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Sollluna
01-02-2016, 08:32 PM
I've seen on a few agent's wishlists that they're looking for accessible sci-fi.
To me, that just means science fiction that is generally easy to read, and (more specifically) readable by people who typically don't like/read science fiction.

But, when I started thinking more about it, that doesn't seem like a very good definition, because it doesn't really define what is acceptable/not acceptable.
Is hard sci-fi out because it's too factual? Is space opera out because it's set in space? Is military sci-fi okay because readers of military fiction can relate to it? Is time-travel sci-fi acceptable as long as it takes place in a real historical time and place?

What is your definition of accessible science fiction? And, do you think there are any firm rules to it (e.g. if it contains *blank*, or is *specific sub-genre* it's definitely not accessible).

Twick
01-02-2016, 09:35 PM
My own definition of "accessible" sci-fi would be stories that are good, engrossing stories first, scientific treatises or military manuals second. Unfortunately, that cuts out a lot of hard sci-fi, which is appealing if you know what the author is talking about, but less so if you're not interested in the science behind quantum tunneling or rail guns.

If you need a doctorate in the field to understand what's happening to the characters, it's not accessible. If a less-educated person can go, "OK, some technobabble to explain what's going on, I get it, now here's something exciting happening!" even though the "technobabble" is genuine science, I'd call it accessible. The science doesn't pose an insurmountable barrier to readers who are not familiar with it, either because the author explains it well, or glosses over it so complete understanding isn't necessary.

Latina Bunny
01-02-2016, 09:46 PM
Interesting.

Based on your definition, I think the best "accessible" Scifi stuff are Star Wars and maybe some of the Marvel superhero movies. Star Wars, definitely, because I've seen my older, more conservative, female co-workers from school being excited about that one, and they're not into Scifi stuff (from what I've seen) for the most part.

However, I'm not sure if those franchises count, because Star Wars and Marvel stuff are used in visual mediums...?

Maybe those agents meant, Scifi that is not too dense, or requires knowledge of well-established Scifi or intense scientific background knowledge?

I think accessible means: more straightforward plot, less dense descriptions and scientific details (with the book assuming I know what the heck it's talking about, etc.

I wonder if it's aimed at people like me who are not usually into scifi? Hard Scifi is hard (lol!) for me to get into. So much tech/science talk or description. I prefer soft Scifi, or science fantasy (which Star Wars is). Or near future kind of Scifi--similar to our contemporary time, but with a little bit more tech. Scifi with more alien content will take me some time to adjust, but I still enjoy them, (though I prefer humanoids that are similar to humans).

I personally think any type/sub-genre of Scifi is "accessible", though some are more easier/faster to for some people to relate to than others (ie near future Scifi--set in times similar to ours, but with a little bit more tech).

Of course, this is just my personal opinion, so others may think differently. :)

Weirdmage
01-03-2016, 04:08 AM
I'd honestly ask the agent/s for a clarification. There's several ways it can be interpreted.
I think not Hard-SF would be a given, even longtime fans of Space Opera or Military-SF can find that hard to get into.
It could also be interpreted as nothing that requires any previous knowledge/experience of Science Fiction.* Or something that has easily relateable concepts, or not Literary-SF, or Earth Bound Near Future SF, or... -Yeah, I'd ask for a clarification.

For me personally it would simply mean that it is not part of an ongoing series. But that is not likely to be what any agent means by it.

*Which is what I what I think is most likely, although not having any more context leaves me guessing.

Captcha
01-03-2016, 04:12 AM
For me it would mean not hard scifi. I'd think they're looking for something where the story and characters come first, not the technology and alien worlds.

_TOG_
01-03-2016, 07:07 AM
I've seen on a few agent's wishlists that they're looking for accessible sci-fi.
To me, that just means science fiction that is generally easy to read, and (more specifically) readable by people who typically don't like/read science fiction.

But, when I started thinking more about it, that doesn't seem like a very good definition, because it doesn't really define what is acceptable/not acceptable.
Is hard sci-fi out because it's too factual? Is space opera out because it's set in space? Is military sci-fi okay because readers of military fiction can relate to it? Is time-travel sci-fi acceptable as long as it takes place in a real historical time and place?

