My ongoing discussions on the ways science fiction (and fantasy) can be improved -- how "mainstream" literature and fiction can improve it; how SF&F can return the favor as well; and occasional forays into how individual works of SF&F could be improved.
Also in this category will be some writer's resources:
The job of a storyteller should not be to make things complex, but to find common threads in complex things. Doubly so in SF&F.
It's not complexity I have a problem with in fiction (I said to my friend in a conversation about same), but convolution. I don't hate it when a story has many threads or multiple layers; I hate it when they're there to serve no real purpose except to show off the author's ingenuity.
I don't need the author to demonstrate their ingenuity by making a story convoluted. I need them to do it by making the convoluted things of life coherent, by giving me a lens through which I can understand the messiness and damage of our world.
An actual SF movie, not just a tarted-up shoot-'em-up, both because of the breadth of its ideas and how they are lovingly personalized.
I've lamented before how most science fiction movies are not science fiction, but an action movie with a flimsy overleaf of SF stapled atop. Arrival is an actual science fiction movie, and one of the finest to come along in recent years, both because of the breadth of its ideas and how they are lovingly personalized.
The premise (as derived from Ted Chiang's short "The Story Of Your Life") involves what by now is a fairly shopworn SF staple: first contact with aliens, by way of a klatsch of giant ships that materialize over different corners of the earth. (See also: V, Independence Day, Childhood's End, Alien Nation, etc. etc.) A linguist with a now-desolate personal life, Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is summarily drafted by the hard-nosed Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to decipher the alien language and establish two-way communication. The first and most pressing question they want answered is why they are here, and whether or not that answer deserves a first strike as a response.
My advice for how to give truly constructive feedback on someone else's work.
Among the creators I know, one of the most common experiences they share is having been the subject of unproductive feedback. Most people, even most published authors, are just not very good at giving constructive feedback. It's inherently difficult to do this well, and too often people fall back on wholly unconstructive praise ("It's great!") or equally unconstructive decimating nitpickery.
Here is my advice for how to give truly constructive feedback on someone else's work, distilled down into the smallest number of subheads I could manage.
On the balance between a story with too many rules and not enough.
One of the things with Unmortal that I have been less than happy about, but which I will most likely just choke down and move on with, is the way the world in the story functions in a certain way. This makes me uneasy for the same reason I'm not fond of fantasy settings with overly elaborate magical systems. I think they are distracting and needlessly complex, and a sign that the author's interests are not really with the story but with the world the story is set in.
If there is a "throughline" for our moment in time, it's not something that condenses itself down to the kind of overarching planning found in fiction.
In Philip K. Dick's Ubik, there is a riotous moment where one of the main characters, whose credit rating is abysmal, has to pay five cents every time he wants to open his apartment door. Low on change and fed up, he grabs a screwdriver and starts to dismantle the door lock. The door threatens to sue him. What's best about this moment is how Dick probably just tossed it out over his shoulder.
The mere fact that David Lynch's Dune was made at all, and in the Hollywood of the early 1980s to boot, is something of a miracle. Would that it was a better adaptation of the source material, or just a better movie, period.
The mere fact that David Lynch's Dune was made at all, and in the Hollywood of the early 1980s to boot, is something of a miracle. Would that it was a better adaptation of the source material, or just a better movie, period. It seems best thought of as an SF-tinged descendant of conventional Hollywood historical costume epics — The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, Cleopatra, Spartacus — as it has both the best qualities of those projects (epic scope, ambitious plotting, fun casting) and their worst (ponderousness, pretentiousness, miscalculations of pace and tone).
Frank Herbert's now-classic novel used the struggle for resources in the Middle East as the jumping-off point for a blend of soft SF and James A. Michener-esque historical fiction that still remains unsurpassed. Two feuding noble houses in a far-future universe enter into a tricky agreement to transfer control of a strategically important planet, a wasteland that no one would bother with were it not for the invaluable, druglike substance harvested from its sands. When the Atreides, receivers of the planet, are betrayed by the Harkonnen, its former custodians, the dauphin of the Atreides goes into hiding with his mother, and finds he's being received as a messiah by the indigenous population.
In a field that's trend-driven, all the most interesting and truly groundbreaking work can only come from the fringes.
I've long felt the main problems with SF&F are things that stem from the perverse incentives created by publishing. Publishing's a business with disgustingly small profit margins, so experimentation and risk are discouraged. At the very least, you want to make back your investment or minimize your losses; at the most, you want to sell millions of copies or have your work turned into a major multimedia franchise.