IWSG Question o’ the month: what do you love about the genre you write most in?
Nice question, folks! It’s especially appropriate since I’m looking at the stories I want to write after I’m done with the Dockrat series.
I’ve talked before — a bit — about writing sci-fi. First and foremost, it’s important to remember that I’m a nerd. I’m a major nerd. Sci-fi and fantasy have been tied for my first love since I was old enough to turn that jumble of big words and strange spellings into understandable stories.
The first time I read The Chronicles of Amber…my first encounter with Mote In God’s Eye…the day when Left Hand of Darkness started to make sense…Downbelow Station and Lord of Light and Hyperion Cantos and A Canticle For Leibowitz…
Watching Star Wars and Outland and Excalibur and Alien(s)…
Yep, I’m a freaking nerd.
But — and this is the big BUT, for me — writing is different than reading. Very different. I might love to read sci-fi, but that isn’t why I’m currently writing it. Not at all. Hell, I’ve mentioned before my shameful, only-talked-about-in-private love of Downton Abbey, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to write soap operas about the early 20th century English aristocracy…
No, the stories I am currently writing (Wrath, Silence and Flicker) are sci-fi not because I love the genre, but because it serves the story.
I have, in all honesty, been asked and challenged as to just WHY Connor’s story is written as sci-fi when it could, just as easily, be set in 1970’s Boston…or 1980’s Marseilles…or Long Beach, or Brooklyn, or any of a dozen other “real” cities.
Honestly, the story is sci-fi for the same reason I love the genre: it’s not a lens, nor a dream, nor a filter…it’s a still.
Sci-fi lets the writer take dynamics and issues and problems from the everyday world, and distill them down. You distill them, mix them with other dynamics and issues and problems, then release a concoction that intensifies and combines everything into one (hopefully) coherent liquor.
Connor’s “world” in Wrath very intentionally distills the willfully insane socio-economic disparities with which I grew up (thanks, Los Angeles!), then mixes it with manifestations of the ever-growing problems I see plaguing the US today. Dockside’s asian cultural and linguistic elements were then added as “seasoning” in order to foster a sense of otherness for my US-based readers.
That combination of elements would not be possible without the…errr…”lubricant” of science fiction. That, as a writer, is what I love about sci-fi. Oh, the ability to take on any and all themes is nice, as is the ability to take ideas and settings and, well, space-magic, and just run with them…but none of those compare with the flexibility and fun of building a world built to say what you want to say.
Quite simply, there are stories you can tell only in a sci-fi setting. Oh, I don’t mean alien invasions and grand space battles…I’m talking about commentaries on societies and cultures and peoples. The Forever War tackled the Vietnam War in a way not really possible in other genres. The War With The Newts, Brave New World, Frankenstein, The Time Machine, (just to name a few of the oldest) all used sci-fi to tell stories about so much more than they were about.
When you get right down to it, the genre of a story is nothing more than one of a writer’s many tools. It sits right there with setting and tone and language as a way to tell and define the story. If sci-fi does not serve a particular story for me — or anyone else — then something else must be used.* None of the future stories I’m toying with are sci-fi for much the same reason that Dockrat is sci-fi: each has a genre that best fits the story.
*But, use something else or not, sci-fi and fantasy are still my first loves — and, as we all know, you never really get over your first love!
When you get right down to it, what I love about sci-fi is what I love about writing itself: telling stories. More precisely, telling the stories I want to tell.
I’ve been asked — more times than I can count — “who are you writing for?”
Now, look…I’m an ex-sales and marketing weasel. I can bullshit with the best of ’em. A question like that all-but FORCES me to bullshit. But, sitting in a quiet pub with a nice drink, and some quiet conversation between just you and me, the truth comes out: who am I writing for? Me. I’m writing for me, and for the stories I want to tell.
And if those ghosts fluttering around the back of my mind, waiting to tell their stories, all have a sci-fi or fantasy bent? So much the better.
By the way, the next round’s on me…