The Science Fiction Showcase Award for New Writers

Carl Slaughter, in an announcement over at critters.org, has offered to review stories for “The Science Fiction Showcase Award for New Writers”. I think he may be crazy, but maybe not. He obviously loves doing critiques, and has the capacity to read reams of stuff.

In his announcement he spends lots of time discussing what he thinks are the essential elements of SF and what makes a good SF story. I find myself agreeing with 99.9% of it. He does seem to know what makes a good story. Rather than seeing Carl give out awards, I’d rather see him as the editor of a major Science Fiction magazine.

Carl, if you need any tech help – give me a shout.

There’s a lot here, and most of it is meat. Read on:

I’ve been mulling this idea for 3 years. I think I’ve got 99% of the angles covered. Every new project will have issues. I’ll iron out the kinks as I go.

According to the original definition, a science fiction story explores the results and implications of science. The science fiction genre has become a large umbrella for a variety of speculative fiction. IMO, these other genres should go by the general name speculative and leave the science in science fiction.

So I’m looking for stories with an indispensable science element. If you can take the science out of the fiction and still have a story, it’s not science fiction, it’s just fiction. I’m not looking for space opera, superhero, alternate history, franchise, fantasy, sword-n-sorcery, god/devil, mythology, fable, horror, etc. Dramas and romps alike are welcome.

Contrary to what you might have heard, cloning, time travel, telepathy, artificial intelligence, etc, are not worn out science elements. The LGM (Little Green Men – kpg) subgenre seems to have unlimited potential, especially in comedies. I read a delightful one in Asimov’s 30 years ago and nice one in Analog a few weeks ago. I’m especially interested in stories that blend current environmental issues with near future plausible science. (Ask me why.)

Characters can be humanoid/android, Earthling/alien, eugenic, mutant, etc. No dragons, vampires, unicorns, mermaids, zombies, witches, angels/demons, ghosts, etc, even if the story includes a major science element. These species spawned in a different genre and carry baggage, so we’re not going there. If it’s a dystopia story, the dystopia needs to rely on or be caused by the science factor. Same goes for futuristic survival. NASA type stories usually put me to sleep. I’ve never read a science fiction sports story I consider memorable.

Don’t jazz up the story with nanotechnology, teleportation, FLT, stargating, tractor beams, force fields, cloaking devices, phasers, and other science elements that aren’t crucial to the science fiction premise. (Rockets and rayguns a science fiction story do not make.) Same goes for littering the story with various aliens whose characteristics and culture might be fascinating to explore but whose alienness plays no essential role in the premise or plot. Don’t try to sound cool by saying bot instead of robot, grav instead of gravity, etc. Don’t consume enormous amounts of word count with launching, orbiting, landing, adjusting equipment, etc. I have a habit of giving up on a story if the science fiction premise isn’t established early enough. Same goes for stories with too many science terms I have to Google.

The only style rule is that the style you choose needs to be the style best suited for the story. Contrary to what you almost certainly have been told, show isn’t always inherently better than tell, activity isn’t always inherently better than dialog, activity or dialog isn’t always inherently better than narrative, neither first nor second nor third person narrative are inherently better than the other two, you don’t have to open with the most dramatic moment in the story and then rewind, you don’t necessarily have to list the contents of a room or describe a character’s physique and clothing, the story doesn’t have to be organized like a 3 act play, dream sequences and info dumps are effective tools if used carefully, etc, etc, etc. The style doesn’t dictate the story, the story dictates the style. ‘Nuff said.

Although great stories as long as 15,000 words have held my attention, a word count over 8,000 discourages me from reading. In addition to personal time restraints, I’m trying to help new writers break into magazines and anthologies and those markets have space issues.

Literary standards are credible premise, sophisticated plot, consistent and strong character development and character interaction, reoccurring themes, vivid scenes, etc. Avoid graphic sex, gory violence, excessive profanity, bodily excretions, etc. Tread lightly on rape, drug abuse, etc, even if it’s integral to the science. Pseudonyms are OK. Don’t even think about plagiarism. Feel free to explain what you tried to accomplish with the story, but put the explanation at the end of the story.

