Oh, I have a fun spot for you guys. I mean, this thing is something
else. A website that has diagrammed size comparisons of every spaceship in popular science fiction!! It’s called Jeff Russell’s Starship Dimensions, and it is very thorough. Did you know that the Death Star episode IV is smaller than the one in episode VI by 40 kilometers! I didn’t. I do now. The firefly class ship Serenity is about the same size as a 747. I could go on!
But I won’t. Visit the site and become what Alexander Pope called “a tyrant of table talk,” or the geek version of Nietzsche’s superhistorical man.
I came up reading the science fiction of an earlier age. William Gibson’s Neuromancer was covering shelves at second hand bookstores and Phil Dick’s books were already considered old classics when I first started reading Bradbury, Heinlein, and Clarke. I didn’t break out into the current sci-fi of early 80’s until the middle nineties. I don’t regret this. I feel like I have a good
education in the classics and I think it keeps me from being star-struck by any author that is incorporated into a movement with the prefix of “punk.” When me and some mates formed a band in the mid nineties we called it Starman Jones (a short Heinlein novel). Two years later we were considering calling it The Men in the Hight Castle (a long Phillip K. Dick novel).
The best outcome for my ‘classical’ self education is that I was able to experience the development of so many of the tropes and archetypes that became the working body of science fiction. I’ve always been a fan of return to the oldies (and Return to Witch Mountain), but editors of slush are always beating our brains out with lists of ideas they don’t want to see (see interview with Electric Velocipede editor John Klima where he tells me what to do with man eating plant stories). Yet some of these golden oldies are still ripe for the picking. You don’t hear film critics saying, “please god, not another war film about a soldier’s existential crisis!” No idea, no matter how ‘done’ it may seem, is bereft of possibility.
Case in point. The classic “space station that becomes world of its own” story as exemplified in Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky. I was recently honored by a writer friend with a look at a piece she was working on in this vein. I won’t give a hint at content (not my place), but I will say this: It is a pat concept that was made utterly new with careful treatment. She came up against every opportunity to go in a direction of the illustrious pioneers of the genre and nearly every time took the left turn.
It adds up to a fully realized story with power, strangeness and a certain ‘strange-familiarity,’ if you will allow me to coin.
I think there is good advice here and I hope she will not give me hell for not consulting her in the use of her work (indirectly to be sure), but every story type: Adam and Eve are aliens, The little old lady is the monster, hell even “it was all a dream” can have life again, if you do it right. Science fiction has the tendency to make its settings and plots into characters. It’s a function of working with utter newness. You write a story about your life among the tribes of modern Birmingham Alabama, you don’t have to describe everything that’s involved in getting from your suburban home to the mall. Car+keys+drive+traffic+parking= nothing to tell. Now try that with a story about your life among the tribes of non-mass entities from the neutrino shadow of an unstable pulsar. Quantum model of self+digital self expression on interstitial space+spacial motivation of self-concept via “quantum remote expression”+assumptions of individuality in holographic communication models= you got some splainin to do.
(do you know how much science reading it takes to pull that kind of trash lingo out of your ass? I like to think it’s a talent.) So you can see that a science fiction writer, especially on the cutting edge of the hard sci-fi forms, must spend a lot of words on description and technical writing. This has led to the “deliteraturization” of the genre. If 20K words of a 100k word book is expository then you have created a 20% word gap in your narrative movement. That and the type of fans science fiction has historically drawn (not the kids from the humanities departments) led science fiction to become endless explanation of fake, or pseudo real science concept. Luckily, just like math left the philosophy building in the 19th century academic scene, it has taken a vacation from the science fiction publishing scene and let in some of those nerds that weren’t pursuing engineering degrees (Before that I think they just wrote fantasy).
This is a bit convoluted, but it’s complicated praise for a friends approach that made me want to tell you that if you focus on story telling and refute the easy and well trodden paths, a whole world of retooled ideas are yours for the taking.
My friend did it right. Take the left turn. Don’t take the bait of easy entertainment and endless explicability.
That is the Science of Fiction
Here you go. By popular demand. A picture of yours truly in his band “Starman Jones.” All our songs involved stardrives and wizards.