20 thoughts on “Writing Excuses Episode 8: Sci-Fi Genre”

  1. The point about the Science Fiction not originally being it’s own genre is interesting. Looking back on several classics I would have to agree. One of the most surprising things about your podcast is that it has not only helped me write fiction, but with my actual News stories as well. Whether something is fiction or nonfiction it’s always about the people. Thank you for helping me understand that.

  2. For the sake of reduced confusion I’m going to call stories with a science fiction setting “Sci-Fi” and stories that explore science fiction concepts as possibilities as “Science Fiction.”

    I’ve always been a fan of Sci-Fi. I love the setting and the concepts, even if the technology is “magical” like Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver. Like many people, Trek got me into it and lead me to a number of books and shows that I treasure to this day.

    I think the Science Fiction of OSC was the first I encountered (not counting a handful of trek episodes) that wasn’t just sci-fi in setting only.

    But the first book that I fell in love with that was didactic science fiction through and through was John Varley’s Steel Beach. At its heart it’s a detective story of sorts. But it’s littered with science fiction concepts that are not only integral to the plot and characters, but also serve as a device to explore humanity.

    It was also one of the first stories I ran across that didn’t stop at predicting technology, but also the state of our morals and what is acceptable. Actually, I shouldn’t say it’s the first, but at the time that I read it, it had the more radical predictions as far as humanity’s moral compass goes.

    I’ve run across more and more similar stories since I read it a long time ago, both preceding it and inspired by it, but it for some reason Steel Beach sticks out in my mind.

  3. Dan, what was the Phillip K. Dick essay book you mentioned in today’s podcast?

    Great stuff guys! Keep it coming. I’ve blogged, as well as posted to the Liberty Hall writers community about Writing Excuses. I’m getting a lot from listening.


  4. I’ve heard many times that if your going to write in a particular genre you should be well read in that genra. But when is enough, well, enough? When do you draw the line and just write? Should I “always” be afraid of being a cliche’? like corps-sickles?

  5. Guerry:
    It’s not an essay book, it’s just a foreword to a collection of his own short stories. I’ve loaned it out to a friend, unfortunately, but as soon as I can contact him I’ll give you the official title.

  6. Orson Scott Card said that the difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy is that Fantasy has trees on the cover.

    I think it was in his reccent audio books of Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow…

  7. Hmmm… I’ve got a John Ringo book here, Military Sci-Fi at its very finest, and there are trees on the cover.

    Then again, maybe that book is the proverbial platypus.

  8. I found the statement about sci-fi is about new things that are conceivably possible and fantasy about conceivably impossible very sage.

    My favorite authors have been Niven and Lovecraft, which I’m surprised no one mentioned Lovecraft as a bridge between magic and fantasy, in a horror setting of course. I’ve only read a couple but I understand that the Elric of Melniboné series and others in that word setting follow this fantasy to sci fi to fantasy as the cycle of time progresses.

  9. I enjoyed the explanation of the difference between Sci-fi and fantasy. I had a teacher explain it to me once as “in sci-fi there is usually technology we don’t usually have, however in fantasy the technology has been replaced with magic.” Which works for some things, but not always (most of your uban fantasy have both.) So I liked your explanation a lot better.

  10. One point that we may not have made clear: if you’re writing a story and you’re not sure whether it’s SF or Fantasy (or Horror, or Romance, or anything else) that’s probably only a problem if the publisher can’t figure out how to sell it.

    Write the story you want to write. Let the critics, pundits, and retailers try to categorize it.

    Urban fantasy/horror set in a post-apocalyptic 22nd century? I’d probably call it “soft SF,” but that won’t stop me from enjoying it if it happens to be a good story.

  11. “Urban fantasy/horror set in a post-apocalyptic 22nd century?”
    That actually sounds like a really good idea, I might be stealing it. Not really, I’m not one for writing SF, but I do enjoy reading it. This was a good podcast for any genre, not just SF and Fantasy, especially at the part on reading into the genre you’re writing in. Usually, I’ve found that once I stumble onto an idea, I think “oh this is great!” then I research it and found it’s already been done before. Or I have an idea that’s been told too many times and is now cliché in that particular genre.

  12. Two comments.

    First comment: Could someone address Ben’s question. It is a question that I often stress over.

    Second comment: Brandon you made the comment on this podcast or at a lecture that if you can write the story with out magic or monsters then don’t force the story to be fantasy. Do you think the same rule applies to Sci-Fi? Do first time authors pack non-essential technology and Sci-Fi stuff into stories?

  13. Ben’s question:
    “I’ve heard many times that if your going to write in a particular genre you should be well read in that genra. But when is enough, well, enough? When do you draw the line and just write? Should I “always” be afraid of being a cliche’? like corps-sickles?”

    There are two very good times to just accept the cliche and run with it: when you’re a novice, and when you’re a master. Novices are trying to learn and hone their craft more than anything else, so they don’t need to worry about editors and readers who’ve already read this story a million times. The reason we’ve all read this story a million times is because everybody writes one, and there’s no need for you to be different–you’ve got to start somewhere. So write a corpsicle story, or a farmboy-becomes-king story, or whatever you want, because if that’s the story that gets you writing then that’s the story you need to write.

    Once you become a Master, you can write about cliches because you have the skills and experience (and the trust of your readers) to do it right–to take it somewhere new. Yes, there are a million corpsicle stories, but that doesn’t mean that the best possible corpsicle story has already been written. I believe that the artistic high points of our culture are all in the future–just because the past was great doesn’t mean we can’t do better if we really put our minds to it. If you have something really new and exciting to say, or a really good way to say it, then the presence of a cliche won’t matter because you’re presenting it in a new and exciting way.

    So that leaves one huge group that should really steer away from cliches: the middle, which is where most professionals are. They don’t really need to do a cliche story for practice, and they don’t yet have the groundbreaking new take on it that will make it all new and fresh again. The best way to know which group you’re in is to write the story you want to write, and see how good it is when you’re done–if you learned something valuable, good job and keep it up; if you’re ready to move on to your own, original ideas, go for it; if you’ve recontextualized an ancient trope with a brilliant new spin, it’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Gaiman.

  14. @Ben: Read enough to whet your appetite for the genre. Dig in, and enjoy.

    Now write the story you want to read. As Dan said, if it’s been done before, and done better, well… you had some good practice. If it’s been done before, but you’re finally doing it the way it always SHOULD be done, hurray! And if it’s NEVER been done before, congratulations. You thought up something new.

    Don’t let anything stop you from actually sitting down and WRITING, though.

  15. These last two comments really help sum up what I love about this podcast. It’s a writing resource that makes me want to write. Too many of the books I’ve read or talks I’ve attended have labeled all the writing mistakes with big DON’Ts. You guys do an excellent job of acknowledging the only way to learn to do something well is to first do it poorly. Your advice is less like a big list of roadblocks that I have to figure my way around before I start, and more like a set of signposts so I’ll know where I am at various points along the way.

    Thanks, guys.

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