Science fiction has become the dominant literary genre of a rapidly changing technological society, mutating into sub-genres like space opera, cyber-punk and the interzones of speculative fiction and fantasy. In this one-day workshop we’ll examine how science fiction engages with the human implications of space exploration, astrophysics, climate change, artificial intelligence and the internet in authors like Arthur C.Clarke, J.G Ballard and William Gibson. We’ll discuss your concepts for short stories or novels and how these might be developed in terms of form and style. We’ll also look at the world of science fiction publishing.
DEFINING SCIENCE FICTION
‘Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.’ (J.G Ballard)
'An argued departure from reality.' (John Clute)
'Fiction that acknowledges a scientific version of the universe and concerns itself with the questions that this vision forces upon us.' (Judith Merrill)
'One of the biggest roles of science fiction is to prepare people to accept the future without pain and to encourage a flexibility of mind. .... Two-thirds of 2001 is realistic -- hardware and technology -- to establish background for the metaphysical, philosophical, and religious meanings later.'(Arthur C. Clarke)
'Science fiction is the search for a definition of man and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science), and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mould.' (Brian Aldiss)
'I don't think "science fiction" is a very good name for it, but it's the name that we've got. It is different from other kinds of writing, I suppose, so it deserves a name of its own. But where I can get prickly and combative is if I'm just called a sci-fi writer. I'm not. I'm a novelist and poet. Don't shove me into your damn pigeonhole, where I don't fit, because I'm all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions' (Ursula Le Guin)
'I will argue for an understanding of SF as the literature of cognitive estrangement ... whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author's empirical environment' (Darko Suvin)
The “Novum” - a term coined by Darko Suvin to refer to whatever new, currently non-existent element drives a science fiction story. The Novum, many would argue, is the thing that makes a sci-fi story sci-fi.
Science fiction - a depiction of the sublime, invoking a sense of wonder; a thought experiment; an exercise in extrapolation - what if...?
'The reason that I like SF and fantasy and horror is that to me it's the pulp wing of surrealism. That's the aesthetic of undermining and creative alienation that I really go for'
'Joy is the essential and final ingredient of science fiction, the joy of discovery of newness.'
(Philip K Dick)
SCIENCE FICTION THEMES AND GENRES
Space exploration and colonisation time travel; robotics and artificial intelligence environmental change and climate change; genetic engineering; contact with extraterrestrial life; parallel universes and alternative histories;
space opera; first contact; alien invasion; mlitary sf; interplanetary colonisation;the multiverse; parallel universes; steam punk; solar punk; cyberpunk; utopia; dystopia; post nuclear apocalypse; post climate catastrophe; Afro-futurism; feminist science fiction
APPROACHES TO WRITING
'It’s not enough to have a cool idea—an ingenious new technology, an interesting new way of organising society or gender or wealth, whatever. A premise is inert until you make a story out of it, and to do that you need to identify the conflict within the concept,' (Adam Roberts)
Developing the Idea (the 'Novum')
Does the concept need further research? Can you make yourself believe it, as a working hypothesis?
Finding the Form
Is the concept the focus of a short story? Or it could be developed as a novel, with multiple narrative strands? Should you wite a synopsis or will the possibilities of the concept emerge as you improvise it in a first draft? What narrative POV will you use? Third person, first person? Wiil you use multiple POV? What's the right narrative structure? Will the story structure follow the underlying chronology of the plot? Will it follow generic narrative arcs?
Defining the work in a particular genre can be helpful. It raises certain expectations in the reader. However over reliance on generic tropes limits the possibilities of the work. Genres can morph and overlap to produce new hybrids.
'Most of what I do is science fiction. Some of the things I do are fantasy. I don't like the labels, they're marketing tools, and I certainly don't worry about them when I'm writing. They are also inhibiting factors; you wind up not getting read by certain people, or not getting sold to certain people because they think they know what you write. You say science fiction and everybody thinks Star Wars or Star Trek.' (Octavia E. Butler)
Some science fiction writers, especially those that veer towards fantasy, stress the importance of world building. You might need to create a coherent world with its own creatures, language, technology, social structures, landscapes, ecology et cetera. However you don't need to lumber a narrative with excessive exposition.
' Worldbuilding is the Great Clomping Foot of Nerdism...Whatever the term worldbuilding implies, it isn’t deftness or economy. A world can be built in a sentence, but epic fantasy doesn’t want that. .. It wants to get away from a world. This one.' (M.John Harrison)
'I wanted science fiction to be more naturalistic. There had been a poverty of description in much of it. The technology depicted was so slick and clean that it was practically invisible. I wanted to see dirt in the corners.' (William Gibson)