Category Archives: Genres and other foolishness

Science Fiction in the Doldrums

There has been a rash of New schools in SF recently: New Pulp, New Weird, Strange SF, Optimistic SF, and the grand daddy of them all (since it started up around a decade ago) Mundane SF. There are more of course, but these are the ones that spring directly into my mind. You could even argue that Steampunk and its progeny (Diesel Punk, Clock Punk, Bio Punk—yeah I know that is a more direct offshoot of Cyberpunk—et al.) are part of the same movement.

What is the movement?

To give Science Fiction a new course when the winds of change are disturbed, erratic, leaving the genre becalmed. SF relies on change, it needs to lift the seeing glass to its eye and look ahead to new lands, new ideas, new knowledge. But the doldrums have it now and the oars are out, pulling it towards cleaner winds.

The problem?

None of the oarsmen (writers, critics, fans, publishers) can agree on which direction to row, so the ship circles endlessly as people argue about definitions and directions.

Why has this come about?

The problem lies not within the writers or the fans or the publishers or the words written down upon a page. The problem lies within the stars, or rather within science itself.

Science is in a period of evidence gathering right now. Like Copernicus, scientists are amassing data. They are waiting on the next Newton, Einstein, Bohr, Everett, to come along and create a new paradigm. They know that the theories they have right now don’t work. They know that Dark Matter and Dark Energy are fudges; they hope that they exist, because it will make everything easier, but easy is not something the universe provides—as a general rule.

So they amass data. They find the Higgs particle, they map the heavens in greater and greater detail, they take little slivers of data and try to say, ‘this means this,’ without anything to really stand on.

This is not an attack on science. This has happened before, moving from the geocentric model to the heliocentric model happened because of the evidence amassed by Copernicus and Galileo, because of the elliptical orbits plotted by Kepler, which gave Newton all the data he required to come up with his theory. At least, this time, science doesn’t have to deal with the inquisition.

The same thing is happening in the biological sciences, the genome project, and its successors, is evidence gathering at its finest. They are mapping the genes of life on Earth and discovering that things don’t quite add up, which is where epigenetics comes lunging into the debate.

Scientists know this is true. They know that their models of the universe and life are incomplete, they know they are waiting on enough data, they know they are waiting on the next genius who can use that data to make sense of it all.

But this all leaves Science Fiction in irons, waiting for a theory to start up the wild speculation and considered extrapolation that defines the genre.

The first true Science Fiction novel is generally considered to be Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein‘, which was built on the discovery that dead flesh could be reanimated by electricity. Jules Verne built his stories on the technological advances of the 19th century, that onrushing wave of progress that changed the world forever. HG Well’s ‘Time Machine‘ was really about the new scientific theory of evolution as was ‘War of the Worlds‘.

Then came Einstein. EE ‘Doc’ Smith’s ‘Classic Lensman Series‘ (that was on the covers of the books I read as a kid and that is how I think of it) invented the Inertialess Drive so that his characters could travel faster than the speed of light. He also used antimatter and evolution in his stories, plus the—very popular but since happily discredited—science of eugenics. He also created Space Opera as a by-product of his musings.

Do you see it yet?

Science Fiction needs Science to advance, to come up with new theories, to provide the winds for its sails.

Golden Age Science Fiction surfed Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and Evolution, with a large doses of Eugenics and Cloning thrown into the mix.

New Wave Science Fiction dived into the underbelly of Science Fiction, using the new ‘sciences’ (in quotes because a science without a paradigm is not a science IMHO) of psychology and sociology and so forth to allow them to breathe down there in the deeps.

Cyberpunk was built on the onrushing wave of progress in electronics that changed the world.

Each of these periods changed Science Fiction completely. The Golden Age created the majority of the tropes. The New Wave subverted most of the tropes. And Cyberpunk gave a whole viewpoint on the tropes.

The New (there’s that word again) Space Operas could not exist without cyberpunk. It informs all the Shipminds, and Zones, and so forth.

Something else to note.

