Science Fiction Repair Shop: Changing It Up

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-08-05 23:00:00 No comments

One of the games I enjoy is to take a novel I admire or outright love that isn't science fiction or fantasy and try to imagine what an SF&F version of that story would be like. The easy way to demonstrate this game is by way of an extant example: If we turned The Count Of Monte Cristo into an SF story, what would we have? Easy: Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination.

The game becomes harder, but also more rewarding, when you turn towards other books which SF&F readers (or even SF&F authors!) might not know as well.

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Giuseppe di Lampedusa's The Leopard, later made into the magnificent Luchino Visconti film of the same name, comes to mind. It's not a long novel, not even a terribly complex one, but it would be fascinating to see a version of the same story — the end of one way of life and the beginning of another as seen by a remnant of the old guard — mapped to the tropes of science fiction or fantasy.

There might well be just such a book, but my point is that I'm trying to imagine how I would do it — what I would emphasize, or what I would leave out, or how I would totally reimagine the concerns of the story through the lens of that other mode of expression.

The exercise becomes all the more interesting for me when I do two things. The first is to go down a level from the usual suspects. Everyone knows The Count Of Monte Cristo; few know The Leopard. (Those that don't, by the way, are missing out.)

The second thing is a corollary of the first — to pick stories that don't seem to lend themselves all the more readily to an SF&F reinterpretation. It forces me to stretch myself a little more, to think in an all the more open-ended way about how the concerns of the original could be put into an SF&F framework. The trick is to do that in such a way that the story is made broader and deeper, not narrower or flatter.

With The Leopard, for instance, there's all sorts of ways the "end of one era, beginning of another" flavor of the story can be overlaid into an SF story. We are becoming all the more acutely conscious as a species of how we're directing and manipulating our own evolution, becoming hybrid beings that live technology instead of merely using it. We're uneasy about what we could be leaving behind by doing so, but also uneasy about what we could be cutting ourselves off from by not doing so. It's not the choice between one or the other in the form of a morality play that interests me, because that's obvious and didactic; that's about taking sides instead of being empathic. What's more interesting to me is looking at how the tension between those two impulses can be dramatized and embodied in specific people, specific lives, specific ways of life.

Tags: Alfred Bester Giuseppe di Lampedusa Science Fiction Repair Shop fantasy science fiction