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Old 10-15-2013, 09:57 PM   #1
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Sci-fi writers and readers, what do you love about the genre?

Here is the context for my question:

I've been sort of genre-confused as a writer, both in terms of knowing what kind of books I want to write and where my abilities would fit best. I feel like I was born to write, but I often feel like a misfit among writers who seem to know themselves better and know what kind of books they write. I have a lot of different ideas across a lot of different genres, which seems like it should be a positive thing, but I end up just waffling and feeling indecisive. I get overwhelmed by the options.

I've written 4 novel manuscripts over a period of several years (2 young adult, 1 historical, 1 mystery). None of them are publishable in their current form, but I've learned a lot from the process and have received a fair amount of positive feedback from writing instructors. I feel like if I could just give myself some focus and direction -- pick a world and live in it for awhile -- just maybe I would have a chance at succeeding at this. Maybe feeling like I don't "fit in" is just insecurity, or maybe I just haven't found my niche yet.

As part of my quest to figure out what kind of writer I want to be, I began exploring the sci-fi genre a few months ago. I wanted to give it the chance I never gave it because I always saw it as a guy's genre. I sought the input of friends and family who were sci-fi fans and came up with a reading list of about 25-30 books. I've only read a few so far, but I'm really enjoying Ender's Game right now.

What intrigues me about the genre is the imaginative possibilities. You still have to create a "believable" story, but you get to reinvent the world in the process. It's a refreshing idea for me. I've made a living for the past 10 years as a copywriter, journalist, and blogger. I am grateful that I've been able to do that, but at the same time my work feels like "thought prison" much of the time. My creative abilities are continually tied up in other people's goals and bottom lines. So I think that's part of why I'm gravitating toward writing something that will set my imagination free.

Sorry for probably excessive amount of context. Obviously, I realize that no one can solve my genre confusion but me, but I'm interested in knowing why others write sci-fi and what draws them to the genre.
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Old 10-15-2013, 10:51 PM   #2
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I could bullshit some intellectual answer about the specific aspects of SF that draw me in, but honestly, it's just something that I find exciting. I like reading SF, I like watching SF movies and TV, and I even like SF-stylings in my music. So I write SF, because it's what I like. I'm writing books I want to read.
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Old 10-15-2013, 11:37 PM   #3
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I like it because of the sense of adventure and exploration of the unknown and the way the human psyche adapts to new realities. I love stories with space travel, because I like to contemplate how people might adapt to living in space for long periods of time. I love stories with alien beings, because I find the concept of otherness, both from its own point of view, and through our own point of view, fascinating. I also like speculating where new developments and inventions (whether they're highly plausible or not) will take us. I love it when a writer can make me feel and empathize with someone who is biologically different from myself. It's what good writers do with human characters, but on steroids.

And I love the way a good SF writer (or fantasy writer too, for that matter) can make something different from my norm turn into my pretend norm for the duration of a book. A good SF book is one that has me thinking a bit like the characters, or like a member of their culture for the duration of the story.

And I just love the "what if" aspect of it, whether it's a carefully calculated and designed "hard" SF reality, or whether it's an implausible space opera. A good writer makes me believe in his or her world and its rules.
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Old 10-16-2013, 12:13 AM   #4
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Quote:
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Sorry for probably excessive amount of context. Obviously, I realize that no one can solve my genre confusion but me, but I'm interested in knowing why others write sci-fi and what draws them to the genre.
I like working within the sci-fi genre because it has a little bit of everything. It has a history, reaching back to at least H. G Wells in 1895 and probably much farther back -- and yet it is very open in many ways. It also has a definite tendency to embrace comedy -- which I think is a nice tendency -- BUT it doesn't dodge serious themes or serious presentations of anything at all.

It also has lots of subcurrents and subgenres as well as all the social events and films and games and what not -- it is a big and very active cultural arena.

