by Dave A. Law & Darin Park

Dragon Moon Press


312pp/$24.95/August 2007

The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction, Volume One: First Contact edited by Dave A. Law and Darin Park positions itself as a collection of essays which cover all aspects of becoming a professional (or even a non-professional) science fiction author.  To this end, the editors have garnered essays from the well known (Orson Scott Card, Piers Anthony, Ian Irvine) to the unknown (Michael McRae).  These essays are uneven in their scope and offer information which may be of interest to the author, but frequently only of academic interest.

The collection opens with essays which look at the history of science fiction and attempts to work up a definition of the genre.  Although a case could be made that the genre needs to be defined in order to write stories within its strictures, the number of essays and pages devoted to this proposition seems excessive.

The history and definition of science fiction is followed by a series of essays on world building.  Whether the creation of aliens, cultures, planets, or futuristic technology, world-building is an integral part of science fiction and these essays not only provide a context for world-building, but also provide the reader/aspiring author with hints as to the “proper” way to go about it.  However, in many ways World-building takes a back seat to the parts of writing science fiction that are shared with any other writing…plot, characters, themes, and so forth.  If a story doesn’t have an actual story, all the world-building an author does becomes trivial.

And, in fact, the essays which come next are the ones which attempt, with varying success, to teach the basic act of writing.  However, too many of these essays aren't as effective as they could be.  Milena Benini's essay on plotting, "Attack of the Monster Plot: Ideas, Settings, and Plots" gives good advice, but Benini couches her advice in terms which are indicative of the sort of science fiction published in the lesser pulps and which helped establish science fiction as a ghetto in the minds of mainstream publishers.  Reading her examples of Jimmy and Don Goombaglione makes the reader wonder what this genre could possibly offer.

The final section of the book deals with the business end of publishing.  In these essays, the authors 

For a book which purports to be a guide to writing science fiction, The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction, Volume One: First Contact is very poorly copy-edited, which myriad mistakes ranging from missing commas to misspellings throughout the text.  Although this is a minor thing and does not actually influence the wisdom (or lack thereof) of the essays included in the book, the shear quantity of mistakes gives the reader pause.  Similarly, standard indexing practice is to index names by last name and to ignore articles (definite or indefinite) at the beginning of a title.  However, the index of The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction, Volume One: First Contact lists Ray Bradbury in the R section and Jasper Fforde's novel The Eyre Affair in the T section. 

The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction, Volume One: First Contact is only the latest in a long line of How to Write Science Fiction books.  It covers ground which many earlier books covered better, including Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy (1990) or Ben Bova's The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells (1994). Even after all these years, those books still offer good and relevant advice (Bova also edited a series for Writer's Digest that includes Aliens and Alien Societies (1995), World-Building (1995), Space Travel (1997), and Time Travel (1997), which are worth tracking down.

Darin Park Time Line: A History of Science Fiction
Jeanne Allen Searching for the Definitive Definition of Science Fiction
Bob Nailor Science First, Fiction Second: That's Science Fiction
Kim Richards The Many Faces of Science Fiction: Sub-Genres
Wil McCarthy Technology in Science Fiction
Kim Richards World Building
Michael McRae Alien Creation
Jeanne Allen Navigating Your Way Through Outer Space: Facts Theories and Conjecture
Milena Benini I Don't Know That Bug-Eyed Monster from Adam: Clichés in SF
Tina Morgan Bringing Characters to Life
Milena Benini Attack of the Monster Plot: Ideas, Settings, and Plots
Orson Scott Card Science Fiction as Western Union
Tina Morgan Slash & Burn: When to Make Your Manuscript Bleed
Bud Sparhawk Laugh Lines
Carol Hightshoe Going Where Others Have Gone Before...And Want to Go Again (Fan Fiction)
Dave A. Law Writing Graphic Novels and Other Forms of Sequential Art
Simon Rose Science Fiction for Younger Readers Aged Eight to Twelve
Michele Acker So You've Finished Your Short Story/Novel, Now What?
Ian Irvine The Art & Science of Book Promotion
Piers Anthony The Writing Life

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