I neither know nor care about what’s trendy. Nor will a lot of people who read your story in 10 years. Nor will most people who read it in 50 years. Nor will anyone who truly appreciates it. Write about ideas you’re passionate about. Write about ideas with plenty of potential to explore. Leave the trendiness to the trendsetters and trend followers.

via Carl Slaughter at Critters Writers Workshop.

8 Comments

  1. Carl Slaughter wrote:

    Thanks for putting in a good for me. I’ll take you up on the tech offer, since I’m pathetically tech challenged. Revised version of the announcement is below. I expounded on the definition of science fiction and added an added some comments about the value of awards. Also clarified some copyright and privacy issues.

    http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/forum/Forum13/HTML/000187.html

    I’d like nothing better than to edit a major science fiction magazine. I would drastically increase the quality and quantity of stories, abide by a genre criteria, and discover new authors left and right, plus crank out anthologies. I would revamp the whole advertising scheme too. In short order, I would fundamentally alter the science fiction landscape to the advantage of everyone.

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 10:02 am | Permalink
  2. Keith wrote:

    I was over at hatrack. Someone took offense at your offer.

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink
  3. Carl Slaughter wrote:

    People at Hatrack are always taking offense. I went round and round with them for a few weeks, then realized they weren’t interested in accomplishing anything meaningful and beneficial, they just want to squeal. It doesn’t do any good to engage them, or rather try to engage them. They just squeal and squeal, louder and louder. And answering them won’t help any new and unestablished authors. So I let them squeal.

    Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 8:03 am | Permalink
  4. Carl Slaughter wrote:

    I took a look at your 10 rules of science fiction. I agree with them 100%.

    Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 8:15 am | Permalink
  5. Carl Slaughter wrote:

    I think we need to make a distiction under Law #4. An unpublished writer submitted to the award a masterpiece of a time travel story using Nazi Germany as a plot element. The plot revolves around the possession of a crucial machine. This idea works well because the Nazis were keen on science and vigorously pursued experiments. In one scene, a Nazi officer interrogates the chief scientist and it comes across exactly as you explain in Law #4 (though I don’t think the writer did it out of laziness and didn’t realize he did it). But that scene is a tiny flaw in an otherwise awesome story. So we need to make a distinction between using stereotype characters instead of striving for original character development, and using a certain plot element because it works well for the story.

    Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 8:35 am | Permalink
  6. Carl Slaughter wrote:

    The Critters Captain created a site for me. I wrestled with the pagebuilder for a long time. I could use your expertise.

    http://www.ScienceFictionShowcase.com

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Permalink
  7. Carl Slaughter wrote:

    Additional comments on the definition of science fiction:

    According to the classic definition, science fiction requires a major, indispensible, plausible science element well blended into every aspect of the story. Few stories achieve such an ideal standard, so use this simple test: if you can take the science out of the fiction and still have a story, it’s not science fiction, it’s just fiction.

    But science fiction is about the results of science, not just the possibilities of science; the implications of science, not just the fascination of science. It’s about how science affects people and how they respond to science.

    Without the human drama, all you’ve got is rockets and rayguns and robots. Or a bunch of scientists sitting around hashing out theories and formula, experiments and discoveries, inventions and applications. Neither the 3 Rs nor lab language constitute literature.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Permalink
  8. Carl Slaughter wrote:

    Comments on the definition of plausible science:

    Don’t let the prophets of sci fi spook you about plausible science. Imagine someone predicting the Internet, mobile phones, microwave ovens, laser surgery, genetically modified plants, etc, as late as 100 years ago.

    For decades, textbooks listed photosynthesis as one of the fundamental processes of life. Any science teacher who questioned this assumption would have been fired faster than they could say doctrinaire. Then we discovered an entire deep sea ecology untouched by the sun. Thousands of years ago, Egyptians were practicing comparatively impressive and accurate astronomy, but the best instruments available to them indicated one of the planets reversed orbit. Some day we might even have to dismantle the sacred temple of evolution.

    Our ignorance far exceeds our knowledge, so we shouldn’t base our definition of plausible science on our CURRENT level of technological development or our CURRENT understanding of the universe. Therefore, the definition of plausible science can be very generous.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

 

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