What is your definition of accessible science fiction? And, do you think there are any firm rules to it (e.g. if it contains *blank*, or is *specific sub-genre* it's definitely not accessible).

Have you asked the agents what accessible means to them?

What does my definition matter? I'm not a publisher.

_TOG_
01-03-2016, 07:09 AM
For me it would mean not hard scifi. I'd think they're looking for something where the story and characters come first, not the technology and alien worlds.

What successful stories do you know of where the characters and their conflicts come in second?

zanzjan
01-03-2016, 08:01 AM
Have you asked the agents what accessible means to them?

What does my definition matter? I'm not a publisher.

It's an interesting point of discussion, and we're not generally in the habit of shutting down such (or looking favorably on others attempting to do so.) You will likely find it valuable to read the Newbie Guide to AW (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=66315), especially the portions on Respecting Your Fellow Writer.

zanzjan
01-03-2016, 08:11 AM
Twick's answer is probably closest to my thoughts on the matter.

Another thing I'll ad is that SF (and this is true of all genres in different ways and to different levels) has its own collection of tropes, language, and narrative shorthands. If you're an established and adventuresome reader in the genre you become good enough at picking up on those elements that some things can be left unexplained, but which to a new reader to the genre might seem confusing or unclear. To my mind, accessible SF is stories where you don't have to have specialized knowledge to appreciate the overall arc of the story, whether it be technological/scientific knowledge, or meta-understanding of the genre. To a large extent accessible SF is a spectrum and dependent both upon the work in question and the individual reader. Since the latter is inherently unpredictable and unknowable, practically speaking they mean the former.

Off the top of my head, two good examples of solidly accessible SF/F are the New Skies / New Magics anthologies put out by Tor several years back. But if you're interested in a specific agent (or market) see who their authors are; likely their works in turn would be the best way of narrowing down what that agent wants to see.

Albedo
01-03-2016, 11:52 AM
I agree that the relative inaccessbility of (any) science fiction to newcomers is proportional to how familiar the reader is assumed to be with all the tropes/topoi. It's not just hard SF: all subgenres (and all genres) have their shibboleths. A work that's dense with assumptions about what a typical SF (mystery/YA/romance/historical/etc.) reader already knows is going to read like gobbledegook to someone who hasn't read a pile of it already. It would be interesting to 1. know which books are the ones that bring readers into genres in the first place, and 2. compare the way they introduce unfamiliar things to the reader, to how the 'less accessible' books do it.



It's an interesting point of discussion, and we're not generally in the habit of shutting down such (or looking favorably on others attempting to do so.) You will likely find it valuable to read the Newbie Guide to AW (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=66315), especially the portions on Respecting Your Fellow Writer.

Hard SF writers reading this thread probably aren't going to feel very respected if their entire subgenre keeps getting dismissed as bereft of character or plot. I hope I'm not out of line for suggesting we have this discussion without picking on a particular subgenre.

_TOG_
01-03-2016, 04:29 PM
It's an interesting point of discussion, and we're not generally in the habit of shutting down such (or looking favorably on others attempting to do so.) You will likely find it valuable to read the Newbie Guide to AW (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=66315), especially the portions on Respecting Your Fellow Writer.

I wasn't trying to be disrespectful. Im very sorry if it came off that way.

I just thought that the best source of information would be the the source (the publisher).

Sollluna
01-03-2016, 05:33 PM
Thanks everyone for the thoughts.

It seems as if the consensus is same vague 'easy to read' and 'readable by people who don't usually read the genre', and the reason it's vague it that it means something different to everyone (I didn't think there would be an easy answer to this, but it certainly would make things easier...)

Even though multiple agents have it listed (usually as part of a list including lots of other genres), it might mean something different to each of them. I think I'm definitely going to be sorting through some of their represented books lists and looking for specific mentions of their wishlists in multiple locations to try and get a better idea of what it means for those specific agents.