Jules Verne wrote his stories around the 1870s (or thereabouts). HG Wells wrote his stories around the turn of the 20th century. The Golden Age ran from about the 1920s to 1940s (this is where I could really do with doing some serious research (which I didn’t have time for)—Pulp Era, Golden Age, to me they are the same thing, but not to Wiki. The New Wave ran from about the 1960s. And Cyberpunk began in the 1980s.

So every 20 years or so Science Fiction has renewed itself.

It’s been 30 years since Cyberpunk, and no new thrust has appeared.

Steampunk looked backwards (and Jules Verne did not write Steampunk—just because you like his stories and try to recreate them with a more modern sensibility does not mean he was writing Steampunk 140 years ago. He was writing about the future. Steampunk isn’t. I like Steampunk, I like the sensibility of it, but this really irritates me).

Mundane Science Fiction takes the premise that Science Fiction should only use the known laws of the Universe. I can understand the reasoning. When people are out there calling Star Wars Science Fiction, you really want to stand up and say, ‘No, Science Fiction is based on scientific plausibility.’ Which means you need an answer when somebody says, ‘what about FTL, telepathy, parallel worlds etc, are they scientifically plausible?’ So Mundane Science Fiction is born. It would be an interesting challenge to write a story in that field, but it really isn’t the future of SF. It’s too limited.

But the new generation of Science Fiction fans and writers know that the field needs to renew itself. They understand that the clock is ticking. They want their new paradigm.

But Science is data gathering. All the current theories have been around for a while. None of them quite match the evidence and there are the fudgicles of, ‘the equations only work if we postulate that 90 plus percent of the universe is invisible’, ticking away like a time-bomb. The same is true in the biological science because they now have plenty of evidence that genetics is a hell of a lot stranger than they first thought. And the same is also true of the cognitive science (the grandchild of the ‘Soft’ sciences) because they are having a bit of difficulty defining consciousness.

The latest oarsmen calling out the stroke as ‘New Weird, New Pulp.’ ‘Same diff look at that unusual wave over there “Strange SF”.’ ‘Oh why can’t we be more optimistic?’ ‘Because the world is going to hell in a hand basket.’ ‘Pull this way.’ ‘No that way.’ ‘No over there.’ ‘Dammit I’m hungry.’ ‘I’m thirsty, any more of that “pan-galactic gargle blaster” left?” are all trying to spot the clouds building over the new lands, are trying to see the landlubber birds flying towards them, overheating the arguments as they try to see the surf crashing onto the beaches of the next reinvention of the genre.

It will arrive, we will get there, its only a matter of time. But really, Science, pull your bloody finger out, I’m getting heatstroke here.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/

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“Oi, buddy, you’re a writer, right? Where do you get your ideas from?”

First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/

I had no real idea what I was going to write this week then this turned  up on io9. Thank you, Mr Heinlein (and thank you io9 for sticking it where I could see it). Problem solved.

“Oi, buddy, you’re a writer, right? Where do you get your ideas from?”

I should imagine all writers get asked this question—a lot. You can cube that number for writers of Speculative Fiction, and you can cube it again for Science Fiction writers on their own. It’s understandable really.

Everybody, who isn’t a writer, is curious about where writers get their ideas. Writers are less curious and more envious when somebody comes up with a great idea (a ‘Bugger, wish I’d thought of that’ moment is something all writers will recognise (Check THIS out, so very envious).

With non-Speculative Fiction (excepting maybe Crime Fiction, where people back slowly away from the writer in case the scribe feels like doing a little hands-on research) people can kinda see where the idea might come from: a marriage break-up, an historical incident, a present-day incident, a conversation overheard in the street, and so on. Those sort of things make sense to readers, because everybody with an imagination will have had those moments of wondering.

With Fantasy, people can kinda see that the idea may derive from the 7000 odd years of mythology and legend that just sits there in the collective unconscious. Horror pretty much comes from the same place as Fantasy, but it does cross the line into Science Fiction (and Crime Fiction).

But pure SF?

Heinlein’s letter shows the answer. I don’t know if he trawled through his notebooks for his friend Theodore Sturgeon, or if he just started spilling ideas onto the page in a flood, it could have been either, but the important thing is that all the ideas actually built an entire world in very few words.

