Some thoughts on writing sci-fi and fantasy.

First I’m tired of my spell checker assuming I mean to type sic when I mean sci. Just saying. So if sci appears as sic because I didn’t catch it somewhere in this piece, you’ll understand.

Science Fiction was my preferred genre as a kid. I probably would have never started reading books without some of the classic authors’ work. I loved the TV shows in the 60’s that had anything to do with science fiction. Remember The Time Tunnel, My favorite Martian, Lost In Space, Star Trek – of course? Then there were other shows like The Wild Wild West, which I just realized might have been the precursor of everything Steampunk in our culture – or not.

The first book I read was HG Wells The Time Machine. I was hooked after that. I read Jules Verne next, like many kids did back then – and I hope still do. Steampunk relies on a number of Verne’s ideas as well as Wells. By the time I was in high school I had overcome a childhood aversion to reading, something painfully and negatively reinforced through teasing and ridicule in the classroom. It was a traumatic experience being called on to read out loud when I suffered from dyslexia so badly that I stuttered and stammered to pronounce words. But somehow I got past that with a great auditory and visual memory. And I learned to read silently in a much faster way than plodding along pronouncing every word through my inner monologue like we were taught back then.

In college, aside from reading textbook assignments I bravely took literature classes that interested me, like Medieval Art and Literature of England and Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature. In one semester I read forty books! I used to think hat was a lot until the year I ready 200 books.

I studied creative writing and mass communication. Oddly my coursework did not teach me to write creatively nor did it teach me how to communicate. Funny how that worked out. But what I was doing a lot of back then was experimenting with expressing my ideas through my imagination on paper whether in handwritten stories in spiral bound notebooks or composed at a typewriter using the tried-and-true hunt-and-peck method. You really know you want to be a writer when you type with two to four (sometimes five) fingers. Like many things in my life, I learned the ‘accepted’ or conventional way of doing things well after having mastered my own way. When I was in the Air Force, to qualify for my job as a linguist, I had to type 25 words per minute the ‘right’ way, even though I could type at 50 to 60 words per minute the ‘wrong’ way – and with fewer errors. That’s the Army way – or in this case the Air Force way. It made sense at the time, just like my friend who spoke Spanish fluently who wasn’t allowed to be a Spanish linguist. I still shake my head about that one.

I started writing sci-fi because those were the stories in my head. Some of them bent and warped into fantasy themes and a few straddled the thin barrier between. It is not a limiting genre unless you make it be. How cool it is to be able to have your character fly somewhere together – literally fly without anything but the wings on their own backs? Or you decide to set a story on another planet – how can you not like doing that, seriously? That’s all imagination and imagination is a very good thing for us as humans.

Not everything I write is sci-fi and fantasy. There are some elements of paranormal and supernatural in all my books, I think, but I don’t particularly follow a specific genre or sub-genre. I believe in exploring without limitations. What I don’t care for in sci-fi are the books that feel isolated, cold, clinical and distant. You know the kind of books that spent far too much time taking about all the marvelous gadgets in the imagined world instead of treating it as a discovery piece, following a character through the world and showing all those wonderful visions through human eyes and human experience.

The future? Hey, when I was a kid we were wondering what these times would be like. So, to me, this is the future. I’ve arrived where I always wanted to be. Like it or not, this is where we all live, now. I’ve learned through life’s experiences that the future ends up being a lot like the present and the past, just some of the details change. Buildings that were important to you as a kid are torn down or reworked into something else – not always better. Some ‘next greatest things’ flop, others have the unintended consequences of supplanting other institutionalized technologies. This is happening now as The Internet is taking down TV as the primary medium of entertainment for the masses.

The books I write and have written address themes about change and transition but they tend to be more about about people dealing with the technology around them and how it affects their lives and relationships with other humans. In that way you can have a romance novel set in the future on another planet that is the last hope of saving mankind as a species – except that mankind is no longer sustainable and is gradually evolving into a different species. That’s where the imagination kicks in.

You see, you don’t need to write books about alien invasions when we are the aliens and we are the ones doing the invading. Vampires, ghosts, hobgoblins, werewolves, fairies, elves, dragons, wizards, witches and whatever else can coexist in our imaginations as comfortably and somewhat dysfunctionally as we tolerate one another in our lives surviving in this crazy world we share. Killing off a character in one book doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t reappear in a sequel – as a spirit. I’ve doe it it works well. Imagine a love relationship with an old girlfriend who died tragically a few weeks before the characters were going to be married.

Everything – all of it – is completely up to you, the writer, the creator of worlds. Make a better world if you want, but I think that as long as it is a different world and something about it is interesting to a reader, you’ve done your job using the spirit the gods have given you to entertain.


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