Genre Squirreling

There was a story in Wired the other day that caught my eye. Now, I don’t normally read Wired, but it was a story about ”why sci-if is the most important genre,” so of course I had to have a go at reading it.

I’m not going to rehash that story here, instead I figured I would touch a bit more thoroughly on that question I get so often from friends and acquaintances: “why sci-fi?”

One thing to keep is mind is that that question, whether intentionally or not, comes loaded with all kinds of hints of disdain and criticism. It also comes with a need — an imperative, almost — to defend the genre, and the decision to write within it.

So…why sci-fi?

Because I want to.

Alright, there is more to it than that…

moonbeerOne of my all-time favorite writing quotes comes from sci-fi writer John Scalzi — “They say write what you know. I write what no one knows.” Writing what no one knows, writing what you can imagine, writing where you think the paths of dream and thought and time will lead…well…that’s just plain fun.

It is also, by the way, challenging. It’s challenging to think and explore. It’s challenging to dwell on — and write about — the tension between what will be and what could be.

One thing to keep in mind is that I, as a sci-fi writer, try not to make stuff up out of whole cloth. Okay…I try to not to make everything up out of whole cloth. Rather, I like to take tends and developments and problems I see today, and play them out in my mind to see where they will lead. That those all seem to lead to places dark and depressing isn’t because I want them to … nosirree … they lead there because humanity could (and very likely will) fuck up a pillow fight in a whorehouse.*

*Okay, so maybe I’m just a tad cynical…

I once said, in an old IWSG post, that sci-fi isn’t a petri dish, it’s a still. It’s not for looking at plots & characters in isolation, it’s for taking everything you think and know and believe, mashing it all together, and seeing what you can brew out of it…

In those terms, sci-fi is a tool rather than a defining characteristic. It lets the writer take current or historic trends and problems and play with them. It lets the writer shine a light on the world of today through the lens of the world of tomorrow. Walt Disney got that one wrong, by the way — the world of tomorrow isn’t a place of innocence and fresh starts, the world of tomorrow is the place where the bill comes due for all of the fuck-ups of today. Our children and grandchildren will pay that bill, just as we are paying the one from our parents and grandparents.

Ahem. I think I broke the off-switch on my cynicism-gland…

Sci-fi also lets you explore and play with themes more than any other genre. As a story about two abused, exploited street kids, Somewhere Peaceful could’ve been set in any modern port city. BUT…by setting it on a space station, a few centuries in the future, I gave myself the ability to, err, compress a world of problems (our world of problems) into one small society. I also gave myself the ability to play with languages and cultures and social dynamics in ways I never would have been able to had I set the story in modern New York, or Boston, or Marseilles…

W84BtfOPlus…aliens. Wait…I mean ALIENS!

And lasers…and spaceships…and drugs, rape, robbery and all those pesky deadly sins that ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.

The fantasy story I’m working up, by the way, is a different ball of wax. Oh, the deadly sins are still there, but the thematic issues I have in the back of my mind are more internal and personal than societal.

Plus, swords…and horseys…and MAGIC!

IMG_0155Never mind — I think all the caffeine is starting to get to me…

Shit, maybe next time I should try to explore a genre I don’t write in — how ‘bout “why romance?”

So…why sci-fi?

That question gets the same answer as many other questions in my life: why not?4F8598FB-B6BD-4B58-9BF6-5BD0BFDBF159

The Stories I Want To Tell

IMG_0163IWSG 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.15_gal_copper_1_1024x1024

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…2017_08_18_31194_1503028826._large