Monday, April 21, 2014

I can be a Science Fiction Writer If I want to

Like my reading, my writing began with Science Fiction. There was nothing to be written about the bog standard comprehensive I went to, the small dormitory village where I lived, the unexceptional nature of my family and friends, even my own solipsistic uniqueness. There were, however, robots, and spaceships, and quite soon after fantastic scenarios that can only be described as SF (though later, some people would prefer "fiction", yeah, right.)

So my first stories were almost all SF ones, yet though I enjoyed the odd space opera (Hello Blakes 7, and later Battlestar Galactica), perhaps the grounded-to-earth SF of the 3rd Doctor Who or "Quatermass" were more my thing. Looking back, I was writing a kind of cyberpunk before I'd read William Gibson (and when I read  "Neuromancer" I was disappointed, though I came round by "Count Zero"), but hardly surprising given my diet of William Burroughs, Douglas Adams, George Orwell, "Blade Runner", the Jerry Cornelius novels Iand "Howard the Duck." So, over the years I've written quite a number of stories that can only be classed as SF, and quite a number, as well, that though not in anyway futuristic, are steeped enough in that genre's willingness to bend the present, might as well be.

Yet I've never had a straight SF story published. Over the years I've sent a few things to Interzone, and maybe other magazines that have come up. Its not that I'm over literary, but that I'm probably over literary for the straight SF magazine, where anything that hints at the literary tends to get sniffed out pretty quickly. I'm often reading on SF blogs a distaste for mainstream writers who "write SF" as a one off, but either get it wrong, or just use its tropes (e.g. "Children of Men", "Never Let Me Go"), but it strikes me its a 2-way street. When I write an SF story, I don't think "ooo, I'm writing speculative fiction" or "fantasy" or "slipstream" or whatever, I just think, "good, some proper SF." I would love to see a book in the Soviet yellow of those old Gollancz, or with a pulp drawing like a NEL paperback.  And yes, I read a little SF now and then, usually, it has to be said when the tedious lack of ideas of so much contemporary fiction gets on my nerves, and yes, I wince at the casual sexism that still seems to be at home in any future sex scene or the clunky writing that often comes with even well-acclaimed fantasists. And yes, I don't really get SF's grubby younger brother (sister?) "fantasy." A post-punk dislike for progressive rock's obsession with stairways to heaven etc. means I've never read Tolkein, and probably never will. (Though  I loved the Narnia books as a kid, so maybe its just something I grew out of.)

I've often read SF writers say that they choose to write in the genre as it gives them more options about talking about the contemporary world, which I understand, but I wonder why then you would "only" write in that genre? To be honest, most of my recent stories are hard to  categorise, and one that I thought was going to be an SF story (its about surveillance culture and piecing together what happened to a disappeared child from the available footage) turned out to require a more realist take. Similar, a story I've coming out later in this year could be classed as speculative or slipstream, but I really don't know whether or not it is. Writing about the internet and new technology often puts my stories in a day after tomorrow which may or may not be  SF.

Who knows? I can be a Science Fiction writer if I want to... yet getting these things published might be another issue. We seem to increasingly want a sort of pluralistic world, whether its in poetry between the experimental and mainstream, or in fiction between genre and general fiction. Readers are apparently not able to pick up the nuances or the differences - though a few writers, the late Iain Banks (through the ruse of the M. pseudonym), China Mieville, and Margaret Attwood for instance seem to be able to skip across borders very like the detective in Mieville's "The City and the City." So I had a dream the other night which I thought would make a good story. It's essentially an earthbound adventure story, as close to Edgar Rice Burroughs as J.G. Ballard, but with elements of both, and yet, eight thousand words in, I realise in my head I think of it as an SF story - though so far there's not a single element that could definitely be construed that way. And "construed" is a good word, because I guess I'm writing it to be as interesting as I can - and that means taking the best bits from adventure/thriller fiction, but with the best ideas from SF, and, I hope something of the literary skills of my general fiction. Lets see how it goes. I suspect I won't try and sell it as an SF story, but who knows?


Tim Love said...

I began with SF too. I subscribed to Interzone for years. I submitted to it, unsuccessfully, but I had SF in smaller mags. I've also had a couple of SF things in non-SF places. Another SF piece (which pre-dated "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" but uses similar ideas, alas) is doing the rounds at the moment (with non-SF mags, having been rejected by Interzone). Trying to emulate Borges I can easily stray into Fantasy, but that's as far as I go in that direction.
I rarely read SF nowadays (last, perhaps was Mieville's "The City and the City" or Yu's "How to live safely in a science fictional universe") and it's this which inhibits my writing of it because when I've had SF plot ideas in the past I've discovered too late that "it's all been done before".

Anonymous said...

Yes, theres a problem with originality in SF that doesn't come up in say, the Hampstead novel. I read the Wind Up Girl last year which was intrigueing, not perfect, and The City and The City which is great, but hardly SF. What I'm currently writing is more an adventure story with SF elements, really. Probably won't mention the SF phrase when I send it off.