Even the ‘ghost cat’ idea creates a world in sixteen words.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a reason why Heinlein is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) Science Fiction writers. This flood of ideas is part of the why and the world creation is a lot of the rest of it. Everything connects together in Heinlein’s work. He describes a world from the inside in a master class of how to do exposition. (Read the beginning of Starbeast if you don’t believe me). He takes an idea to its logical conclusion and that logical conclusion is the world building, then he lets his characters loose in that world.

Not many writers can do that. Really. It’s a rare gift.

However, the ideas bit is what all Science Fiction writers do automatically. We don’t even think about it. Some science journal or political journal has some article and we instantly think, ‘hmmm, I wonder?’

I wonder: if building bots that mimic human play in online games  will lead to them being used as NPC characters in new games, which will lead to Machine Intelligences being released onto the net; if sons leaving DNA in the mother will allow dead sons to be cloned from these tissues at some point in the future (it is probable that daughters leave the same DNA behind, but male DNA is easier to find in a woman); and so on. Instant extrapolation.

And this happens pretty much anytime I read anything scientific, or political, or sociological, or…okay pretty much anything I read about pretty much anything…because I’ve trained my brain over decades to do this. And all those stray thoughts stick somewhere in my memory. I only write down really cool ideas (or what I think are really cool ideas). I actually learn about stuff by writing stories about them. Sometimes the stories fail, but I’ve figured out sommat about the idea, then later that same idea will pop up in another story, which works because I understand the idea better now.

Don’t get me wrong here, a lot of writers will do the same thing, some will probably have looked at my two instant extrapolations above and gone “Is that all you saw? Sheesh, what about this…?”

But to answer the question ‘where do SF writers get their ideas from?’ is easy, from reading stuff and wondering how the hell it would affect the world. The “My God, what if” of Brian Aldiss.

If dead children can be cloned from DNA left behind in the mother, what about taking that same DNA and using it to create ‘spare-part’ clones for the children? What about using it to create a designer clone because the first (naturally born) version turned out a bit disappointing? What would happen if the ‘natural’ child was disinherited and the ‘designer’ child became the heir? What would it be like to have a younger, ‘suped-up’, version of you running around with all the money you should have inherited? What would a world that allowed this to happen be like?

That’s where we get our ideas from. But of course, Heinlein, Asimov, Clark, Anderson, Wyndham, Le Guin, Shelley, Wells, Aldiss, Verne, Gibson, Vinge, and all the rest of the greats, have been doing the same thing for centuries.

And doing it better.

But what can I do? My brain is trained now, so I’m stuck with it.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/

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Has SF Lost Something over the Decades?

A friend of mine used to run a second-hand bookstore on eBay. Then he wrapped it up and was intending to take his unsold stock to the tip. This is sacrilege to me—you do not throw books away, never ever. I now have two—yes two—copies of the Da Vinci Code to prove this. My friend (hmmmm, that might be overstating the case here) slipped another copy into the job lot of books he gave me. Oh how I laughed. And I still can’t bring myself to throw ‘em in the bin.

I said I’d take any Speculative Fiction books he was going to toss. So a few hundred or so came my way. I was slowly working my way through them when I stumbled on some SF magazines from the 60s. Specifically New Worlds #107 from June 1961 and Galaxy #81 from August 1960.

So I read them.

And started thinking.

Have we lost something over the decades? Have all the writing courses , and latterly writing blogs, created an imbalance in the actual writing? Has fiction as a whole gone too far in the direction of literary quality and forgotten the basic rule of writing fiction: first tell a good story?

If you ever get a chance to read some old magazines from the 1950s and 1960s, do so. This is just before the New Wave came crashing into the party. You see a similar sort of disconnect with early 1980s SF, just before Cyberpunk spiked the wine with acid, but this disconnect between Golden Age and New Wave is really quite marked because up until that point literary concerns were subservient to the ideas.

The stories in these magazines are good, strong, well written, with clever ideas behind them. Apart from Brunner, Pohl, and Tubbs, they are written by writers I have never come across before—though they might be pseudonyms for famous writers, that sort of thing went on a lot back in those days. These stories were not collected into anthologies. These stories were considered average, normal stories of their day.

