I like working on SF, possibly a legacy from my youth and RPG days when the ‘sensawonder’ really grabbed me tightly. I still marvel at the worlds described to me, at stars and strange planets, at technology about which I can only dream. Despite that wonder and excitement, at the moment it is an effort to rework something I produced a year ago: I’ve had to write 5000 words before the place I thought would be a good start.
Simply put: I found myself having to explain too much. Unless a writer is writing in a world not too far removed from the nowor which has few, very minor changes, it is extraordinarily difficult to not explain things in an SF piece. Books like the Handmaid’s Tail (Margaret Atwood, of course) or Nekropolis (Maureen F. McHugh) fall into the former category and allow the writer to create a ‘literary’, focused, human-interest story oriented around the step-differences on which they are based. Interestingly both are based on Earth, in places that are very recognisable.
However, when those step differences become higher or are exaggerated, or are part of the wonder, the world around the characters becomes a character, almost, and seems to demand similar treatment. It becomes even more difficult with each step of necessary difference, whether technology, place (planet, universe), travel (what type of starflight?), biological alterations (has the Singularity occurred?, as each step, in every direction, requires unfolding to the reader.
And that unfolding, I think, is difficult, You cannot hit a reader with everything at once: reveal the principal characters and show the differences and reveal the time difference and show the opening of a complex plot. I’ve seen rumours that that’s why publishers expect a longer book for SF than normal, so the explanation can be made. Placing it, however, so that the reader is shown the impact of key elements of the technological difference is tricky. Sure, I could cop out and keep telling them, but that would become boring quite quickly.
So I’ve had to add the words to show the impact of, and attitudes towards, key components of the future technology. It also gives an opportunity for the main characters to demonstrate their capabilities, but the main reason is to avoid pages and pages of background blurb. Which in a book I’m reading I hate and often skip over, only to find I’ve missed key elements of the background.
Still, it’s been interesting. And I found I had to think about the planet more, too. 🙂