So in the world of sci-fi, you are in the thick of things, but you are allowed your own eccentricities (I think -- I suppose we shall see about that).
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Old 10-16-2013, 12:54 PM   #5
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I'll tell you what I dislike about scifi as a genre and you can avoid it, hopefully. Lack of character development. Many scifi characters are these cardboard archetypes. The settings are richly detailed but the characters seem 2D, not particularly complex, and often arbitrary. That's the reason I'm not the biggest fan of most scifi literature even though I love scifi TV and movies. I like strong character development; a clear transition from where the character began and where he ends and how he changed. Please, whatever you do, avoid writing characters that are those stale, bland, military cadet types whose actions are predictable and precise. Write flawed characters who struggle and who succeed through their failures somehow.

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Old 10-16-2013, 08:21 PM   #6
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What do I like about SF? It's not Mundania. I get enough Mundania in Real LifeTM; I want to read about somewhere else entirely. Same with what I write.
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Old 10-16-2013, 08:39 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Rockem Sockem Robot View Post
I'll tell you what I dislike about scifi as a genre and you can avoid it, hopefully. Lack of character development. Many scifi characters are these cardboard archetypes. The settings are richly detailed but the characters seem 2D, not particularly complex, and often arbitrary.
That's hardly unique to SF; I've seen the same in historicals, romance, mysteries, gumshoes, adventures, classic novels... The usual stated divide is plot-driven vs character-driven. But I think the trappings of SF/F make plot-driven more evident, rather than it being a 'genre problem' as such. Frex, as the most basic example, it's more obvious who's gonna be the underdeveloped redshirt when you've just beamed 'em down to the frontier planet, compared to say, sending a troop of WW1 grunts off to dig a trench in rural France.

Conversely, there are reams and reams of SF/F (and everything else) with great character development, and that's pretty much all I read nowadays. Which also means there are some Big-Name SF Authors I don't read, cuz theirs is more about Stuff and less about People (there's one very famous writing team who I swear wouldn't know a Fully Developed Character if it came to life and punched 'em in the nose, and I say that knowing both writers personally). But some readers enjoy that, or they wouldn't be Big Name SF Authors.
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Old 10-16-2013, 09:08 PM   #8
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There's an alternative term sometimes used to cover both science fiction and fantasy: speculative fiction.

That's what I love about it. I can delve into some aspect of what and where we are, change it, and speculate over how things would be different. I can do that being the reader as well as being the writer. What if our day was 39 hours long? What if our sun itself orbited a red giant? What if we had sensory organs that could "see" up and down the entire electromagnetic spectrum? What if, out there somewhere, there was an empathic doppleganger, so like us that we felt their feelings, and they ours, but we never met? Ohhh....

Sorry, got carried away. I think I just had a fantasm.
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Old 10-16-2013, 09:14 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Rockem Sockem Robot View Post
I'll tell you what I dislike about scifi as a genre and you can avoid it, hopefully. Lack of character development. Many scifi characters are these cardboard archetypes. The settings are richly detailed but the characters seem 2D, not particularly complex, and often arbitrary.
Those problems are by no means unique to, or any worse in, science fiction than in any other genre.

Quote:
That's the reason I'm not the biggest fan of most scifi literature even though I love scifi TV and movies.
Are you saying that character development in your average SF movie/tv show is significantly better than in your average SF book? What the heck are you reading?

Quote:
I like strong character development; a clear transition from where the character began and where he ends and how he changed. Please, whatever you do, avoid writing characters that are those stale, bland, military cadet types whose actions are predictable and precise. Write flawed characters who struggle and who succeed through their failures somehow.
Good advice for ALL genres.

I write SF for much of the same reasons I read it: I like that it gives us a giant canvas for not only imagining the world of human experience under better, or worse, or completely different circumstances, but also gives us the room to explore and comment on our real world via allegory in a way we could never do head-on.

