Every now and then I get a hankering to write some fiction, but writing is hard, so I usually just read a book about writing instead. I have a whole shelf of them, and this time I came across Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy while thumbing through. I bought and read this over ten years ago, but I couldn’t remember a damn thing about it.
This is a collection of essays on different aspects of writing, from the fundamentals of plotting and dialogue right up to submitting manuscripts and dealing with editors. Isaac Asimov is listed as the author, but he’s really just one of many contributors, some being big name authors and some being the editors from his magazines.
It started off well, particularly with Robert A. Heinlein’s contribution. It’s an overview of what he feels a story is and how he approaches writing one, which is exactly what I’m looking for in these sorts of books. I don’t want a list of golden rules for creating a story; I just enjoy reading about an author’s process. Asimov’s and Connie Willis’ essays also stood out for me.
World building became the focus midway through the book, something I typically find quite interesting, but these authors made it so incredibly dull. I think I probably skimmed and skipped a lot of this the first time through, which would explain my previously mentioned lapse in memory.
It wasn’t just dull, but it was a wee bit arrogant at times. It felt like some of the authors were just using this as an opportunity to try and show off a bit and use their new-fangled early 90s computer graphs. A couple of the essays were workshops on how to build a future with what we know of our history, the frequency of war and the cycles of economic growth for example, which could actually be really interesting. Unfortunately, it becomes a bit of a joke when it’s treating as a more ‘scientific’ method than what fantasy does. It’s a fun thought experiment, but you’re delusional if you think you’ll come any closer to what society will look like in a few hundred years with this than you would with a blind guess.
One of the authors does address this a little later, mentioning that half of the technology in a future civilization would appear as magic to us, so the book does provide various views. It also does make some very good points about making technology and new worlds believable in the context of what we know about the universe, to keep from pulling a reader out of a story with a startling inaccuracy. I was just really put off by several of the essays.
I didn’t like this book, but if you’re looking for something to distract you from actually writing anything, On Fiction by Stephen King, Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, and Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks are three I remember really enjoying.