I don’t judge a book by it’s cover; I judge it by the number of blurbs the new paperback includes.
Very early in Inferno, I realized that Dan Brown’s career-long fetish for ellipses had reached a whole new level. Basically, ellipses are the hero of the book. They make their first appearance on the dedication page.
Sam Anderson’s (and David Rees’s!) marginalia is the best thing on the internet.
Recently my wife and I were wondering what we’d do if we knew we only had a couple months to live. We like to talk about things like that, as well as dystopian scenarios, the end of civilization, murder, and the right proportion of basil versus spinach in pesto.
So, the first thing out of my mouth was that I’d make sure all my affairs were taken care of. You know, so my loved ones wouldn’t have to worry about anything. Then the next thing out of my mouth was, “And I’ll give you instructions on what to do with my unfinished novels.”
So, here I am. About to die. Just weeks of life on Earth. And I would spend that valuable time writing instructions to my grieving wife on how to finish the novels I’m working on.
What’s interesting is that my wife didn’t even bat her eye at that. Of course, she’d expect that and would happily comply. Why? Well, she’s an author too, and so understands the compulsive instinct on perpetuating these stories that authors dream up.
Then it occurred to me–what is so Earth-shattering about my novels that they MUST absolutely outlive me. Let’s face it folks, I’m not Hemingway. I wrote fiction designed to be un-literary. I write genre fiction, along with millions of other people who have better stories, better characters, and better plot development. I’m not trying to change the world. I’m not desperate to reveal a mankind-evolving message. I’m storytelling.
I mean, it’s really quite embarrassing that I would, in my core, believe that the self-admitted non-literary genre fiction I write should ever be considered more than what it is. I write because I love to tell interesting stories. That’s it and that’s all. Why do I then have an instinct to keep the stories going, especially since the whole purpose is to enjoy writing them? What joy is my wife going to have writing her dead husband’s material?
Okay, look. I’m not being self-deprecating here, I’m actually trying to explore this instinct a bit. Is it about creating an important legacy? Is there some deeper meaning in my stories that my subconscious believes transcend my limited perception of them? Is it just vanity?
I couldn’t tell you. One thing I can say is that it’s important to keep these things in perspective. If I only had three months to live, I really don’t think preparing most posthumous literature is a good use of time. Maybe it’s better I spend that time with the people I love.
The good news is, I have no intention of going anywhere. So there may be a time I write some earth-shattering society-changing pulitzer novel. Until that day, I will happily embrace the brevity and short-term satisfaction inherit in speculative fiction.
I made a covenant with myself a handful of years ago. Which is not unlike a New Year’s resolution, but for no particular ideological reason.
I decided that I would no longer write fantasy or sci-fi genre fiction. Instead I would focus on the real world in my speculative fiction, real mythologies, and real history. It sort of turned into my niche, actually, I now I write novels that take place anywhere between the Bronze Age and 1940s Canada.
My reasoning was this: the fantasy genre is consumed with downstream Tolkien and no matter how hard we try we have to be George RR Martain to break the stream. It’s too difficult to fight the stream and not worth it, when the same stories can be told in mythological settings and with human history.
Secondly, science fiction was in a stream of space opera that was so overdone there were no unique or interesting ideas anymore. Again, it’s just better to take those concepts that normally would have fit in a space opera and transform them into a mythological, historical or realistic human setting.
You see, I’d been jaded. Having been immersed in speculative fiction for my entire life I stopped seeing the difference between ideas in books and movies. It all looked like the same stuff. In fact, I went so far as to create a world building community (which I long ago abandoned but still seems to be thriving at basilicus.wikia.com) who’s entire purpose was to consolidate all of these separate but similar ideas into one easy to navigate infrastructure. Much of my original space opera content still lives on that site–and to those that support it and keep that community thriving, I owe the world to you, I hope to some day come back to a supporting role).
However, I digress. The covenant was made, because as a writer, forcing my spec-fic ideas into a human paradigm is both difficult and rewarding. It forces me to examine what makes us human, the similarities and differences beteween our cultures, mythologies and religions. It gives me a much broader perspective on what makes us tick. Something not easily accomplished when one is making up worlds and the people who live in them.
Then one fateful night, not two weeks ago, I discovered that the entire Star Trek The Next Generation series was on Hulu Plus. And since those of you that read my blog know that I have this at home…
…The idea of watching Star Trek The Next Generation in its entirety from my iPad was startling awesome, I forgot to do anything else since. Speaking of which, there’s a strange smell coming from the kitchen.
Now, I’m not new to the Star Trek franchise. I’ve watched the original and Next Generation in my formative years, but basically stopped after that. I was a huge fan of the movies as well. But that said, I was always a Star Wars guy.
I liked the epic sweeping space opera genre and relished in the western-in-space motiff. It didn’t bother me that there was absolutely nothing accurate (scientifically or otherwise) about the franchise, nor did I care that the writing was … well, let’s just say it isn’t Arthur C. Clarke.
But it was adventurous, fun and impossible to dispell until Lucas drove the bus off the road and created the prequel series. But I’m not going to get into that. The point is, I couldn’t see a different approach to Star Wars that would work in my fiction, so I decided to leave the genre and remain only as a spectator.
When I first watched Next Generation, I was a kid and most of it flew over my head, much like the Ferengi in neutral space. But there are a few things I remember, and I thought it was a good show.
Now that I’m watching it with adult eyes, it has completely shifted my perspective on the genre entirely.
What Star Trek does, that no other series in recent blockbuster sci-fi franchise memory accomplishes, is focus on the human experience as its subject matter. It is done masterfully.
You see, the humans in Star Trek have reached the best they are ever going to be. They represent what our ideal is for the most perfect human. Ethics, diplomacy, and technology at the apex. THEN, shit is thrown at them. Okay, perfect human, how do you handle this, or that… so you think you are so perfect, have fun with this epic moral dilemma. The series, show after show, tests the limits of the ideal human to the point where it is maddening.
After watching show after show in the past ten days, I feel like I’ve seen a series of passion plays that I’ve been viewing under the Bodhi tree.
So that’s the secret then. If only I can apply these concepts to space opera, I’d be set. That and the striking realistic nature of the technology and science as well. I may be onto something.
Camp NaNoWriMo is just around the corner…