Science Fiction Repair Shop

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:

Recent posts in category Science Fiction Repair Shop

Science Fiction Repair Shop: Fantfacy [sic]

On the presence of inarticulate, inexpressive prose -- "Engfish" -- in SF&F.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-08-24 21:00:00 No comments

Writing professor Ken Macrorie once coined the wonderful term "Engfish" to refer to the dead, artificial prose that writing students cobble together to make their teachers shut up and go away:

College students were once third-graders and occasionally wrote [with childlike disinhibition]. Where did they lose that skill? Why? They spent too many hours in school mastering Engfish and reading cues from teacher and textbook that suggested it is the official language of the school. In it the student cannot express truths that count for him. He learns a language that prevents him from working toward truths, and then he tells lies.

I suspect many of the same things happen in other circles, too. Novice fantasy and SF authors, because they have no voice yet, try instead to pre-emptively please their audience by feeding it some version of what they believe it wants. Or, worse, some version of what they think an "author" gives. They end up sounding like Garth Marenghi. The bigger problem is how many established authors also write like this.

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Tags: Ken Macrorie Science Fiction Repair Shop fantasy science fiction writing

Science Fiction Repair Shop: The Fine Art Of The Center-Eligible Play And Other Cheats

On cheating in a work of fantasy or SF.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-07-25 12:00:00 No comments

Fantasy fiction is a funny thing. If you don't explain enough, someone will get mad at you for being obtuse. If you explain too much, someone will get mad at you for, as they say, cutting open the drum to see what makes it go bang. It's not a question of pleasing everyone, since that is impossible; it's about what kind of audience you want.

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Tags: Science Fiction Repair Shop fantasy science fiction storytelling

Science Fiction Repair Shop: Wave A Wand And We Got The Bomb

Most fantasy stories never confront the idea that magic would have the social impact of the atomic bomb.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-07-07 21:00:00 No comments

A great quote from Wiliam Gibson:

I've never really been very interested in computers themselves. I don't watch them; I watch how people behave around them. That's becoming more difficult to do because everything is "around them".

That reminds me of another quote by Koyaanisqatsi director Godfrey Reggio: "We do not use technology so much as we live technology." Even relatively less developed societies than ours live to some degree in a technological envelope, if only as a way of staving off absolute privation.

What always struck me about the use of magic in a fantasy setting is how there is almost no discussion of the idea that the introduction of such a thing would have the social impact of the invention of the atomic bomb.

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Tags: Science Fiction Repair Shop fantasy

Science Fiction Repair Shop: Looking Onto Other Pages

"When everyone in the community reads the same books, you can an inward-looking, intellectually impoverished community that can only contemplate its own navel."

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-06-25 23:00:00 No comments


"How to progress" [in programming]

1. Read books other people aren't reading

The computer programming community tends to follow fads in which everyone reads the same books at the same time. For example, books on extreme programming or design patterns. I think this is unfortunate. If you read books that other people are not reading, then you will know different things from the things they know, and when they come to you with a problem they can't solved, you might be able to solve it with your different equipment.

When everyone in the community reads the same books, you can an inward-looking, intellectually impoverished community that can only contemplate its own navel. When we read all different books, we all have more to learn from each other.

Of the many things I think can make a better creator of SF&F, this I rank at the top as well. Most everyone I know who wants to write SF&F reads a lot of SF&F, maybe some other kinds of fiction (if they're lucky), and not much if any nonfiction. The end result as I see it, is a lot of folks writing more or less the same kinds of things, because they feed off each other's works, and almost no one is pushing the input envelope.

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Tags: Frederik Pohl Science Fiction Repair Shop creativity creators inspiration reading writers writing

Science Fiction Repair Shop: Here, Now, Nowhere

On using Zen Buddhist notions of time in writing SF&F.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-06-08 12:00:00 No comments

One of the single weirdest things about Zen Buddhism is its idea of time. Past and future are speculation of different sorts, and the only thing we can say really exists is action in the present moment. Doubly weird if you call yourself an SF author, because a big part of SF is making guesses about what the future could be like and writing interesting stories about those guesses. Is there a contradiction here, then? I don't think so.

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Tags: Buddhism Science Fiction Repair Shop Zen fantasy science fiction

Science Fiction Repair Shop: Magpie Mind Power

With every story set in a strange new world, give yourself as many individual elements of wonderful strangeness to draw on.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-06-05 12:00:00 No comments

Earlier today I was helping someone with a novel they're working on, one with a certain amount of worldbuilding, and out popped a piece of advice gleaned from a few go-rounds on that particular wheel. When you create a world with some basic rules about how it behaves, one of the first things to do is write down as many "tidbits" as you can think of. Things like, how elements of the setting might manifest; how the rules can be bent or broken; things that might happen in that world because of things being the way they are, etc. You're not obliged to include any of them, you're just going to dump out as many as you can. Then, when you start working on the story in earnest, you have a pool of devices you can reach into and drawn from to make your story happen and to enrich it on a scene-by-scene basis.

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Tags: creativity fantasy science fiction

Science Fiction Repair Shop: Knots Within Knots

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.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-03-14 21:00:00 No comments

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.

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Tags: Science Fiction Repair Shop fantasy science fiction writers writing