Science Fiction Academy

I haven’t posted here in several months, nearly half a year. It’s not from a lack of interest in what I started writing about here (recent reading and writing for the most part), rather from a desire to focus more on actually doing those things, and worry less about blogging on the subjects, for now.

I’ve been reading a ton — fiction, nonfiction, magazines — and listening to a lot of audiobooks as usual (the old commute), and working very hard on writing fiction. As I blogged earlier, I’ve gone through earlier stretches of intense focus on fiction writing in my life, but since I got started working on electronic music and my Hypnos record label, that had been completely set aside until just over a year ago.

Partly this grew out of the joy of discovering some great new science fiction writers, and also rediscovering some of the books I loved earlier in my life. Partly also, it’s been a response to a nagging sense I’ve had for a long time that sooner or later, I would start writing fiction again. I didn’t want to get back to doing it the way I did in my twenties, with a focus on “straight” literary fiction with a slightly experimental or surreal angle. This, I realized later, was my way of trying to have my cake and eat it too — enable myself to write about “weird” concepts and yet occupy the same accepted and respected literary mainstream of my big heroes like Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

Coming back to things after a long break, I realized it was important to me to work on the kind of stuff I enjoy reading and watching. My favorite books and films, and the writers and filmmakers I most idolized, occupied a more “fantastic” corner of storytelling. This could include science fiction, fantasy, horror, and even surrealism or absurdism.

In practice I’ve mostly zeroed-in on science fiction stories, though I’ve dabbled with stuff that could be called urban fantasy or occult/supernatural horror. This feels right to me, and I’ve come up with some stories that I love and feel enthusiastic about in a way that never happened with my earlier writing efforts, toward which I felt a sort of detached aesthetic regard that might barely be called admiration.

Also I think the stuff I’m writing is pretty good. I feel better about my chances of getting published now than I did before. It doesn’t feel like buying a lottery ticket when I send out a story to a magazine, more like playing a round of solitaire. OK, I might be more likely to lose than to win at this point, but at least I feel like my chances are better than astronomical.

One thing I’m doing, aside from questioning all assumptions as a writers of words and builder of stories, is trying to shore up my fundamental base of understanding the genres I’m interested in, science fiction in particular. I’ve undertaken a sort of self-study course to reexamine some of the works I loved before, and more importantly to check out the many classics I’d never yet read. This sort of self-taught course in SCIFI 101 has been instructive, but not always in the ways I would have expected. There have been books I’ve read and said “Wow, how could I have waited so long to discover this?” and others I’ve read and wanted to stop before the end, thinking to myself, “What the hell is this crap? Who decided this was a classic?”

It’s caused me to think differently about the relative merits of some names that occupy mostly equal levels in the pantheon of big science fiction names. I mean, if you post a request on some public message board for recommendations of what science fiction classics you ought to read, you’ll get a lot of people suggesting the obvious Heinlein and Asimov and Clarke and Bradbury stuff, as well as plenty of Niven and Anthony and Dick and Sagan and Haldeman, and you know what? Some of that stuff stands up really well, and some of it doesn’t. Some of the ideas are really fresh, and some is quite stale. Some of it is very good writing, and some of it is excruciating on a sentence level. Interestingly, some of the guys with the best “big ideas” write some of the worst sentences and most cringe-worthy dialogue, while a guy who’s a better wordsmith might be lacking in the “sense of wonder” department.

As I continue plodding away through my own Science Fiction Academy, I’ve reached a point where I feel like I know only a little, but enough to start asserting opinions, pushing a certain point of view. That’s what I’m going to work on here for a while, a piece-by-piece reporting of what I’ve learned and how I assess some of the major books and big-name writers of the science fiction genre (and other related styles), possibly with occasional diversions into lessons from movies, TV or even art. I’ll tag these entries with Science Fiction Academy, as well as with the relevant names and titles.

I’ll also start to give some more specifics of the stories I’m working on writing.

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2 thoughts on “Science Fiction Academy

  1. Hey Mike,

    I look forward to reading what you have to say about this and maybe taking a lesson or two from your Science Fiction Academy. I enjoyed kafka on the shore and wind up bird chronicle a while back because you mentioned something about Murakami. I’ve always got one SF tome in my bag or on my night stand that I’m digesting. There are a bunch of classics and even some writing that I’ve held off on because the time didn’t seem right or in sufficient quantities at least.

    Rob-

  2. griffinwords

    Thanks for the comment, Rob. As for Murakami, I started with Wind Up Bird Chronicle (which I loved) and just finished Wild Sheep Chase which is one of his earlier works, and it was fantastic too. I’ll probably post a mini-review of that book, in the ordinary course of reporting on my reading, even though it’s not SF at all.

    I think my first real Science Fiction Academy entry will be soon, because I’m in a mood to trash one of the sacred classics of SciFi, since I happen to be finishing it up at the moment… but I won’t give away which one. Let’s just say if I hadn’t treated this one like coursework, and was reading it for simple pleasure, I would have stopped reading it before the halfway point.

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