Good Speculative Fiction: A Variety of Imagination

Pegasus by Vera Kratochivl

Well, its Spring Break this week and I have to admit that I’m in the middle of Mass Effect 3.   The end of March and all of April are going to be from Sheol for me in terms of work, so I either play it now or I have to wait for the summer.  I’m playing it.  Now.  🙂  So, this week’s offering will be on the short side, but hopefully it will still be worthwhile.  One important aspect of good speculative fiction is that it doesn’t limit itself to one message, theme, or method.  If that ever happens, the message takes precedence over the world, and, in doing so, it often explodes the facade of realism on which speculative fiction depends.*

Don’t get me wrong; as I’ve said before, I believe that speculative fiction is one of the most effective vehicles for conveying meaning.  It allows you to experiment with the consequences of people’s actions and no one gets hurt.  It works so well because, when readers get into a good book, they open their emotional shells to you, the author.  Of course, most of them will never really pick up on this–I know when I’m in the throes of a good book, I don’t.  After all, you (the author) aren’t talking to them, your characters are.  The events are.  Your world is.  They take it no more personally than if they were reading a straightforward work of history from an unknown author.

That fact more than anything else (for me at least) is what makes speculative fiction such an educational experience.  When I pick up The Lord of the Rings I’m not “reading Tolkien,” I’m living in Middle Earth.  I visit Narnia; I don’t “read Lewis.”  If that dynamic is ever disrupted, the author is reinserted into the equation, and it has the potential to become personal.  At that moment, all the emotional walls fly back up, and you’ve most likely lost your reader.

That is why no one theme should dominate your creative world:  the world around us just doesn’t work that way.  Whatever your own pet peeves, projects, or crusades, we are all bombarded on all sides by competing issues.  It is a rare occasion when one of them, external to our own choice, comes to dominate our time and our thoughts.  When an author rides his or her hobby horse across the imaginative landscape of a speculative world, it strikes most of us as very unnatural.  We wonder why it is there and unless we are given a clear, consistent reason, we are immediately reminded of the author.  That completely upsets the delicate balance mentioned above and brings the author back into the picture–as a potential opponent.

That is why you need to make sure that your speculative world is fairly brimming with people, personality, issues, problems, and points of view.  Frankly, there’s nothing inherently wrong with speaking to issues that you care about, as long as you maintain a sufficient level of “noise” so that you demonstrate that what you’re writing about is an issue in your world–your world doesn’t exist to solely showcase that issue.  The more you offer, the easier the balance is to maintain, and the less likely you are to sound like your book is really your soapbox.

Of course, you can’t please everyone.  People always have their own points of view, and some of them will object vociferously to whatever you say, no matter how subtly you say it, how true it is, or how much sense it makes to the story.  You have to just do the best you can and move on.


*For the record, this is an issue that I have with my fiction.  I know I have to work on it, for anyone who may decide to pick up my own book here from LHP.  Just remember, please, that my book is written towards tweens and teens–you can sometimes get away with more of this sort of thing there that you can with mature readers.

Other Posts in This Series:

  1. Speculative Fiction:  A Brilliant Opportunity
  2. Moral Escapism:  Speculative Fiction’s Evil Twin
  3. Good Speculative Fiction: Honesty and Self Awareness
  4. Good Speculative Fiction:  Facing the Consequences
  5. Good Speculative Fiction:  Substantial Imagination
  6. Good Speculative Fiction:  Truth-tempered Imagination
  7. Good Speculative Fiction:  Further Thoughts on Honesty

About Brian

I am a history professor and author living with my family in the Virginia Mountains. It's hard to improve on a life like this!

Posted on March 15, 2012, in Brian Melton, Fantasy, Middle Earth, Narnia, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Speculative Fiction, The Chronicles of Narnia and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Like you, I absolutely love visiting Narnia and Middle Earth!

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