(Also, I really like fast space ships and stuff blowing up and the idea that anyone can be a hero.)
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Old 10-16-2013, 09:48 PM   #10
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Talking Why I like SciFi

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... I want to be, I began exploring the sci-fi genre a few months ago. I wanted to give it the chance I never gave it because I always saw it as a guy's genre.
I really suggest that you read Janet Kagan's 'Hellspark' and 'Uhura's Song', and a couple of C.J. Cherryth's books, especially 'Cyteen'

I love the SciFi genre because I LOVE technology and exploring the ways people can use and live with that technology. That said, all of my SciFi stories have the characters and their lives in the forefront, with the technology playing a supporting role. I can't stand shallow, lifeless characters!

The same goes for my Fantasy stories.
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Old 10-16-2013, 10:06 PM   #11
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Please, whatever you do, avoid writing characters that are those stale, bland, military cadet types whose actions are predictable and precise. Write flawed characters who struggle and who succeed through their failures somehow.

I'd second this. I think some SF writers made the mistake early on of thinking the story was just about the setting or technology, rather than people striving, developing relationships, learning and growing in the setting and/or dealing with the consequences of a technology. In my opinion the best SF has always done this and continues to do so. But early SF got away with less characterization because of the novelty factor. Some writers still try this approach, but they're not the one's I've enjoyed reading over the years.

It may be why fantasy has taken some precedence in recent years--fantasy writers often seemed to more compelling characters, and they've become even more so in recent years.

Or maybe it's just the fantasy I tend to read. There are a couple of long-running fantasy series that are on the popularity short list for the genre that I just can't read because I can't stand the characters.

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I really suggest that you read Janet Kagan's 'Hellspark' and 'Uhura's Song', and a couple of C.J. Cherryth's books, especially 'Cyteen'
I discovered Cherryh's stuff back in the 1980s. I got sucked into her Union-Alliance and Chanuur books especially. Her characters were interesting to me, and while I didn't recognize it at the time, she was one of the writers who pioneered the concept of a more limited point of view in third person narratives, at least in SF. Most of the books I read prior to her were omniscient style narratives throughout. I knew nothing about narrative or pov back then, but I knew that I felt her characters on a more visceral level.

Another writer whose SF I enjoyed was Ursula K Le Guin.
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Old 10-16-2013, 10:18 PM   #12
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As part of my quest to figure out what kind of writer I want to be, I began exploring the sci-fi genre a few months ago. I wanted to give it the chance I never gave it because I always saw it as a guy's genre. I sought the input of friends and family who were sci-fi fans and came up with a reading list of about 25-30 books. I've only read a few so far, but I'm really enjoying Ender's Game right now.
Two words for you: Mary Shelley. The author of Frankenstein.

Elizabeth Moon has written both science fiction and fantasy. Andre Norton is a woman and a major author in sci-fi/fantasy. So is CJ Cherryh, already mentioned. Marion Zimmer Bradley, the Dragons of Pern is a major classic. Then there's Anne McCaffrey, Mercedes Lackey, Ursula K. LeGuin...

I suppose the science fiction genre might be a bit guy-heavy. Might be. But not for lack of women. Here's a pretty good top-ten list. I'm not sure I agree with all the choices, but it does have good authors.

Creativity is not centered on the X or Y chromosome. And I think you'll find a very happy audience with little fixation on the gender of the author.
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Old 10-16-2013, 10:39 PM   #13
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[CJ Cherryh] I didn't recognize it at the time, she was one of the writers who pioneered the concept of a more limited point of view in third person narratives, at least in SF. Most of the books I read prior to her were omniscient style narratives throughout. I knew nothing about narrative or pov back then, but I knew that I felt her characters on a more visceral level.
Yep, and it's interesting to watch it develop. Last time I did a CJC reread it was more or less in order as-written, and her first two books didn't have that consistently tight POV, but it was a-comin'. It peaked in the Union/Alliance stuff, but I think has gotten a little looser with the Foreigner novels (but I'd also say those characters are a little weaker overall).

