Books Opinion column

Why, Oh why, SF & F?

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Red pill or blue pill? Wait? Which one is the red pill? And why boil it together? Aren’t SciFi and Fantasy different things, like totally different things? Why in a dragon’s eye do people put them together in an alien’s egg? What’s the difference? Well, it’s obvious isn’t it? For the love of Osiris: SciFi is about technology and Fantasy is about magic! So which one’s Star Wars, again? SciFi or Fantasy? Oh! F… off!

I grew up watching my father reading books. Every day before or after lunch or dinner he would sit in his chair and read a novel. A crime novel, as it happens. Or a spy novel. He hated SciFi («Those are things that don’t happen and will never happen.» – i.e. «old ladies solve murders all the time.»), and Fantasy was obviously (obviously!) for kids. Still, some of the first novels he gave me to read were from Edgar Rice Burroughs or Jules Verne. And that was besides all the comic books I read – the pride of my collection was a 50cm-long special edition of ‘Flash Gordon’. You think that might have some influence on my writing nowadays? I wonder…

Today, however, anyone who has picked up the ‘Song-of-Ice-and-Fire/A Game of Thrones’ knows Fantasy is not ‘for kids’. I stopped counting the people who came up to me laughing in embarrassment for having presented one of these books or a DVD or something to a 10-year-old somewhere… just to find out the hard way the mistake they’d made. And SciFi? Forget about it! SF/F is the new black… I mean, the new ‘Crime’. That’s what everybody reads/watches these days! Don’t you think?

So why do I write it? Well, I don’t know… Let’s see… Realistic fiction gets too boring, just too focused on style and not enough on plot. And crime stories are too boring, so predictable. I love spy stories and historical novels – they are my favorite reads, actually, both of them, like them better than SF/F to read, actually, but they are… too limitative. I wanted to write about battles and strategies that never happened and kings that never lived. I wanted to plot political intrigues that wouldn’t make sense in today’s world. For instance: I wanted to write about the Battle of the Atlantic in WWII, and mimic the great battles of the line of the Napoleonic Wars, and have gun-fighting battles in slump cities – so why not do it all in one go? Ergo, ‘The Dark Sea War Chronicles’! I just re-imagined everything but… in Space!

And I love that ‘clash of cultures’ effect you see in time-travel or in finding new races and new civilizations. In ‘The Alex 9 Saga’ I wanted to test that old Asimov adage (is it Asimov’s?) about how technology seems like magic to less sophisticated cultures. What if a Special Forces commando from the future ended up in a medieval world? Wouldn’t she seem to have special powers? Or amazing knowledge? Wouldn’t she seem to be a witch?

So that’s the thing: crime novels focus on solving a particular problem, a particular puzzle; they focus on the ‘how’ of something. My father actually had the very nasty habit of reading the last page of these novels before reading the whole book. He only wanted to know the ‘how’, not really the ‘what’ of the story. SF/F, however, lets your mind fly! Even more so when you write it. You can do anything! Test any premise!

More than that, though (and this will seem counter-intuitive): it’s soooo…. damn…. coooool…. I mean: ninjas, martial arts, ships fighting and exploding in Space, major battles with horses and ballistae and trebuchets, sword fighting, laser beams, dragons and elves and powerful wizardry!? Wow!! How cool is that!?

So, why, oh why, SF/F? Because it rocks!! Prove me wrong!


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