Science Fiction Repair Shop: Waves of the Future Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2013-05-22 14:00:00 No comments

Steve wonders if the more traditional formats for delivering SF (prose, video) are the best ones:

Science Fiction: The Old Ways Are Best. For Now. | Fan To Pro

... as I read a solid SF novel and muse over what forms work, it seems apparent to me that the forms of novels with a physical footprint and singular/episodic video (television shows, but maybe online) are the best methods at this time.

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By this, he means in comparison to "new media" like webcomics and such. I agree with this idea up to a point, but only so far, for a couple of reasons. (Addendum: Rob Barba has his own reply here, which is well worth reading.)

My feeling is that new media (a lousy term, but let's use it for now) are great for getting the word out about something — creating sizzle, drawing attention, throwing off sparks. Think of how many movies wind up being at the center of a whole galaxy of promotional efforts and tie-ins: video games, prequel comics, novelizations, etc. But no one doubts that the movie is ever at the center of all this, in big part because the movie is being positioned as the core experience from the git-go.

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The same can happen in different combinations, of course — e.g., the video game that gets a novel backstory, etc. I am hard-pressed at this point to say that a video game can't tell a story that's as engaging as any novel, in big part because we are only just now learning how to "read" and "write" such things, and the whole experiential mode for such things is just now being sussed out. We shouldn't cut ourselves off from future possibilities here. (See also: Haunting Melissa.)

Note that what the core experience amounts to, I am not saying should be confined to any one thing. As Rob pointed out in his other post, what that is could vary enormously, and does.

That said, I see what Steven says about the tried-and-true ways being a good first round draft choice. For one, it cuts down on the number of things you have to invent (or learn anew) to make things work. What's most important about going old-school, though, is it keeps you from falling too quickly into the trap that gobbled up a lot of artists in the previous century: the idea that in order to express something really new, you need an equally new mode of expression to do it.

This wasn't a wholly insensate idea for a world that had had its eyeteeth rattled and then kicked out altogether by two world wars. But what small germ of truth there was in this idea was quickly swept aside when the fact of the experimentation turned out to be far more of an attention-getter than the point of such work. The creative energy expended went all the more into the form, rather than the content, and soon the content of those works became starved to the point where it became fair game to say the content wasn't even the point anymore — that only a country bumpkin of literature would really care about plot or character in the first place. This idea seems a first cousin to another fallacy that gets barfed back up a little too often, the one about there being nothing new under the sun or there only being X number of stories out there, which is cute if you're a historian of literature but deadly if you're a creator of it.

Using an existing, time-tested mode forces you to think about what you are really trying to say. It leaves you with that many less stylistic or aesthetic fronts to put up, less things to hide your work in.

Whenever we talk about the future, we always do so from our present moment in time. That means everything we do in that context is all the more susceptible to becoming dated — not just the content, but the delivery mechanism as well. The more time-tested the delivery method, the more timeless the message becomes — but by all means, let's leave some room for new delivery methods to come into the picture, but for the right reasons. Not because they are "new", but because they work.

Tags: Science Fiction Repair Shop literature media new media science fiction storytelling video games