Literary fiction or science fiction? That’s a question many successful writers may have asked themselves when they first started out. There are those who blur the lines—Ursula K. Le Guin and Mary Doria Russell come to mind—and there are those who make no bones about writing pure SF pulp. By pulp, of course, I mean unapologetic, space operatic, hard-and-fast hitting, action adventure that makes no bones about pretty prose and moralizing. Looking at Scalzi, David Weber, and John Ringo here.
A trait many long-established authors eventually develop is the ability to switch from hard and fast to deep and expansive prose styles, or vice versa, at will. Yet, I don’t doubt that these authors will always return to the type of storytelling they love most. The best known advice in writing is to write what you know, but really, it should be, write what you love, and I just so happen to love the grit, grime, guts, and gore one finds in a solid Honor Harrington or Alex Benedict novel. Here’s why.
- The best female ass-kickers are all from science fiction. My unequivocal favorite all-time movie heros have all been women. From Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in the Terminator series, to Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley in the Aliens films, followed by Milla Jovovich as Alice in the Resident Evil franchise, and finally Summer Glau’s River and Gina Torres’s Zoe in the Firefly series and film Serenity. While there may be many, many non-scifi films with strong female heroines, the ones that have always inspired me were those who came from SF films.
- Research is good for the brain. One of the greatest things about being a writer is the ability to invent and develop a brand new world and all its exciting and dangerous accoutrements. Science fiction puts the onus on writers to research all those nagging questions about physical and biological laws (What is the speed of light? How is distance in space calculated? What kind of entry arc would a fleet cruiser need in order to slip into a planet’s atmosphere without damaging its hull?) while still giving a writer leeway for making up things that just maybe aren’t totally realistic but still cool as hell.
- Invention is also good for the brain. When my patience for research or annoyance at the limits of known science have grown too big, science fiction is the perfect genre for making it up as I go along. You may want a weapon that does something specific but doesn’t exist in the real world. Voila! Creativity makes it happen. Or perhaps you need a new life form, something particularly gruesome and gooey, which has never before been seen on earth. No problem; conjure away, Conjurer. (Though can you really get more gruesome or gooey than the angler fish?)
- Contemporary society is so…contemporary. Great science fiction books like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, or Frank Herbert’s Dune all jump us out of the narrow confines of normal social order and give us a vision of what life could be like if we just make a few tweaks to rational order here, kill a few stereotypes and norms there, and reorganize some expectations and beliefs over there. When what we perceive about how people behave in our own reality gets tipped on its head, incredible and unexplored ideas are allowed to flourish in new and surprising ways.
- And the final (and arguably biggest) reason I write SF is to prepare for the zombie alien apocalypse. Let’s face it, the end is going to come. It’s one thing to have a basement full of bottled water and double-barrel, slug-loaded shotguns, but the only real way to prepare for the day when hordes of brain-eating/possessing/stealing/sucking/bartering/dissecting/or squashing zombie aliens comes is to have already inured one’s mind to the fact. When They appear, the people who will be best capable of survival are those who have mentally prepared vs those who simply have a few extra weapons and canned goods lying around. Trust me on this. Science fiction writers are really just survivalists doing our own version of end-of-the-world due diligence.
Stay tuned this weekend for a fantastic opportunity to load up on a wild range of speculative fiction from an exciting crew of writers, including yours truly. We have contests, giveaways, and a full selection of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and genres spanning the gaps between. Check back on March 8th for more.