I have a confession to make. I don’t read science fiction.
That’s not entirely true. I have read some science fiction in the past, but I realize that I haven’t read any science fiction proper in a long time. I go to the second-hand bookstore and always check out the sci-fi section, but it all kind of looks the same to me at this point. There are the Star Trek and Star Wars fanfic books, and then so many books with square-jawed guys on the cover or women in skin-tight space suits (which seem impractical) and Saturn in the background, and, like, a spaceship that looks aerodynamically sound, which wouldn’t matter in space anyway. Usually, I look for a few authors I recognize, but more often than not I just end up not getting anything.
A member of the Inkhorn Society is writing a science fiction book, and we critiqued it the other day. Now, I like to think I know good writing, so I feel I can critique pretty much anything. That said, there was a section on the main character’s armour, and how the helmet retracted off of her face automatically. It totally went into detail, and my comment was, okay already, we get it. We don’t need that much detail. Afterwards, Darcy mentioned that he could tell that I don’t read a lot of science fiction because it’s very common to go into great detail about the technology in a science fiction novel.
I think about the science fiction that I read in the past. The one that springs most readily to mind is Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. While always up for debate, the subtext is all about communism and the inability to understand people.
Now, my brain jumps to a few science fiction movies that I love. In the fifties there was a movie called The Thing from Another Planet. It surrounded scientists in the Arctic and an alien that resembled a seven-foot carrot. (They actually refer to him like that!) The remake in the 1980s was simply called The Thing, and instead of a carrot-man, the alien was indiscernible from humans. I love this because in the fifties people were afraid of ‘the other.’ They were afraid of communists and foreigners and ‘people who aren’t like us.’ In the eighties, it was more about being afraid of people in your community who you thought were decent people but ended up being drug dealers or whatever. There was intention behind it.
I figured out that my favourite science fiction reaches back to the roots of sci-fi, back when the Russians had to use science fiction to criticize the government indirectly because they couldn’t just come out and badmouth it for fear of repercussions. I like the subtext behind the stories, the commentary on modern day, as science fiction really isn’t about the future, but it’s about today and taken to extremes.
Maybe I don’t get the same enjoyment out of science fiction as others. I try to read a diverse selection of literature, although some are definitely better represented than others. I remember reading Inferno by Larry Niven when I was in high school and being blown away by how cool it was. I read Day of the Triffids and Neuromancer, but I have to say, I’m not well versed in the genre.
That said, good writing is good writing. Whether it’s science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller, romance, or literary, I want fleshed out characters, emotions, realistic decisions, sensual descriptions, suspense, intrigue, conflict, and that final feeling of resolution. I want some depth to the story, not only themes but subtext, foreshadowing, and reveals. I want a good story, regardless of genre.