Progressive Science Fiction – Part 4


In part 3 discussed the second of the first of the four points below about how the cutting edge science fiction was becoming less available in the shops due to:


  • innovative technology needs more knowledge and understanding than in the past, because we are dealing with a bigger body knowledge, and therefore needs in general more or better explanation of how it affects us humans
  • the more politically correct society limits the subjects we can write about when it comes to political and social science fiction themes
  • ‘new’ places requires more understanding and aligning with sciences to be plausible that requires a lot of work on the part of the writer, which in turn can severely detract from a writer’s income
  • publishers not wanting to publish or push the really innovative science fiction because they want to invest in ‘safe bets’, like something similar to what sold well before

This post goes onto to discuss ‘new’ places…

One of Arthur C Clarke’s strengths as a science fiction writer was describing new places exceedingly well. It didn’t matter whether it was a desolate moonscape or the rich vibrant life of the underwater world, you felt you were there, exploring it with him. In some ways, the late astronomer, Patrick Moore, made his fame by describing what you would see and experience if you were on another real world, using the scientific evidence available at the time.

Naturally, apart from when we improve our knowledge of the other worlds, these descriptions have been ‘in prnt’ for some time now. We are familiar with them, we know them only too well. So to come up with a new, let’s call it worldscape, would take more effort.

Let’s go through what needs to be done these days to make up a new world… a really new world (yes, I’ve done this, but it isn’t published). First of all you need to understand which of the human senses your world is engaging with. Apart from the traditional five senses known to the mediaeval world of sight, smell, touch, taste and sound, there’s senses of balance and temperature.

There is a kind of 8th sense, which I call the sense of the ethereal. It’s the understanding we derive from extrapolating of what we know of our world into what we cannot through any of our senses perceive. We can only interact indirectly with this, but that does not mean there won’t be consequences in our perceivable world.

A person in a spacesuit (if it’s working properly) can only use the senses of sight, gravity and the ethereal. The science fiction world has done sight quite extensively. After all there’s only a limited spectrum of colours and positions in which those colours appear relative to our eyes. Gravity has been played with e.g. Hal Clements, Mission of Gravity. We are only really scratching the surface of our experiences of the ethereal, and even then, it’s been mainly through the medium of quantum mechanics, which in itself has been limited to what science can demonstrate as an immediate consequence.

So if you want to go exploring, it has to something in the gravity domain not written about before or something in the ethereal. Now try imagining anything of this ilk, and even if you can, try describing it. Darned near impossible. Of course, if you can’t get the message across clearly, the publishers won’t, quite rightly, publish your work.

Even if you can, there are still hurdles. We are into this is something really new game and wary publishers, worried about guaranteeing income, will not touch it.

So what is the point of developing a completely new world to experience, putting in all the hard work to make sure you explain very clearly (and had it checked by independent experienced beta readers), and making the effort to overcome nerves to send out the work to potential publishers?

From my personal experience, I have to say none at all. It’ll never get published.  It is this that makes me believe that at least part of science fiction is stuck in a rut. Sorry to end on such depressing note.



4 thoughts on “Progressive Science Fiction – Part 4

  1. You are quite correct that SF is stuck in a rut. One of the main reasons being that most of the current crop of authors do not have any scientific background – I do not consider any of the social ‘sciences’ to be scientific.

    It is nor surprising that it is difficult for an author to create a completely new environment when most of them can’t get the one they are living in to be consistent in their stories. As for post apocalyptic stories… I have yet to see one that is consistent in its world building.

  2. Hello Ivan – There once was a song with the words, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going.’
    It’s about time SF got out of its rut. Finding the way is difficult, given the risk-adverse publication industry at the moment. ANy suggestions would be welcome.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s