sensawunda used to be described by some writers and critics (whether correctly or not) as the core differential between science fiction and ‘regular’ fiction. [image uploaded by Jim Linwood]

But is that still the case? For example, the Mundane SF manifesto would appear to argue against sensawunda’s necessity and relevance to modern readers. And here’s Nancy Kress musing on the Somalian pirates’ tanker hijack:

Maybe the world has gotten too grubby and jaded for “awe.” Or I have. At any rate, a “sense of wonder” is no longer what I look for in fiction, including SF. I don’t want to be dazzled by things I never thought of before, even though often that seems to be what SF values. I want to be emotionally moved, involved at a visceral level with the characters and the situation, not with novelty or landscapes or gadgets or derring-do.

Speaking personally, I’ve no objection to sensawunda in my science fiction, but the older I get and the more I read (fiction or otherwise) the more my tastes seem to align with Nancy’s – I want stories about people first and foremost. Sensawunda is an extra – a side-dish, if you like, or a piquant sauce.

What about you lot? Has reality and endless CGI movies jaded you, too, or do starships and rayguns still flick your switches?