My fascination with science fiction started when I was six—I’ll never forget the excitement I felt as I watched X-wings and TIE fighters scream across the screen, followed by the roar of engines and blaster bolts exploding against the cold metal. I wish I still had my Luke Skywalker and Momaw Nadon action figures. They would probably be worth a lot today, but I think they gave me my money’s worth.
I’ve noticed a trend away from science fiction over the past 20 years, and a decline in quality movies for the genre. I’ve been disappointed far too many times by poor quality stories.
On one occasion as I walked through the sci-fi aisle of my local video store, a new movie cover caught my attention. It had an image of an earth-like planet completely enveloped with jungle vines, and it was titled Savage Planet. Sounds pretty cool huh? I was excited. I rented the movie, made some popcorn, put my feet up, and got ready for a nice movie. You’ve heard it said, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Well I say, you can’t judge a movie by its cover either.
This was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. It was about a group of people who discovered a way to transport to another earth-like planet. When they arrived, they were all systematically hunted and killed by gigantic mutated bears. Yes, you heard me right, bears.
I’m not sure what was worse, the horrible storyline or the cheaply filmed video. With movies like that it’s no wonder some don’t enjoy sci-fi.
Science fiction is hard to define. It has several sub-genres, and it covers a variety of topics like time travel, space exploration, cybernetics, alternate histories, etc. I’ve heard it said that sci-fi is like pornography, it’s hard to describe, but you’ll know it when you see it. My simple and broad definition of science fiction is this: The stories built on or around undiscovered advanced technologies. .
Good science fiction will always be based on good stories. The Star Wars saga is not about lightsabers, star destroyers, aliens, or the Death Star. It’s a story about one man’s fall and his son’s struggle to save him. Don’t mistake the setting as the story. World-building is an important part of writing—create a separate document describing the world your story takes place in, and fill it with all kinds of detail. Be specific. I like to use a three ring binder with tabs for different topics like species, planets, history, cities, characters, etc. This document is for you, and it’s not your story. Use it to set the scene, but make sure the story never gets lost in the details. Reveal only enough to make it believable, and let your story do the rest.
Another factor that makes writing sci-fi difficult is the rate of scientific discovery. What we grok about our world has grown exponentially over the last hundred years. There is only one constant, things will change.
Isaac Asimov, one of the twentieth century’s greatest contributors to the genre, was not exempt from this problem. Several of the short stories in his book Robot Dreams are built around a super intelligent computer called multivac that filled an entire room, and used punch cards. It was state of the art at one time, but who knew in 50 years a computer that powerful would fit on your wrist. Things are changing much faster today, which makes it more difficult to predict the technologies of the future.
No, this is not the death of a genre. Sci-fi will not disappear. As long as we have children fly their imaginary rockets to the stars, as long as we have creative individuals willing to share their imaginations, and as long as we have people who can dream the impossible, science fiction will flourish. I love this genre and challenge you to be creative. The possibilities are endless, and a canvas as broad as the night-sky awaits the aspiring galactic calligrapher.