Latina Bunny
01-03-2016, 06:08 PM
I thinking checking out what books the agents represent, and what specific stuff they want, would help, too. :)

Basically, when I think of accessible, I think of something I can show to people like my mother (who's not fond of Scifi), or my father (who loves fast-paced Scifi, but doesn't like being slowed down with too much worldbuilding details or vague assumptions about tropes or too much requirement of scientific knowledge).

I agree with other posters that anything that can be accessible is something that readers who don't usually read a lot of Scifi (or whatever genre), or who may not be familiar with Scifi (genre) tropes, can enjoy.

jwdoom
01-05-2016, 01:26 AM
This reminds me of an interview during my failed building maintenance career. Dude hiring asks me if I know what "finger tight" and "just snug" meant, because he didn't have time to waste on people that needed that explained.

I doubt if "accessibility" is anything about writing ability or technique. It probably means a reader wouldn't require a significant amount of specialized knowledge or interest in the subject.

I don't believe it's necessarily directed at hard SF. Read a John Ringo book for an example of inaccessible. He keeps info dumping and digressing and opinionating, sometimes in the middle of action scenes. He's got the pizazz to carry readers through that, but an agent wouldn't know if you did. I sure as heck don't.

AceTachyon
01-05-2016, 02:06 AM
No password needed.

*runs away*

Roxxsmom
01-05-2016, 02:10 AM
I've seen on a few agent's wishlists that they're looking for accessible sci-fi.
To me, that just means science fiction that is generally easy to read, and (more specifically) readable by people who typically don't like/read science fiction.

I suspect this means that they get a fair number of submissions from people who have written stories that are primarily about a central idea or about extrapolating a technology the reader would need a lot of scientific background to understand or care about. It's easy for people to forget that most people want to read stories about relatable characters with problems to overcome, no matter what the setting is. Some highly successful (but certainly not all) SF has been and is written by people with scientific training in various scientific fields, but most of these stories are still at their heart about people with obstacles to overcome, and they don't go on and on about the science.

There are also people who only respect "diamond hard" SF, whatever that means. The problem is, this might sneer at many expected and beloved SF tropes (like FTL travel) that create the kinds of premises that make for darned good storytelling. Stories like Dune, or even Ringworld, would not have been possible if the authors didn't hand wave (or blatantly fudge) some science.

This doesn't mean that every SF story needs travel between stars, or aliens, or other such things, but it can be problematic for SF writers to forget that readers are usually willing to suspend disbelief for "big" world building premises that create a cool setting and allow the story in question to be told.

Another possible issue is that it's possible to create a world where technology has changed humans into something no modern reader can relate to. It's not impossible, but again, sometimes absolute realism takes a back seat to a good story that modern readers can relate to.

So "accessible" probably means that they want SF that tells a good story about intriguing people that is not only aimed at people who are interested primarily in the science. And if the story does incorporate a lot of real, "hard" science, it needs to be framed in a way that people without degrees in that science can also enjoy it.

Polenth
01-05-2016, 04:31 AM
I disagree with others that hard science fiction is out. All the hard part means is the science is realistic. It doesn't mean it has to be explained to the reader. As long as a reader can understand the final product of the science, they understand as much as they need to know. Most drivers don't know how their car works, but it doesn't stop them understanding what it does.

I don't believe the average reader struggles with the concept of a space station or missions to Mars. They're mainstream news items. Include a chapter on how air recycling works and you'll lose people, but that's not what makes a book hard science fiction.

Albedo
01-05-2016, 05:55 AM
I disagree with others that hard science fiction is out. All the hard part means is the science is realistic. It doesn't mean it has to be explained to the reader. As long as a reader can understand the final product of the science, they understand as much as they need to know. Most drivers don't know how their car works, but it doesn't stop them understanding what it does.

I don't believe the average reader struggles with the concept of a space station or missions to Mars. They're mainstream news items. Include a chapter on how air recycling works and you'll lose people, but that's not what makes a book hard science fiction.
This. The recent insane success of The Martian shows that hard SF isn't inaccessible just because it's hard.

Maxx
01-08-2016, 12:41 AM
This. The recent insane success of The Martian shows that hard SF isn't inaccessible just because it's hard.

