Why ALL Fiction is Science Fiction*
|| Imagine if you will a recording studio. There’s a control room with tables and banks of countless knobs, switches, and slides, used to control almost every sound produced in the sound booth. Here, soundproofed from external noise the musicians, actors, or foleys ply their audiotastic trade. Writing, at its truest core, is best imagined through this construct.
The sound booth is the world we create with our words. Every story starts with one, though the inside is more akin to the holodecks of Star Trek’s later series than to a conventional sound room. The walls, floor, and ceiling are all blank including the door to the Fourth Wall; where you, as the writer, sits. Before you is the most complicated control board ever devised. Just think about all the variables that go into this now blank world!
Every aspect of the world is under the Writer’s control, from the time period, to the physics, to whether or not Magic or Magicks or Sorcery exist, to which planet or planets the story is set. Or even if it is even set on a planet! Writing, storytelling at its heart, is the ONLY art form to be completely boundless. The only limit on a writer is their imagination. That’s it. While you can describe professors guiding their students through ten dimensional graphs on their nine dimensional holoboards, it can’t actually be drawn. Nor can a color seen only by aliens ever be humanly painted. It doesn’t even matter whether or not there is a word for the concept you want to convey, a Writer has full authority to make new words as needed. Just ask Heinlein, he groks it.
Growing up, this realm of infinite imagination was encapsulated to me as SciFi. It was taking every chain and breaking it. Reality, realism, was just another variable on a slider. It allowed for the absurdity of Douglas Adams’ universe as well as the rigorously “hard” realities explored in Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. Every story ever told, written, or daydreamed started as a boundless void; their author bequeathed with omnipotence in its telling
Almost all Fiction, however, sets these myriad dials, switches, and slides to DEFAULT.
GRAVITY: 1.000 g’s
TIME PERIOD: Contemporary
etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum.
The point is, just because the writer chooses to keep all the variables on default doesn’t mean the variables aren’t mutable. It is a choice, deliberated or not, to match the bounds of the story and its characters to our species’ limits. Just because the controls aren’t touched, doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. It also means, that because SciFi is the realm in which the controls are gleefully manipulated in staggering combinations, it would follow that the realm of DEFAULT is therefore necessarily a subset of the far more expansive SciFi.
I can certainly understand why most of the stories written take place within this world with which we are so familiar. There’s a fear that changing too many dials can not only alienate readers, but will also detract from the story. It reminds me of a sports commentator I heard discussing sidearm pitchers years ago, “You only throw sidearm when you can’t make it throwing overhand.” Applied here, that logic is an argument against tweaking dials and changing worlds as it is merely a gimmick to make up for a story that is otherwise lacking. While I understand this sentiment, I’m still disappointed when stories refuse to even so much as nudge even one of the needles.
We already live in a world with hard and fast laws limiting our ability to explore other planets, push the bounds of psychic energies, or study the arcane lore of sorcery. So it saddens me a bit when from a literally limitless expanse of not just worlds but universes from which to choose, we so often stick with this one. It feels like the equivalent of being given the gift of flight and then choosing to use a Segway instead. Perhaps though, if we start viewing all of literature as starting with the boundless potential of SciFi we could encourage stories of greater imagination. Recognizing that the DEFAULT setting is an inherently limited subset of Storytelling’s near infinite possibilities should be a reminder that there is far more out there, well beyond its narrow view; waiting, yearning to be explored.
Write brave. Write bold. Touch a dial.
* I have seen various discussions around the Internets as to whether it is better to refer to these areas as SciFi, Science Fiction, SFF, SciFi/Fantasy, Speculative, and/or Fantastical. I grew up thinking of it under the umbrella SciFi, so that is the term I’m going with. I have yet to see a convincing argument as to why any particular one is significantly better than than the rest at conveying the concept, but you may freely substitute your particular favorite for mine as you feel best.