Of all the genres, I feel speculative fiction makes the best use of the term FICTION. It’s made-up in the extreme. All the very best stories come from some wild part of someone’s imagination. But lately, in my writing and my reading, I’ve noticed a trend. (Please forgive me if this revelation of mine causes you to slap your forehead because you figured it out in the crib.) The very best this massive literary label has to offer is usually based in some kind of fact from our world.
Bilbo Baggins is a respectable hobbit and reluctant hero, some one we can relate to on a strange and dangerous journey.
Many dystopian books and movies these days are set in places we are familiar with. Dan Well’s Partials series is set in Long Island and NYC in the future. Yes it’s ravaged, but as your reading you can say, “Hey! I’ve been there!”
Even Star Trek, the ultimate futuristic franchise is filled with technology that is either real or very possible.
“Star Trek science is an entertaining combination of real science, imaginary science gathered from lots of earlier stories, and stuff the writers make up week-by-week to give each new episode novelty. The real science is an effort to be faithful to humanity’s greatest achievements, and the fanciful science is the playing field for a game that expands the mind as it entertains. The Star Trek series are the only science fiction series crafted with such respect for real science and intelligent writing. That’s why it’s the only science fiction series that many scientists watch regularly . . . like me.”
David Allen Batchelor
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
These little connections help draw us into a story and make us want to keep reading. I’ve heard plenty of folks say “It’s scifi! You can do whatever you want!” And this is true, to a point, but only if you don’t care about your reader. I care a lot about my readers. I want them to find those hidden gems of truth amidst my wild imaginings. I want them to discover a fact in one of my books and then look it up, delighted to find that it’s actually true. Because that’s what I do when I read, or watch a movie. I hear something cool and I run to look it up.
Speculative fiction that contains a bit of truth, whether in the form of real world facts or real human emotions and reactions, generally rises to the top of the heap. Pay attention the next time you read or watch something fantastical. Why is it awesome? Why do you love it? My guess is it’s a more down to earth reason than a jet pack or magic wand.
Bottom line: Even if you’re writing a fantasy set on a planet across the galaxy, you’re still writing it for humans on earth to read. Do your homework, get your facts straight, and make sure you remember to tell me about it later.