I think "accessible" means two things that are hard to bring together successfully (though the Martian does a great job of this): first your own interests as a writer and lover of Sci-Fi and second whatever is kind of hot in the pop cultural ecosystem (such as Mars and tough-but-funny people). That is a formula for a hit and the agent knows it. However if you turn the definition around (agent says -- I want a hit, but I'll call that "accessible") you'll see its not that different from a basic problem writers often have: their interests can be quite divergent from what is hot in the current pop cultural ecosystem. Still, you can usually find some "hook" to hook your peculiarities to some current rage -- or better something that sounds like a current rage but is really just some lost Freudian iceberg of fossilized fetiishism (hummm, three iis in "fetiishism?"). As in "Dancer Midge has a foot fettiishe that is only triggered by asymptotic alignments in the eyes of dolls..."

cornflake
01-08-2016, 12:58 AM
I too think it means 'soft' sci-fi.

Like, the first couple of Ender books, but not the Hegemony onward; Star Trek, etc. Things where the characters and their problems are more identifiably, easily-recognizable as, relatable as, human.

kuwisdelu
01-08-2016, 01:04 AM
readable by people who typically don't like/read science fiction.

This is how I would interpret it.

As someone who loves reading and writing sci-fi, but isn't ridiculously well-read in the genre, I often prefer more accessible sci-fi.

I don't like wading through worldbuilding when I'd rather just get to know the characters.

I don't think it rules out "hard" sci-fi either, as I'd say stories like The Martian or Contact are definitely accessible sci-fi.

rwm4768
01-08-2016, 03:12 AM
I would guess it's science fiction you can read without much prior knowledge of the science fiction concepts involved. Also, it will focus on the human aspects of the story rather than technical jargon. In space opera, for example, I'd say Peter F. Hamilton is more accessible than Alastair Reynolds. Something like Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga would be even more accessible (and great in general).

kaysa
01-10-2016, 07:41 AM
I've seen requests for this a lot, too, as well as 'character-driven' sci fi. I see them as similar desires - a way to engage a broader population with science fiction books without completely alienating them with dense military or extremely technical science.

For instance, as an organic chemistry, I could write a science fiction book that centers around fungal secondary metabolites and their use as poisons by an alien race on the human populace. Alternatively I could write a book about a dashing young woman and her estranged son's journey on an exploratory ship where they land on an alien world and discover new fungal toxins, which they then use to defend Earth from alien invaders while forging stronger familial ties.

The first would probably be hard science fiction, the latter 'character driven' and, if I watched my language and used words like 'toxins' instead of 'secondary metabolites', would also be accessible.

I would probably also consider non-militaristic space operas as accessible as well. Something like The Ship Who Sang or The Rowan, for me, are a lot more accessible than the majority of the Star Wars novels I read in my younger years. That could just be my own bias against excessive ship battles, however.


TLDR; probably depends on the agent, but likely the less technobabbly and character focused, the more accessible

Primus
01-13-2016, 11:25 AM
Accessible sci–fi to me is sci–fi that I don't have to pause every so often in my reading to grasp what the author is describing; that techno–physics gee–whiz machinery or science he/she has created, or is basing it off something actual or theoretical in the world. I haven't read Ringworld, but I remember reading the blurb and that is what I would define as hard sci–fi. ATM I'm reading Star Wars Aftermath: that's about as accessible as they come.

That being said, there's some relatively hard sci–fi out there that's equally accessible, like Mass Effect, although yes it is visual based. It's gee–whiz science isn't littered in the dialogue and plot, however, if you read the Codex or the descriptions for various planets, there's some fairly detailed stuff there. It's background mainly, appendices, you don't have to read it to understand the story, but it's an intriguing supplement. Mass Effect is a good example of a "hybrid" to me.

awshaw2
01-13-2016, 12:55 PM
Based on your definition, I think the best "accessible" Scifi stuff are Star Wars and maybe some of the Marvel superhero movies.