The science is, naturally, old fashioned; the cultural aspects can be a little disconcerting; the ideas are tropes that have now been mined to death; and the pace can be a little slow, but I think the average level of story-telling ability is higher than I see now in various modern SF magazines and sites. I was sucked into the stories, reading on to find out what happened next.

Yes, these are rather muscular stories, but they do drag you along. Modern SF, not so much. There are of course reasons for this.

We know all the tropes. We don’t have to explain them, we just point to the version of the trope we are using and get on with the writing. But this means that the idea quotient is lower so the literary quotient has to go up to raise us above the slush pile. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I favour clarity in the prose over pyrotechnics, because I think pyrotechnics are no use if the reader can’t ‘see’ the scene or comprehend the idea, but I do try to write great prose; I love it when somebody says, “cracking line”, or even better quotes a line back to me.

However, I also try to write good stories, with strong characters, and clever little ideas.

The lack of need to explain how a trope, like say faster-than-light drives or time travel, works in your universe (its a warp drive, its hyperspace, its the grandfather paradox, its quantum time leading to parallel worlds) frees up the writer to concentrate on other aspects of the writing. But what we forget is that these are tropes only to those of us who have read a large chunk of what came before. We forget that we should explain at least some of it for new readers to the genre. And in those explanations are spaces for new variations, new ideas, new plot lines.

Great prose is all well and good but without a great story it is essentially onanism as a spectator sport.

Read some old SF sometime. Those writers knew how to tell a story.

 

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/

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Why Her World Shouldn’t Fall Apart

What makes Speculative Fiction (SF) — Science Fiction, Horror, Fantasy, or any of the many sub-genres — different from other forms of fiction?

Simple really: in SF the normal everyday experience of the reader and writer need not apply — the position’s already been taken by ravening cyber-witch-dragon-riders from the outer reaches of the twilight zone. Weird stuff happens and as a writer you have to make sure that only the weird stuff you mean to happen…um…happens. You don’t want to add an entire other level of inadvertent weirdness through sloppy phrasing. Keep your weird under control with accuracy. And a bullwhip.  And maybe some cream puffs, because ravening cyber-witch-dragon-riders from the outer reaches of the twilight zone are notoriously lactose intolerant.

Other genres (OG) have their own sweet irritations, but in SF you have to be precise, very precise.

In the OG the line, Her world fell apart, is a little melodramatic, maybe a little clichéd, possibly a little meh. Soap opera stuff, not a deal breaker with the reader, just a shrug of the shoulders and a “Come on, pal, entertain me since you can’t write a decent sentence. Full plot-speed ahead and damn the conjugations.”

But in SF you have to allow for the margin (as Samuel R Delaney put it) that her world might literally fall apart. Poof, Earth gone, everybody floating in space, wondering whose turn it is to put the cat out, where the cat is, and why exactly can they still breathe if the world is in tiny pebbles all around them?

Another classic example of this sort of line.

He threw his eyes down the road, remember Tom Cruise doing this in Minority Report?

Well, to be accurate, he dropped his old eyes down a concrete corridor, chased them as they bounced and skidded and squirted out of his clumsy hands until finally he just managed to catch one of them as it tumbled down a drain. Carefully scooping it up and then merrily using that very same eye to open a biometric lock. He must have corneas made of diamond — well, I suppose he is Tom Cruise after all.

You throw your *gaze* down the road (and that is still a dodgy line in any genre (AG)) not your eyes. And if you have delicate organs covered with a material, which can be scratched by a SPLINTER, and then proceed to play football with it, it is entirely possible that an extremely sensitive device that has to look through that self-same material to see either the iris (or worse the retina) might, just might, throw up a false negative, don’t you think?

Don’t write her fingers pierced his bicep, because they might if she has talons.

Don’t write he was overcome with the fragrance of the flowers unless you mean he passed out.

Don’t be sloppy.

Think about what you are saying, take each word literally and make sure they say precisely what you mean them to say.

This is of course good advice in OGs as well as in SF, but it is right up there with adverbs and said bookisms in the world of the weird. Getting this stuff wrong makes you look like an amateur, it means you haven’t thought it through.

