Genre Difficulties by William Alan Rieser

You probably do not look at the current spate of science fiction writings as anything other than imaginative and absorbing. Given the popularity of sagas such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Star Gate, Babylon 5 and their derivatives, I can hardly blame readers and reviewers for thinking so. After all, there are global incentives and dogma that regulate literary efforts, not the least of which is money. Formula writing, which adequately describes the above series, is governed by an old standby, namely: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ There are literally hundreds of successful examples from other genres that support this reasoning, in fact nearly all of them. Wouldn’t it be foolish to disturb this seemingly endless flow of proven method? I would agree with this philosophy if it involved a material invention, my wife or my car, but there is something wrong with the assertion that it applies to fiction because the essence of imagination is in the creation of new concepts. Unfortunately, film and television are designed to sustain the ideas that seem to work, much more than they are willing to promote innovative and truly provocative thoughts. This is a sad state of affairs given the power of that media when coupled with the deplorable dissolution of literate readers in our undereducated world. What you really have is a dearth of originality and an assembly line of old news that satisfied escape seeking intellects twenty-five or more years ago.

Why is this so?

Part of the reason is caused by the wrong assumption that we, especially the corporate we, should be foolish to go with anything that is not a winner. This is exactly the same ruinous logic that has destroyed professional sports in America and turned so many gifted, talented people into mediocrities with but few exceptions. To break the bonds of that kind of reasoning requires an intrepid author, one who is willing to wait several lifetimes to achieve vindication. This is not only sad, from the creative point of view, but wholly insidious and stupid.

What proves my point?

Take an honest look at all your favorite stories, especially the ones hyped so intensively and mentioned above. Granted, there are some instances when new germs of thought manage a slight breakthrough, but they are usually short lived and rather underdeveloped or left hanging. How often, in your inspirational fantasies based on these stories, have you encountered beings that are not hybrid earth creatures? Be honest! Aren’t they almost universally bipeds with two arms, legs and a head? Oh, they may change the coloring or add plastic appendages to elbows and knees, but no reasonable person can conclude they are anything other than derived from our planet.

Where have we gone wrong?

Authors contribute to this nonsense by eluding the basic premise of science fiction, namely change. Nearly everyone agrees that if there is life in the universe, it most certainly will not duplicate us or anything else on earth. Yet our best writers insist on drowning you with continuous streams of unlikely, unbelievable characters that do little other than provide livelihoods for actors, technicians, conceptualizers and the banking institutions that force the whole mass into a vicious Moebius loop.

How do we fix it?

Return to the basics. If one is trying to write about an extraterrestrial, then one must stand (arbitrary term) in that creature’s shoes or plasma conduits or whatever it may have. In other words, stop looking at these admittedly highly foreign entities with the eyes of a human being, rather the intellect of a galactic being not conditioned to our way of thinking. The moment this is done, the writer is immensely freed from the constraints of complacency and all the other bad effects I have been describing. Mind will definitely breathe easier and more elaborately in an environment uncluttered with the debris of formulas and literary chains. Of course, the movers and shakers may already be too far gone to admit the truth of this, in which case there are thousands of reruns to challenge their trapped, unsalvageable sentience.

You can email the author of this article at WRieser@juno.com

Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 William Alan Rieser, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

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