Monday, June 6, 2011

Story Notes - Why I Don't Write SF

These are notes on yesterdays story, "The Captain's Solution." If you're worried about spoilers you should go back and read it.

Why I Don't Write More Science Fiction, or "This is not the Zamboni we're looking for."

I happen to love this story, but I'll be the first to say that it's hardly science fiction.

The truth is, it's hardly even space opera, which should include scary aliens and zap guns and teleportation and stuff like that. Space battles, and cliff hangers. It's kind of the sitcom version of space opera. What they call in the TV world a "three-camera sitcom." That's the kind of show which is filmed on a set in front of a live audience. Actors posturing on a stage. (A "single-camera" show is filmed like a movie - all TV dramas are filmed that way these days.)

I have never submitted this story to any magazines. I can't imagine a magazine which suits it. But I will undoubtedly write more stories like it.

This story takes place in a world I made up when I was younger. That universe did have space battles and zap guns and though the aliens were not scary, the robots were. (Imagine being chased down a narrow corridor by a zamboni with horns.) But that was the novel that Kate and Damon shredded (rightfully) and got abandoned back in 1982.

Every now and then, though, a story from that universe will push its way out. It doesn't always involve zap guns or vicious Zambonis. As a matter of fact it usually doesn't. The stories just involve people caught up in some element of that world.

Looking back, I think the reason I only come up with ideas like that is because sf readers (imho) take their zap guns and Zambonis way too seriously. SF readers, even when reading comedy, actually care about the oxygen content of a planet, even when that info doesn't drive the plot. In a proper SF story, a zap gun isn't just driven by friblitz power; it's a plasma beam or laser. A Zamboni doesn't corner very well.

And space ships shouldn't jostle one another in space they way they might on the water.

That kind of jostling can do deadly damage. I know this. I am perfectly aware of this. I didn't write it that way because I don't now better. I write it that way because, to me, other planets are all just a variation of Oz or fairyland... or Ruritania.

Ruritania, for the uninitiated, is a small imaginary country in Eastern Europe, ruled over by the Elfbergs, and the setting for The Prisoner of Zenda. Although Zenda wasn't the first book to create such an imaginary place for exiting romantic swashbuckling stories, it did end up lending it's name to a whole genre: The Ruritanian Romance. It's a place where the costumes and politics and customs are different, and the props are really cool toys. (Swords and draw bridges and pistols and horses, and even a throne and a crown! Sometimes historically accurate, but often running on the equivalent of friblitz power.)

(In case I'm leaving any non-sf people behind -- "friblitz power" is something I made up. It's nonsense.)

It's true, I never got into the kind of sf they used to make into movies and TV -- the really old stuff with the tin-foil suits and zap guns and giant robots, all running on friblitz generators. But the only reason for that was because, frankly, the drama sucked. Shallow characters, posturing. I only got interested when I saw Star Wars for the first time. I know that parsecs are not a unit of time, and I don't care that they used that wrong, and imho, The Force is just another name for friblitz power. But Tattooine? THAT'S a Ruritania. They had me from "a long time ago in a galaxy far far away..."

I'm not saying this to criticize modern SF. These days modern SF is all about drama. It has been for decades.
But it's also about the world-building, and parsecs and the effect of the smaller gravitational field on a small planet. Which is worth writing, and I even read some of that stuff. Even some of the stuff which is all world-building and no drama. But for the most part, world-building doesn't it interest me all that much, and I'm not interested in writing it.

I write Ruritanian Romances, even when I'm writing about the real world. So sue me.

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