On Sci-Fi

I have a love/hate with the genre

I was checking out this blog about Stephen King, reading a review about “The Jaunt,” which I’ve written about previously, when I noticed that the reviewer had summed up my aversion to most sci-fi almost perfectly:

“The gimmicky imagination of futuristic details, from the names of newspapers to spaceship systems, galaxies and planets and the attempt to make the impossible sound simultaneously fantastical and commonplace bores me.”

This, especially the last bit, is why I just can’t get into much of it. I love imagination, and I definitely enjoy it when bright people speculate about how the world may be in the future, but I find the way it’s presented almost always cringeworthy. Granted, it’s a tough thing to do. I don’t reckon I’d even be up for trying to set one of my stories too far into the future at this point. If I thought up some really cool, futuristic world in which to set my story, I think my biggest challenge would be introducing the details without simply diving into the dreaded info-dump. You could always try to use the characters to explain things, but then you run the risk of inauthentic dialogue, where the characters say things to each other that they both already know and understand. And that makes for boooooring writing. I suppose the best way to do it is to present your ideas as if the reader already knows what you’re talking about, and then allow them to figure it out on their own. This way, you make the reader feel smart (always a plus), and you don’t sound like you’re being overly proud of yourself for coming up with something cool (which is, quite often, how it comes off when you spoon-feed the reader with a bunch of technical details).

When it’s done like this, the results can be wonderful. In the movie Looper, for instance, they never mention that the older model cars have some sort of jury-rigged mechanism to recycle the exhaust back into the gas tank, or that some of them also have solar panels on the top. It’s simply a detail that’s in there for the viewer to see and figure out themselves. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s going on (in fact, it shouldn’t be something too obscure), but it adds to the realism and immersion into that world. It also makes the viewer think that the writers were clever, and that he or she himself is clever for noticing how clever. Cleverness for everyone! We all win!

And of course, regarding the first portion of the above quotation, names for sci-fi people, planets, spaceships – or pretty much anything really – can often be so tacky that it’s an immediate turn off. Again, it’s hard to speculate what will be popular in the future, but if I open the page and Zyvork the alien is blasting off in his ship, The Parseculator, to the planet Reenod to rescue princess Falconia, I’m closing the book.

Here’s a good link if you find that kind of stuff as ridiculous as I do.


3 responses to “On Sci-Fi

  1. I see what you’re saying. Movies jump right into it often, but they have the advantage of being wholly visual. They give you a date at the bottom of the screen and then jump right into the meat of the story. Think Alien… or Pitch black… of course, ideas like “cryo-sleep” have become sci-fi tropes now, but other details are just thrown at the viewer all at once.

  2. Pingback: My top ten space movies | Dana Stewart·

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