writing sf without making your readers cry

Damien Broderick (damien@ariel.ucs.unimelb.edu.au)
Fri, 19 Sep 1997 17:51:58 +0000

At 12:00 AM 9/19/97 -0500, Eli wrote:
>Damien Broderick wrote:

>> learn the medium (that is, to learn from the
>> developments in narrative technique hard-won by pioneers).
>Can you recommend a book with all those hard-won developments?


might be a good place to start (I haven't gone to the lynx, but there seem
to be some good essays there, and useful book titles). SFWA is Science
Fiction (and Fantasy) Writers of America.

Really, though, the way to *get it* is just to read lots of good sf - and
good fiction in general - with your pores open. `Good' has an ostensive
definition, alas, and is not always met by following the common awards such
as the Hugo or even the Nebula. The John Campbell Memorial Award backlist
is pretty reliable (but not entirely; Gregory Benford beat me by one vote
in 1980, damn it).

>And it remains possible to read the Doc Smith operas.

Really? Whatever contortions you place yourself in, you are stuck with
this kind of sub-literacy (I quote without permission, cringing as I type,
from FIRST LENSMAN, page 1:

`Blonde, blue-eyed Dr. Nels Bergenholm, completely undisturbed by the
passage of the stream of bullets through his head amd body, turned and
waved one huge hand at the stool beside his own.
`"But those were not ordinary projectiles!" the visitor protested. [...]
"They should have volatilized that form of flesh - should at least have
blown you back to Arisia, where you belong."
`"Ordinary or extraordinary, what matter? As you, in the guise of Gray
Roger, told Conway Costigan a short time ago...' [snip as brain frays]
`"Think you so?" Gharlane sneered. "You, who have been so afraid of us
for over two thousand million Tellurian years that you dared not let us
even learn of you?..." [and so on endlessly]

*Cordwainer* Smith, on the other hand... Ah! Arthur C. Clarke in the good
old days. Joanna Russ. Ursula Le Guin. Thomas M. Disch. Gene Wolfe.
Samuel R. Delany. Roger Zelazny, before he debased himself in silly
costume dramas. Not all of these writers sparkle - Le Guin is rather too
grand and grey and solemn and ethically wonderful - and not all are easy to
read - Chip Delany is increasingly poststructural and ponderous, and
Wolfe's richly arcane vocabulary will drive even the logocentric repeatedly
to the dictionary... The old literate guys from the 1950s when they
weren't just cranking it out for a penny a word: Theodore Sturgeon, Alfred
Bester, James Blish, Damon Knight. Such pleasure in their intelligence,
their grace, their disciplined imaginations, their *style*.

Damien Broderick