Cyteen, I'd point at as being her one book that's plot-driven rather than character driven, with characters literally manufactured to suit.
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Old 10-16-2013, 11:28 PM   #14
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Quote:
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Please, whatever you do, avoid writing characters that are those stale, bland, military cadet types whose actions are predictable and precise. Write flawed characters who struggle and who succeed through their failures somehow.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
I'd second this. I think some SF writers made the mistake early on of thinking the story was just about the setting or technology, rather than people striving, developing relationships, learning and growing in the setting and/or dealing with the consequences of a technology. In my opinion the best SF has always done this and continues to do so. But early SF got away with less characterization because of the novelty factor. Some writers still try this approach, but they're not the one's I've enjoyed reading over the years.
Thanks for the replies! I'm a big fan of character-driven fiction with an interesting plot. Or plot driven fiction with great characters. Either way you slice it. I think it's part of my genre issue... I enjoy reading so many genres and could see myself writing so many genres because it's not really the particular genre that draws me in. It's the characters and their story within the plot.

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Two words for you: Mary Shelley. The author of Frankenstein...

Creativity is not centered on the X or Y chromosome. And I think you'll find a very happy audience with little fixation on the gender of the author.
I have read Frankenstein, actually, and really liked it. And I love the story behind the writing of the book. I still can't believe she was 19.

I've read one Ursula LeGuinn. It was pretty dry for me. I don't know why. I just couldn't get into it.

When I say I always saw it as a guy's genre, I'm talking about the attitude I had growing up as a kid and teenager when I was developing a love for reading and writing. I felt like I saw a lot more guys into it than girls.
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Old 10-17-2013, 08:03 AM   #15
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For me the lure of good sci-fi is complicated. But that's because sci-fi, as a genre, is a shelf with some extremely different stories on it.

The last sci-fi story I read was the Expanse trilogy by James S.A. Corey. It's a fun, gripping read that illustrates one of the things I love most about sci-fi: the scale.

In a sci-fi story whole planets can be at risk, galaxies can hang in the balance. The risks are enormous, the stakes are unimaginable. The melodramatic weight of the plot is thrilling, epic. I love it.

But I also love sci-fi stories that exist to reimagine different ways of being as a way to better understand ourselves. Think: Ursula K LeGuin or Joanna Russ or Candace Jane Dorsey. It's science fiction as a warped mirror that shows us our true face.
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Old 10-17-2013, 09:33 AM   #16
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Marion Zimmer Bradley, the Dragons of Pern is a major classic. Then there's Anne McCaffrey, Mercedes Lackey, Ursula K. LeGuin...
Anne McCaffrey wrote Dragonriders of Pern.


I grew up around science fiction. So, when I started writing, I naturally wrote science fiction. What I loved about it then (as a boy of 10-12) were the starships and space travel. What I love about it now (as a man of almost 30) is the endless possibilities it allows for, the exploration of different cultures as well as space. I'm particularly drawn to stories that feature different species (more different the better) working together for mutual benefit.
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Old 10-17-2013, 03:42 PM   #17
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Science Fiction to me is "possibilities". The future hasn't been "written yet" so you can do anything with it. I'm not nessasarily into the "worst case scenario" type of Sci Fi, but more the Sci-Fantasy style or just what if. Think Star Wars, Star Trek, not really Hunger Games.
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Old 10-17-2013, 05:53 PM   #18
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Anne McCaffrey wrote Dragonriders of Pern.
YIPES!

