When I was a teenager, I received a book for my birthday from a cousin. I must have gotten a puzzled look on my face as I looked at the cover depicting a barbarian brandishing a war hammer in space*.
â€œYour sister said to just get something I donâ€™t understand,â€ she explained.
â€œThanks.â€ I think.
â€œYou can take it back if you want.â€
â€œNo, no thatâ€™s okay. Thank you,â€ I said, hiding the dejection. It wasnâ€™t so much the gift that disappointed me, but the message it conveyed.
I was just plain weird. Not in that cool, rebellious non-conforming way, but in the awkward, socially isolated way.
Whenever I claim to be a writer, people get excited and always ask â€œOoh, what kind of stuff do you write?â€ I used tell people that I write speculative fiction to which I got the reply, â€œWhat is that?â€ Then I would have to break down and mumble â€œscience fiction and fantasy.â€ So now I just get to the point, and brace myself for the reaction. I get about five odd looks with the tag “How interesting,” to every “Wow, cool”.
My colleagues and I are often reassuring ourselves that, well, it is harder to write good speculative fiction than it is to write regular novels. Our literary ancestors are Shakespeare and Poe. And so and so says that speculative fiction is the literature written today that will last for generations. Did you pick up on the insecurity yet?
But everywhere around us, we see such bad examples of the genre that we canâ€™t help but understand why mainstream literature fans and writers look down on our work. So then we try to separate the quality work from the bad by attaching labels. I donâ€™t write â€œsci fiâ€, I write â€œscience fictionâ€.
Good speculative fiction (A term invented not really out of insecurity, but because the lines between science fiction, fantasy, and even some mainstream fiction are so blurred that there needs to be a term that covers it all.) really is harder to write. As well as good story and character development, the speculative author must come up with an interesting premise or world and keep it consistent. That takes a lot of creativity and logic. Then they must carefully lead the reader into this world in such a way as there arenâ€™t huge blocks of what we call â€œinfo dumpâ€. That takes a lot of story crafting skill.
I sometimes wonder if I am even up to it, but I know that I am driven to write. I want to write speculative fiction because it twists reality in order to highlight what is human in all of us. It helps us understand ourselves in a way that reality fiction lacks. Many of our well loved classic stories carry fantasy elements.
Maybe Iâ€™m arrogant because I want to write a classic.
*I never read it and in a rare fit of organizing I got rid of it. I don’t remember the title, but I would kind of like to have another copy, if only for laughs. It was probably published around 1988 or 89, and acquired from an Idaho grocery store. If any of you have seen this missing book, please contact me: ami (at) geekatplay DOT com.