#AtoZChallenge: S is for Science Fiction



I am one of those people who clearly know their limits. However, science fiction writers always make me jealous. Where exactly do they get all those fascinating ideas? It is almost like a secret treasure trove, whose existence only they know and from which the most excellent of literary ideas they casually make their own, just like that.

I reflected on this question for a long while and finally found an answer that works for me. Since most of the science fiction I know are from movies and television shows, it must be more than writing that creates that awe-inspiring magic. It involves the visuals, the sounds, the acting skills of those actors and actresses, the pushing hands of directors and editors — a whole package of people with artistic talents. Thus the question: Without such package, can writers ever dream of simulating such magic and capturing the whole hearts and souls of readers?

The short answer is yes. The long answer, I think, is most definitely. Many writers begin their creating process with an actual visual image or a sound, or even a dream that contains both. It does not have to be an idea, but can indeed grow into one with a bit of tender loving care. Take this episode of Doctor Who I watched tonight, “The Girl in the Fireplace” — I have seen it at least six times since it was first aired in May 2006 (thanks to the repeats), but it still makes me cry. The idea of the lonely time traveller and his unbearable loss and sorrow is certainly cliché, but a self-repairing spaceship harvesting humans for parts? Now we are talking. Even more curious is the notion of searching for a compatible part through time and space, only on the basis of a matching name. The mistake is obvious — what we know from history is only one conclusion instead of the whole living life, as demonstrated by The Doctor when he discovers Madame de Pompadour is not a footnote in history books but a lovely, intelligent woman. But it is the constant monitoring, probing and measuring of the clockwork robots to make sure her brain is fully developed for the harvest that is attractive. Indeed, without The Doctor’s repeated interference since her childhood, could she still have grown into the way she is as an adult? Would it be preferable that they have never met, so that she could live a long but uneventful life? She does not think so, but he probably does.

So the process is to nourish an idea and help it grow, to branch out into different directions and have each tested for validity and potential for further development. It has to be a logical process, yes, but this does not and should not refrain writers from tweaking it this way and that, or tying it into a knot, or even turning it into a Möbius strip. What is vital in this process is the role of emotions, which can be played out by either humans or non-humans, or both. It is the portrayal of emotions that is attractive to readers but difficult for writers to succeed in doing. This applies to genres such as romance, thriller and horror, and certainly to science fiction. However alien a world your characters reside in, whenever they live and whatever gadgets they employ to improve or destroy things, it is their raw emotions that make reading science fiction worthwhile.

I am not saying all of us should try to write science fiction that makes people cry. Indeed, anything and everything that can make readers cry, or laugh, or feeling jealous like I do, is good. What do you think?


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