I would agree with this statement based on the fact that, even when a lot of the technology is thought out, a lot of the inner workings aren't explored. Han says "I gotta feed the coordinates into the Navi-computer". You get the general idea of what he is doing, but even if it were in a book, you likely wouldn't get a paragraph about galactic positioning and the mechanics of a hyperdrive.

I think you can have the content of what we're calling a 'hard sci-fi' book, but if you present it in a way that doesn't get bogged down it can be accessible.



That being said, there's some relatively hard sci–fi out there that's equally accessible, like Mass Effect, although yes it is visual based. It's gee–whiz science isn't littered in the dialogue and plot, however, if you read the Codex or the descriptions for various planets, there's some fairly detailed stuff there. It's background mainly, appendices, you don't have to read it to understand the story, but it's an intriguing supplement. Mass Effect is a good example of a "hybrid" to me.

This is the exact example that I had in mind. You can get a great gun shooting romp through the galaxy, or really dive into the workings of the tech depending on your interest.

Laer Carroll
01-14-2016, 02:13 AM
"Accessible" does not mean completely avoiding technical writing. It DOES mean we have to take care when we do it.

First it has to be relevant to the story as a whole, and to the place where the technical info is placed. If our readers care about our characters and are engaged with the plot they will not only tolerate but want the information.

Second, it needs to be clear. Plain everyday language for most subjects is best. Jargon can be used to give a sense of authenticity, but like most spices it should be used sparingly. Too, as others in this thread have noted, the meaning of the jargon must be clear from context.

Readers can best understand concrete details about how and why a gizmo or procedure works. Readers need to see, hear, feel, taste the effects of the strange whatchamaycallit. Only absolutely necessary theory should be included.


Jane felt a slight jarring shock from the concrete underfoot. The air in front of her rippled and a ten-foot-tall oval a few feet away and a foot off the floor became a window into what seemed to be the living room in a rustic log cabin. The oval's edges were marked by a faint rainbow glow which seemed to be rotating slowly.

She knew what it was. A part of spacetime from a far star system suddenly was also right in front of her. The husband she thought she'd lost forever was on the other side of the oval. She drew a deep breath, tried to calm the quivering in her belly, and stepped up and through the star gate.

WhitePawn
01-22-2016, 01:50 AM
I would make the analogy of doctors vs. nurses engaged in patient teaching. As a nurse, I often find myself re-writing the technobabble in a format that a patient can understand. But I'm not teaching a class either. The information has to be succinct and in a language the patient can understand such that s/he can make practical use of it. Moreover, it needs to be conveyed in a way that convinces the patient to use it.

Doctors often hit a wall on this, reading a textbook in what they believe is simple terms anyone can understand while their patients try hard to attend and fail....because simplifying isn't always the best way to convey understanding.

A patient newly diagnosed with seizure medication was told, don't drink alcohol or your new medication won't work. The doc added in technobabble but all the patient really heard was don't drink so your meds will work. Fast forward four months. Patient comes back after being very good with his meds, never missing a dose, blood serum level optimal. But he had a seizure and couldn't understand why. Turns out, he'd had one beer after work.

His meds have been working for four months, where's the harm in a single beer? Doctor reprimands him and spouts technobabble again. Enter nurse. I explain in laymen's terms how the liver works. The liver processes all your medication. The reason it takes 30 or so minutes for Tylenol or Advil to work on your pain is because you're waiting on the liver to complete this basic task. He's with me on this so I continue. Your liver treats alcohol like a medication. Take alcohol at the same time as your seizure medication and your liver has to choose which to process. Your liver will always, always, always choose the alcohol first, ignoring your seizure medication. Your seizure medication then ends up in your kidney where you literally piss it away.

A lightbulb goes off in the man's eyes. He gets it and we see no further problems with his seizure medication.

Is that an accurate description of the biological processes in play? Not entirely, but it conveys the basics effectively making the rest irrelevant.

I think accessible scifi means you convey the science involved in your scifi universe effectively, even if it means you over-simplify things in the process.

Characters drive a story IMO. If you don't care about the people involved in the action and the world created, then the action and the world created mean about as much as the drier lint hairballs I clean off the screen every week. Explain the technical elements effectively for your characters like a nurse, not a doctor.