Skip to main content

Bad Science Fiction Writing

I love science fiction and exploring all the wonderful aspects to what makes us human.

Bad Writing and Great Science Fiction

Substance Over Style

There is an open secret in science fiction writing. The writing itself is generally not very good. Even the most admired and famous amongst in the sci-fi canon are remembered for their ideas, innovations and not necessarily how they conveyed their thoughts. Some authors actively wrote quite poorly.

Science fiction is unique in this literary genre. It appeals to the analytical mind more than the creative side. Therefore, as readers, we allow great ideas and, more importantly, ambitious concepts to emerge. Speaking for myself, I always prefer a piece of art to reach for the stars and not quite reach it, then stay in the confines of the scope that we already know, and never leave our shared reality.

Good writing science fiction authors always fight with themselves to adhere to the style. As for the aesthetic side, style and substance work in a mutually beneficial but equal manner. Both writers are effectively making the more complicated concept more straightforward. As such, when the reader understands and appreciates its simplicity, they are often also more compelled to appreciate the original ideas that lay behind it.

A science fiction writer like Phillip K. Dick, for example, would take some of the ordinary components in existence today and attempt to explore the answers to the most fundamental questions. The ideas are ideas to be studied by future generations. He also would not get confused in his style. His novels are far too intelligent ever to have a superficial reading; the style is not a style over substance style. The substance part is his literary genius.

On the other side, a science fiction writer, such as a more strictly conventional novelist like Stephen King, would probably not have the storyline in mind. He would perhaps want to keep the style simple to entertain the readers. As a fan, I would always prefer simplicity over glamour. On the other hand, it is unlikely that Stephen King’s story will ever get anywhere near the scale that Dick’s did.

Quantity Over Quality

Many classic short stories spark the reader's imagination and even get made into full feature films, such as Stephen King's The Running Man or Phillip K. Dick's Total Recall. Why spin something out for the sake of it? No doubt the movies mentioned got made based on the author's reputation and hunger to exploit it for commercialisation. However, both are fun Arnie flicks that explore profound ideas of identity and the human thirst for violence and empathy.

Personally, I feel science fiction can shine in the short story or novella structure. This format is primarily based on the reader being wholly fascinated by one idea. As soon as you establish your concept through the story, once the reader knows what to expect, you have to provide just that, even if the imagination has led the reader on a mind-boggling rollercoaster ride.

However, with science fiction, you can play on the reader’s imagination in such a way that you can use the smaller ideas to make a bigger story, but do not constantly be dependent on them.

On The Verge Of Something Great

If you look at sci-fi today, some have made a career out of it, and some have not. Some are renowned as prolific writers, while others struggle. If you are a successful sci-fi writer, don’t worry too much about your genre. If you write fiction, you can have the world in your imagination no matter what the genre is. If you stick to your guns and write what you believe is a good science fiction story, in your mind, it will resonate and appeal.

Everyone wants to write the next book that reaches out into the culture and pulls in millions of fans. However, I have seen and experienced that much of the top sci-fi writers who make it big have found their inspiration from their own imagination and the world they believe is a fundamentally good one.

A contemporary example is an author Octavia E. Butler. You know you are going to be on an emotional ride when you pick up one of her books. Like Dick and King, she creates a natural feeling that you are already on the edge of your seat for a solid two hours. From then on, it becomes an entirely different game of tension.

Science fiction has set its sights on another level now. With high-quality mainstream science fiction being made and bought by a whole new audience, it is leaving its mark on the culture as a whole. No longer do science fiction fans flock around the book shops, but rather to cinemas and watch high-quality mainstream sci-fi movies that create excitement for us as a genre.

Much of the fertile ground is still being made not in cinema (although there are certainly some notable exceptions) but seeded in the literature itself. Hopefully, writers like myself will inspire narratives in different media and explore new realms of writing, whether they are written well or not.

© 2022 Emma Kirsten