Why it’s getting harder to write worthwhile Sci-Fi

March 21, 2010

As someone who is interested in Free culture as well as writing, I was struck when I came across this from a long list of tips for authors: “5 When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it”.

When I think of my favourite novels (2001: A Space Odyssey, Time), and indeed the whole genre of Science Fiction, I must say that one of the great things about these books (especially when I was about 14) was the amount of stuff it taught me. To think of these incredibly intelligent people, able to conjure up complex plots from intricate science, could take my breath away.

And now I’m thinking about it, it might be true to say that since I’ve learned a huge amount under my own steam (and the ideas in those books are no longer new) then I’m less easily impressed by Big Idea Sci-Fi. The trouble for these poor genre authors is that once science ideas are no longer new, they’re no longer original, and that’s something that non-SF authors have over their SF brethren: fictional ideas are much more easy to make up than fact-based Science Fictional ones. In fact, by definition it’s completely impossible. So now, whoever writes about going to the Moon, or geosynchronous orbits, will have to work a lot harder for their stories to be worthwhile reads (i.e. they’re going to have to come up with some other plot too).

Jules Verne and Arthur C. Clarke had it easy, didn’t they? Just like people in ancient Rome had easier history lessons because there was simply less history…