Chapter Two Science Fiction and Fantasy

Rayguns, helpless maidens stranded on alien planets, bug-eyed monsters, invasions of the Earth by wicked creatures, arch-fiends bent on the destruction of the race, super heroes—if you believe this is what science fiction is about, you either stopped reading it circa 1930, or have formed your opinion from motion pictures and television programs. The science fiction stories of the 1930's and 1940's were often ludicrous, but they have long ago given way to the same sophistication of theme, background, characters, and style found in other genres. The film medium has rarely done justice to the field—notable exceptions being 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Village ofthe Damned, and THX-1138. Before trying to write science fiction, read it (a truism applicable to each category of fiction, because each has its special requirements). When you read the work of Poul Anderson, John Brunner, Arthur Clarke, Harlan Ellison, Robert Heinlein, Barry Malzberg, Samuel R. Delany, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Silverberg, and Roger Zelazny, you'll discover that the rayguns have been packed in mothballs; the helpless maidens have taken to women's liberation; the heroes, once flawless, are now quite human.

Of the five required elements of genre fiction, perhaps background is the most important in science fiction novels.

Since most science fiction takes place in the future, the background must be wholly of the writer's imagination. The future can be researched to only a limited extent (even the most well-informed scientists can only conjecture what it will hold). The writer's vision must be detailed and believable, or the reader will ultimately not believe anything—not the characters, motivations, or the plot. This intense detailed creation is a challenge, but a fascinating one for the writer willing to invest more of his mind and soul than he would have to in the average Gothic or Western.

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