Now, maybe editors don’t care these days, maybe this is considered pedantic, maybe the X-Factor is the finest TV programme ever produced.

But do you really want to take the chance of an editor sighing, hitting delete, and then the “Thank you…but…” lands in your inbox, just because you couldn’t be bothered to rephrase an already sloppy line?

Just saying.

Take it or leave it,

So sue me (no, please don’t do that, that’s not what I meant at all).

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

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Mainstream Fantasy: There’s Craft in Them There Words.

There are so many sub-genres of Fantasy Fiction now that it is sometimes difficult to know where to place a particular work. So let’s look at just one major sub-genre.

Mainstream Fantasy, at least to me, is straight Fantasy. It may be epic or it may be heroic, but it isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel or trying to capture the lightning of somebody else’s ideas; it’s just straightforward fantasy.

Set in a secondary, or alternate, world, which has its own history and geography and ethnicities, it does not impinged upon our world in any way, shape, or form. It may have impossibly tall mountains, incredibly wide seas, impassable deserts or impenetrable jungles. It may have creatures that strike fear into your heart or wonder into your gaze. It may have other races of humans or other species that are definitely not human. It may have politics and intrigue, dark deeds and brave acts, love and hate and everything in between.

But it will always have magic.

The magic may be filled with rules that make it a system akin to science, with checks and balances, and experiments that always give the same result when repeated, or the magic may be as wild and fickle as the wind, or the sea, or the earth, or the flame, or the world, or the universe itself, impossible to fully comprehend and dangerous to misuse.

There may be gods and monsters and wizards and witches, powerful beings who can interact with the stuff of magic in ways that no mere mortal can. There may be immortal beings or beings who stretched out their lives with magic. There may be wise herbalists and generous healers, wild warlocks and dangerous enchantresses. There may be strange necromancers and stranger spirits: ghosts, and ghouls, and things that stalk the night.

Lands of kings and queens, warriors and poets, harlots and matriarchs. Men and women of worth to be respected or worthless people to be avoided at all costs — and it is not always easy to tell the difference. Magic and humanity, prophesy and fate, weirds and geasa will spill over this land and make it different from ours.

The connection between a secondary world and the world in which we live is a fragile thing for it is based on the willing suspension of disbelief. We, the readers, will believe that a dragon can breathe fire and covert gold, that a ghost can creep through the night and steal your soul, that a wizard can change the weather or make a flower bloom out of season, these things are easy to believe because they are fantastical.

But have a man or a woman with no training pick up a sword and fight off an attack from seasoned warriors, or get up on a horse and jump the high fences, or simply fix a leaky roof first time out, and we will start to doubt. Have people talking like a yokel one moment and a king the next and we will frown. Have a peasant disrespect a king and not lose his head and we will wonder.

All these things can work: if the sword does the fighting instead of the man or the woman wielding it, if the horse is sentient and keeps the rider in the saddle, if the novice roofer is being taught by some sort of telepathy, if the man whose accent changes is a spy about his business, and if the culture is created so that a peasant can disrespect a king: then we will be ready for such things to happen.

If it is part of the magic or the difference of the world, and makes sense, then we will happily believe it, but if it is just sloppy writing then the story will fail.

There are those that disparage Fantasy. They think it is simply fairytales where anything can happen. They are wrong. Only things that work within that world can happen and when you are dealing with the fantastical then the normal has to be pitch-perfect or it will throw the reader out of the story and they will probably never return.

Mainstream Fantasy is Fantasy without any bells and whistles, which makes it the hardest form of Fantasy to do well. There’s craft in them there words.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘Firedance Blogs’: http://firedancebooks.com/blog/

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Three Genres to Rile Them All

Ah genre, how I loathe thee. First we have to understand that the majority of subgenres, those hair-splitting, anal-retentive, formulaic, bollock-fests, are marketing tools. They should have no bearing at all on what you write or how you write it. You really shouldn’t write to a market, because the market is a moving target and your aim should be to hit the story not a demographic.

I think there are only three actual Genres.

