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F&SF Forum » The Process of Writing

Vamping The " S " Part

(9 posts)
  • Started 4 months ago by BevanEvansMcdougie
  • Latest reply from oblomov

  1. BevanEvansMcdougie
    Member

    Is there a term for, when writing an SF story, not really spending a lot of time justifying a scientifically extraordinary thing that happens in the storyy? Just, more or less, saying " It happened " and proceeding from there for the story's events to happen.
    This could especilly be a case when a fairly standard science-fictional plot concept/readymade is used - As is frequently pointed out, personed across-the-univese spaceship voyages and time travel are not real plausible - but the are frequently used as story building blocks all the same. Perhaps this could be said to violate " true " science fiction ideals, but...

    Posted 4 months ago #
  2. Marian
    Member

    I believe the technical term is "handwavium."

    Posted 4 months ago #
  3. BevanEvansMcdougie
    Member

    ...:-)! Oh, boy! Thank you, Marian. Now, if I can just get started on those two stories, one involving an apocalyptic moment that just leaves one group of people alive and kills everybody else, but leaves the " stage sets " untouched and the one involving traveling out of this time and dimension to see a (real world) legendary unrecorded musician...

    Posted 4 months ago #
  4. JohnWThiel
    Member

    "Quasi-" scientific writing, too.

    Posted 4 months ago #
  5. Greg
    Member

    When all else fails, there's always technobabble.

    Posted 4 months ago #
  6. CarlGlover
    Member

    In "The Martian Way" (which I happen to have recently re-read), Asimov does it thusly:

    Two members of the crew of a scavenging space ship view a video explaining in detail why they are there, thus providing the necessary background for the events of the story, in spite of the fact that they've seen it all before and certainly know why they are where they are. They patiently watch the film and discuss it, all for the benefit of the reader and not themselves.

    So, it comes across to the reader as patently artificial, irrational and awkward, and is not something these characters would do. It is badly managed by Asimov and sets a tone of questionable believability for the characters' subsequent actions. Intelligent people really wouldn't behave this way.

    Or so it seemed as I read the story. But I've also seen many worse methods in other stories. I'm not sure there is any truly convincing way to do it, except, perhaps, by someone like Heinlein, who did it effortlessly but whose technique is still a mystery to me.

    On the other hand, perhaps it is telling that the story is in the SF Hall of Fame, in spite of what to me is only one of several serious flaws. It's the idea that matters, I guess, and not how it's executed. Indeed, the central idea is extravagant and intriguing, but ultimately preposterous. I've heard that Campbell rejected it for ASF, which wouldn't have been surprising.

    Posted 4 months ago #
  7. JohnWThiel
    Member

    "Sorry, Mr. Heinlein, we can't use your manuscript."

    Posted 4 months ago #
  8. Marian
    Member

    I'm reading and enjoying Omega by Jack McDevitt. It's from 2003 and recommended by a friend. In it, ships get around the galaxy by FTL. At one point it's mentioned in passing how space travel changed once FTL was achieved - and that's it. No further explanation and none needed. We just accept it like we do in so many stories and don't worry about how they do it. I've read stories like the example Carl gave and yeah, the story stops dead for the explanation. So better to mention it in passing and move along.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  9. oblomov
    Member

    Carl: I can't help but think the style (or lack thereof) of Asimov's infodumps is part of the charm! Big ideas, casually explain-y conversations. I truly love Foundation and it is, of course, a brilliant fundamental work of the genre -- but I think of a great deal of the book as being like:

    Random Interstellar Bureaucrat: Do we really want to declare war on the other planet?
    Psychohistorian: But yes, of course man! Don't you see that when Hari Seldon refused to declare war 10,000 years ago, it was a completely different situation from 5,000 years ago when Harley Sundale started an economic blockade against Horlon Seldorf? Or even 1,000 years ago, when Arnold Herslan set up the failed blockade against Sal Hernandez?
    Random Interstellar Bureaucrat: Isn't there a chance they'll be able to win?
    Psychohistorian: That's the beauty of it, my friend! They won't fire a shot! It's what we learned from observing Herlsan Slambop on the other Foundation planet -- there is no way they can absorb the price of so many blaster bullets given the economic conditions set up by Serndol Harnap during the last crisis!

    I just imagine boardrooms full of low-level diplomats happily contradicting each other and slapping each other on the ass while averting war through think-tankery. I honestly haven't read a ton of Asimov at this point though so maybe he started to show more and tell less as time went on -- he was like 23 when he wrote the first Foundation, which is insane. I should add though that Stanislaw Lem is one of my all-time favorite genre authors and he made Asimov look flowery.

    Bevan: I think The Andromeda Strain did a pretty convincing job of wiping out the world and leaving only a few characters kept alive by a few mystery characteristics -- disease might be a good one to think about. And of course can we forget Burgess Meredith in the Twilight Zone episode Time Enough at Last? Sleeping in the right is sometimes enough.

    Posted 2 months ago #

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