Just pretend I got it right. She was in the same paragraph, after all.
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Old 10-17-2013, 10:49 PM   #19
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That's hardly unique to SF; I've seen the same in historicals, romance, mysteries, gumshoes, adventures, classic novels... The usual stated divide is plot-driven vs character-driven. But I think the trappings of SF/F make plot-driven more evident, rather than it being a 'genre problem' as such. Frex, as the most basic example, it's more obvious who's gonna be the underdeveloped redshirt when you've just beamed 'em down to the frontier planet, compared to say, sending a troop of WW1 grunts off to dig a trench in rural France.
I've heard SF called "The Genre of Ideas" and while it's incomplete (there are certainly idea-based stories that are not SF), it's accurate as far as it goes. Maybe that "excuses" the bad characterization in so many SF stories, but regardless, it's the ideas that hooked me. "Star Surgeon" (which I read at age 12) may not have had the best characterizations of either humans or aliens, but again, it was the ideas that hooked me.

And to be clear, I'm talking about written SF, and mostly "hard" SF (which has been variously defined, but I think originally meant stories where the ideas are based on the hard sciences).

Sometimes, admittedly, "Sci-Fi" movies and TV shows have good "idea" content, but much of the time characters are chasing skirts, the same kind of stuff you can see in any other drama.
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What if we had sensory organs that could "see" up and down the entire electromagnetic spectrum?
THIS is what I'm talking about, when the author knows (among other things) what the electromagnetic spectrum is.
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Old 10-18-2013, 01:21 AM   #20
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I've heard SF called "The Genre of Ideas" and while it's incomplete (there are certainly idea-based stories that are not SF), it's accurate as far as it goes. Maybe that "excuses" the bad characterization in so many SF stories, but regardless, it's the ideas that hooked me.
I think that's probably common for those of us who got hooked by SF/F when we're young, being at an age when ideas are often more interesting than people. I used to read a great deal of concept-heavy SF, back-when, and wasn't very interested in character-driven stuff. Now, I'm the other way round.

[And the video was hilarious. ]
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Old 10-19-2013, 12:07 PM   #21
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What I miss is SF where the future doesn't completely suck. I don't mean it has to be all bunnies and rainbows. Obviously, there has to be some source of conflict and tension, or there won't be a story. But at some point, it seems we've lost our optimism about the future and have forgotten what people are capable of if we abandon selfish goals and work together.

Maybe it's because we're so far removed from WWII now and the era of that kind of optimism. None of our modern wars have really done much to make the world safer for democracy, and all those seemingly cool technologies--internal combustion engines, plastics, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers and pesticides--that made life so much better for much of the 20th century are now strangling us. We no longer assume that people are basically decent or that technology will solve more problems than it creates.
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Old 10-19-2013, 05:53 PM   #22
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What I miss is SF where the future doesn't completely suck.
<snip>
Maybe it's because we're so far removed from WWII now and the era of that kind of optimism.<snippola> We no longer assume that people are basically decent or that technology will solve more problems than it creates.
Sound like you've been reading too many 1960s dystopias. Seriously, today's SF is overall so much more optimistic, so removed from the predictions of disaster and decline of yesteryear, there's no comparison. Philip Wylie and ...ah, what the hell was his first name... not Douglas Mason, the other Mason who wrote a bunch of dystopias... would never sell in today's market, and even Ballard and PK Dick might be a tough sell.
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Old 10-19-2013, 08:43 PM   #23
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If I wanted to experience the real world, I would step outside. Sci-fi is a whole new world where pretty much anything is possible. Also, I love how sci-fi can deal with social and political issues in a context that's less likely to offend people than realistic fiction.
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Old 10-19-2013, 09:50 PM   #24
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What I miss is SF where the future doesn't completely suck. (snip)

Maybe it's because we're so far removed from WWII now and the era of that kind of optimism.
As Reziac noted, the dystopias of today seem a lot more hopeful than the ones I was reading back in the 80s when nuclear war and the end of the world was a real possibility.

But I think you're right that there is less optimism about the future now. We've got robots and space flight and talking wristwatches now--and while it's great, it's no utopia.
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Old 10-19-2013, 10:53 PM   #25
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YIPES!

Just pretend I got it right. She was in the same paragraph, after all.
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