  • Historical  — set in the past.
  • Mimetic* — set in the present.
  • Speculative — set in a world that does not exist.

Because the term genre has been muddied by marketing speak let us call them Super Genres (or Über if you prefer — I don’t). These are genres that hold all other genres within them. If you can think of a genre that doesn’t fit into one of these groups, don’t hesitate to tell me. I doubt you will, but if you do manage it I would be ecstatic — I did mention that I am not actually a fan of genres, didn’t I? Yup, there it is…loathe.

Historical Fiction is fiction set in the past. It is not fiction written in the past. Dickens did not write Historical Fiction (in much the same way that Jules Vern did not write Steampunk — he just didn’t so get over it. What’s that? He wrote about airships and steam-engines? Yes he did, but they were cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, technological wonders when he wrote about them. To a Steampunker, they are retro, nostalgic, technological curiosities. Spot the difference. Or can’t steampunk, which is a wonderful sub-genre in its own right, stand on it’s own two feet and instead needs to big itself up with great novels from the past. Throw off that inferiority complex, it makes your arse look so big it covers your mouth.)

Where was I? Oh right, yeah, Dickens didn’t write Historical Fiction (Okay, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’  was set in his past and I’m sure there are others, just like ‘A Christmas Carol’, which could be called Speculative Fiction…it’s got ghosts in it. What? How stupid… look do ghosts exist? Well? I don’t care about the grey blob you saw in a forest once while mushroom hunting, are ghosts a scientific certainty?…sigh…Yes, and the moon landings were faked too.)

Anyway…um…oh yeah. Most of Dickens’s stories were set in his present. They were Mimetic, not Historical, Fiction. Hilary Mantel’s ‘A Place of Greater Safety’ (which is brilliant by the way) is Historical Fiction because it is set during the French Revolution…yes, just like ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. What can I say? If you are inclined towards writing books set in the past then the French Revolution must be almost irresistible. All that lovely reportage, pamphlets, documentation, all that stuff you can use, plus beheadings, betrayal, and people who think cake is a substitute for bread (yeah, I’m aware she didn’t actually say that but it’s a good shorthand for the rich and powerful muppets without a clue. The 1% should take note.)

I quite like reading well-written Historical Fiction, but I’m not sure I’d actually want to try to write it. The constraints must be a nightmare. The writer is (IMHO) psychoanalysing figures out of history from their laundry bills. I think I’d rather sit in the corner going blah blah blah, but I am very glad that others don’t feel the same way.

Mimetic Fiction is fiction set in the present day. It is fiction that tries to imitate reality in prose. Some people seem to think that this is a higher calling and some writers (like Dickens) answer the call with powerful stories that help to change public opinion. Other writers however seem to think that readers are interested in a 2000 word scene about doing the washing-up, or the writer’s (barely-hidden) autobiographical, self-justifying, non-stories about their last divorce, or the writer’s pontificating drivel about a third-world country they visited once on a school trip.

It’s a difficult thing writing something set in your present, particularly when technology is advancing so quickly. The writer is plundering their own life for material (we all do that of course, but the rest of us can hide it a bit better — a Tudor baker or a green-skinned future-human automatically makes the character less like ourselves). If a mimetic writer needs to write about a character with the latest bit of technological kit they simply go out and buy it.

(BTW..Can you write that sort of stuff off against tax as research? If you can, then I may well write a techno-thriller set in the present that uses all sorts of technological wonders, and travels between all sorts of really cool places in the world that I have always wanted to visit. ‘It’s research, guv. Yeah, well the character stayed in a seven star hotel for four weeks so I had no choice but to do the same. Mimetic innit, guv?’ )

Mimetic Fiction can be wonderful and glorious but it is not inherently superior to the other Super Genres. That is where the trouble lies. People who, for whatever reason, have no sense of wonder, who think fiction should be a variation on a newspaper column, who, essentially, having no imagination, spout balderdash about the other super genres (usually Speculative Fiction if we’re honest. Historical Fiction allows them to nit-pick about the length of the teeth on a Victorian nit-picking comb, so they tolerate its imaginative use of historical fact in the pursuit of their insipid exercise in onanist one-upmanship. Whereas Speculative Fiction brings them out in apoplectic rage, and snobby sneering (they think it makes them cool — it doesn’t) about how none of this can really have happened. These creatures don’t exist. Those places don’t exist. This technology doesn’t exist. Strangely, most of these people seem to have studied classics at university.)

