A year or so ago, I took Dr James Gunn’s science fiction writing class on the internet. I went into it nervous, and came out of it hemorrhaging confusion.
I am still confused by his teachings.
The first major point of confusion was brought on by his statement that real science fiction involved the ultimate survival of all mankind. I guess I’ve been reading an awful lot of fake science fiction all my life, or else I’m unable to recognize plots that endanger all of mankind, and not just the shipful or planetful of characters immediately involved in the story.
How many plots would potentially involve all of mankind, and especially the survival of mankind? Well, before men colonize other places, that would involve war, alien invasion (a type of war), plague, famine, living space. Have I forgotten anything? After mankind spreads to other planets, other systems, it becomes even harder to threaten all of it. War and possibly plague, if they don’t get the illness isolated fast enough. To my thinking, that’s an awful lot of possible plots that can’t be explored and still be real science fiction.
For instance, I tend to like stories about people who are starting a new colony. You know, the problems they encounter and how they deal with them. Apparently, these are not real science fiction, because if these colonists don’t make it, there’s a whole planet of people back home who could try again, either at this place or someplace else.
So, if what I’ve been reading all these years isn’t science fiction, what genre is it? Space westerns? Space pioneers? Space operas? I suppose we could split them up into multi-genres like that, but where does it end? If people keep insisting on strict guidelines for any particular genre, then it seems like we would soon be coining a new genre for each book, or at least, each series of books.
One of the students in our class wrote one of those colonization stories. The colony had just experienced its first death, under suspicious circumstances. Eventually, the character charged with solving the death arrived at the conclusion that a series of unfortunate accidents resulted in this man’s death. Underneath, he was thinking that mankind had abused the Earth, and had come here and started abusing this place, all in the name of making it more ‘hospitable’, and in the end, nature had found a way to strike back, just as Earth had started to do. Now, to me, that at least implies a risk to all of mankind. Dr Gunn wasn’t sure he agreed that this story was true science fiction. Hence my confusion.
This was originally written several months ago, and is still true today. See you next week.