Friday, September 12, 2008

On Science Fiction

I don't really like sci fi. I don't read it, I never did, and the best sci fi in my book is Star Wars, which, apparently, doesn't count as real sci fi.

But I'm writing one now.

Which has been interesting, considering how I don't know what I'm doing. Fortunately, the husband loves the sci fi, and so I often go bother him on subjects like cryogenic freezing and the speed of light. He has been very helpful, so I guess I'll keep him for another year.

Meanwhile, I found the text of Robert Heinlein's form fan letter rejection (much like query letter rejection, but for his fans). In it, he mentions a definition of science fiction:
Science fiction: stories that would cease to exist if elements involving science or technology were omitted.
OK, so admittedly, that's a bit obvious. But also, it's not. Think about my beloved Star Wars*. Are lightsabers necessary to the plot? Not really. The story could have been just as easily set in the Middle Ages as in outer space. Replace hyperspeed with Spanish galleons and light sabers with swords, and we're there. Leia's metal outfit in the second movie probably wouldn't have flown so well in the Middle Ages, but... The science/technology isn't particularly necessary.

Meanwhile, you have books like The Adoration of Jenna Fox, where, without science, the story simply would not exist. The story revolves around science. That is the plot. There is no possible way for the story to exist without the scientific elements.

Or, how about a story such as Ray Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day." It's brilliant, and if you've not read it, go here. Read it first, you'll like it better that way.


So, see how the story wouldn't exist without science? The entire plot exists because of the scientific reasoning behind the sun being visible only one day every seven years. That's the plot. What the characters do with the science is essential--but you cannot have the plot with the characters without the science behind them. Science fiction, by definition, requires this formula: characters + science = plot.

*Please note: the only acceptable, worth viewing Star Wars in existence is the original three. Return of the Jedi is the best. It's a fact. Look it up.


PJ Hoover said...

When my editor read The Emerald Tablet and referred to it as sci-fi I was shocked. But then she explained more and I saw her logic.
There is a scientific explanation for everything in the book. And sci-fi is just a sub-branch of fantasy in many definitions.

For my panel presentation, I focus on what sci-fi is and is not. I'm trying to make it fun because the term sci-fi does scare many readers away. They think space and cryogenic freezing which is so not always the case!

Happy weekend!

Sheri Perl-Oshins said...

I never liked sci-fi either. I think it is heavily trodden more by boys than girls - but that is an overgeneralization, I'm sure.

However, my book, although I would not deem it as sci-fi, definitely has science in it. I need to understand photosynthesis and the science of trees and plant life.. the eco system, etc.

I wonder how many of our books have elements of science in them we never really considered before reading your post...

Unknown said...

For me, at least, my favorite Sci Fi is the kind that I can also consider fantasy: Star Wars, a Wrinkle in Time, Fareinheit 451, Jenna Fox, etc.

And personally, I love that sci fi isn't just space ships and cryo freezing!

Unknown said...

Sheri--There IS more emphasis on boys than girls in sci fi, at least in my opinion, too.

And I love the idea of the hidden sci fi in novels :)!

Heather Zundel said...

Sci-fi is such a misunderstood genre, I think. There is so much there, it covers such a broad spectrum. There is bad science fiction, certainly, but that is true with any genre. everything lies on a spectrum with varying shades throughout it. There is so much sci-fi can offer, but for the most part I think people do get hung up on the science part of it. I never thought I was a sci-fi afficianado but looking back at a lot of my "fantasy" reads, turns out I'm quite a sci-fi nerd. Books like A Wrinkle in Time (as already stated), The Diary of Pelly D, The Giver, and Enchantress from the Stars are some of the most powerful books I've read and so different from so many of my other reads. It is a delight to stumble on them. And all of them are so sublimely written. If you haven't read any of these, you really should. They are amazing and feel nothing at all of what is typically seen as "science fiction." Enchantress from the Stars is particuarlly unique. It is absolutely amazing what she was able to make out of the three cultures, any of which could have been our own.

I think it is wonderful you are writing a sci-fi story. I think there is a distinct lack of sci-fi representation in the Children's and YA field. Rock on and good for you.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the book recommendations! And you're so right: there are many more sci fi books beyond the typical science-y kind--The Giver is another one of my favorites (have you read the sequels?)

I'm going to go check the other books you just mentioned on amazon now!

Heather Zundel said...

No, but they are definitely on my list (apparently Jonas makes an appearance/is referenced in one of them? That would make me so excited). But first I think I want to read her newest book, the Willoughbys - I actually started laughing in the middle of the bookstore when I read the inside cover. Should check that one out too (even if it isn't sci-fi).

I would love to see your reviews of Diary of Pelly D and Enchantress from the Stars on your blog. That would be very exciting. (Thanks for reminding me about The Giver sequels).