Speculative Fiction (Full disclosure: this is my genre, this is where I live, breathe, and exist. I read it, I write it, and I would roll around in it naked if I could) is fiction set in a place that doesn’t exist. That sounds simple doesn’t it?

But

Does the place not exist, because it is in the future and therefore it doesn’t exist…yet? Or does the place not exist, because it is set on an alternate (secondary) world and therefore it doesn’t exist…at all? Or does the place not exist, because it places things in our reality that don’t actually exist in our reality and therefore it might exist…if the world is really really crazy.  

Or to put it another way is it Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror?

None of this matters when defining the Super Genre of Speculative Fiction, what matters is the non-existence of the universe.

Ah yes I used the term defining in relation to genre, which is always a call for a flame war on Speculative Fiction sites. You can quite easily make yourself troll-bait by engaging in the deviant behaviour known as “Is this Science Fiction or Fantasy?” To which the only sane answer is “Dunno, bruv, is it any good?”

Yes, Science Fiction has to be scientifically plausible, absolutely (though the dogma style mania for Mundane Science Fiction is a little OTT. It is a lovely writing challenge to write something where all the science is theoretically possible at our present level of scientific knowledge (No FTL [Faster than Light] drives for instance) but it is not inherently better than some mad-arse Space Opera with galaxy spanning empires crumbling slowly away at the edges. If you think it is then you are, not to put to fine a point on it, no better than the other fashionistas who witter on about Literary Fiction all the time. You are putting limits on the imagination of authors because of your fetishist tendencies. Do you really want to be classed alongside the dinner-party set who think reading should be a difficult thing only to be undertaken by trained professionals? Seriously? So Mundane SF is a cracker of an idea, but it is not the only form of SF that deserves to use the name).

And yes, in Fantasy anything goes, but it kinda has to be consistent. (Non-consistent fantasy novels are called magic realism and written by literary writers slumming. That is a bit harsh on Magic Realism of course, but don’t blame me I didn’t nick the entire genre for the purposes of strip-mining Carroll, Blake, and Milton. Blame the literary establishment’s snobbery towards Speculative Fiction in general and Fantasy in particular. (They dismiss the Fantasy elements of Pratchett’s work with a sneer and a snigger then go all “So is this werewolf motif a reference to the beast that lies within all men.” “Um…She’s a woman.” “So it’s about the feminising of the male psyche then? Or are you references Medea? Or…” “It’s fantasy, pal.” (I doubt the good Terry, says pal much, but he should.) So when a writer they admire (for his magnum opus on fairy liquid) writes Fantasy badly, they call it Magic Realism, which is a shame because that is a grand genre now ruined by stupid white males educated past their level of intelligence.)

I find Horror the most difficult part of this triumvirate, mainly because I can never quite make up my mind if Horror is a stylistic genre rather than a setting genre. Horror can take place anywhere, it can cross all the boundaries (Yes, all genres can mash with all others, Mimetic and Historical is a stretch but it can be done with parallel storylines) and still remain Horror first and foremost. Horror is about dread, which does not rely on setting — which is my main point of reference to defining Super Genres. But hark what light of wisdom falls soft upon this aged pate? Oh yeah, I forgot, Horror is part of the Super Genre of Speculative Fiction, therefore it doesn’t matter if it is a setting based genre or a stylistic one. Problem solved.

*Mimetic is a way around using the word ‘Contemporary’, which is a little too ambiguous; contemporary could mean ‘written in the last ten years’ as well as ‘set in the present’. Mimesis means imitation, which in literature is used to mean a ‘representation of reality’. Not a great fan of the term because it is something the literati probably debate on the dinner party circuit** but there no real way around it. Clarity is all; which is why vocabulary is really quite important to a writer.

** Dinner party circuit, where the pretentious go to use their expensive education to hide their limited intellect.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/

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