I wonder if (or more probably, how many) other writers have this problem? —
I love to read sci-fi.
I have read many of the greats from Jules Verne to Robert Heinlein, from Michael Crichton to Frank Herbert, from Isaac Asimov to Douglas Adams. (Just because the latter’s books are hilarious, doesn’t disqualify him — Douglas was a writer and script editor for Doctor Who for many years, and who also had good understanding of science.) Last but not least, I have voraciously consumed almost everything Arthur C. Clarke has written.
But I digress. My first efforts at writing sci-fi approximately (cough,hack) years ago stunk. No modifiers, no superlatives – I just stunk. I had good ideas, at least in my own opinion, but I found I went nowhere with them. They came out dull, derivative, or uninspiring. The last time I tried writing the Great American Sci-Fi Novel, I quit in the middle of chapter two.
Maybe it’s because I know too much about the inner workings of science? It makes it that much tougher to fool myself when I write hard sci-fi, because I can freely peek behind the curtain of ‘suspension of disbelief’. As a result, I instantly see the scientific holes, the gaps, the places where the underlying supports in my attempts at hard sci-fi world-building fall apart. I wonder how Clarke, a scientist in his own right, did it?
That brings me to a very stange flip side of my sci-fi coin. If someone else’s book is good enough, or especially if a movie is good enough, my willing suspension of disbelief easily overrides my scientific half. I simply can’t seem to afford myself the same leeway. Take for example, the concepts of time travel or wormhole travel. While in our world, such things might exist in the spaces between quantum aberrations, it cannot be seriously considered to exist at the macroscopic level where a person can survive it. Yet, while I consider most time travel stories to be laughable crapfests that I wouldn’t give a plugged nickel for, there are a few stellar exceptions to that rule where the author or filmmaker has successfully broken through my disbelief. H.G.Wells’ “The Time Machine” is one of those few exceptions. The long and short of all that is, if it doesn’t compute on a basic scientific level, it just doesn’t float my boat.
So now I find myself writing and published in fantasy and horror. Go figure.
The really funny thing is, I loathed fantasy when I was in school. It was too frilly, didn’t make sense, and most of all, was not sci-fi. I particularly despised with an enmity that would out-glow a supernova those fantasy stories that saved the hero’s bacon with Deus Ex Machina. “…when suddenly the purple Pegasu-Centi-corns flew over the horizon, with the fabled but seldom mentioned Staves of Unbelievable Luck!” No, no, NO!
So at least that distaste has instilled in me the drive to build holistic worlds that abide by their own laws – laws that might not apply in our world, but at least never contradict themselves, or allow for purple Pegasu-Centi-corns Ex Machina.