I’m not sure I’ve ever written that before, the conclusion is still new to me. It finally dawned on me a few days ago when I was playing with the categories for Christmas Past, making sure they were the appropriate for the book. I was thinking how interesting it would be to write other stories, in other genres, and see which categories are easiest to top. That wouldn’t be for a while, of course. For the time being I am writing my Timewasters short stories. The series follows a group of strangers who become reluctant time travellers after an accident and have a multitude of adventures across all time and space. A light, easy read series that I write mostly for pleasure and to build up my writing chops.
I have other books I’m working on. My most developed project is about a ghost working for the police department (I hear snickering at the back, stoppit!) but I suppose that is borderline science fiction too. So I looked through all my ideas, developed and undeveloped. They weren’t all outright science fiction, but each and every one tiptoed around the edge at least. This was a surprise. You see, I have never thought of myself explicitly as a genre author, despite writing little else. That might seem strange, or blind even, but I think it comes from a wide taste in reading material. The revelation made me a little uncomfortable. Genre fiction might be consumed by the mass market, but it rarely finds the respect it deserves. Furthermore, science fiction can be a competitive niche and breaking through might be a lifelong challenge. However, the more I thought about it, the happier I became with my new pigeonhole.
The strength of science fiction has not changed over the years. Its appeal still comes from its ability to combine the fantastic with the possible. Fantasy, in comparison, deals with entertaining impossibilities. We can search every inch of the globe and we will never find a genuine wizard or elf, this is part of what makes the concept so appealing. Fantasy creates a world with its own rules from our myths and legends. Science Fiction is usually more grounded that this. While it sometimes deals in impossibilities, it arrives there from realistic speculation. It proposes what is impossible now, but might not be in years to come; in some cases, it proposes the likely. Take Star Trek, for example. While the concept of Warp Drive or Matter Transportation might never become a reality, the idea of manned exploration vessels is now almost a certainty.
In my Timewasters stories, I use the impossible as a narrative tool. My time travellers jump from place to place via a web of tunnels the span all of time and space. (To the best of my knowledge, no such web exists.) However, each individual destination allows me to explore different, more grounded, possibilities. Christmas Past, for example, explores the consequences of time travellers from the future upon an isolated community in the past. Time Trial goes in quite the opposite direction and looks at a future where time travel is mundane, how does that society legislate such technology? Where fantasy creates a new reality, Science Fiction uses small impossibilities to break down a few boundaries and explore our own reality. My favourite example of this is Back to the Future, which introduces Time Travel as a means to explore the relationship between teenagers and their parents. Science fiction offers what no other genre does, the escapism of the impossible and the emotional appeal of reality.
However, there is another reason to delve into writing Science Fiction. It might be a tough niche to break, but when you win you usually win big. Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Stargate; some of the most successful franchises in Film and TV and they are all science fiction. In literature, Dune, Ender’s Game, I, Robot, Starship Troopers; all have survived the test of time. Many have also gone on to be successful in Film and TV. Science Fiction does not just succeed, it endures and it spreads ideas to other genres.
At the end of the day though, none of these reasons are my own. When I first decided to take my writing seriously, I stared at a blank screen and pulled out any idea I had. The ones I liked the most, the ideas I felt best able to write, were science fiction. Time travel, spaceships, dystopian futures and apocalyptic wars aren’t just fanciful escapism or entertainment, they are the building blocks that make up my narrative vocabulary. They are the key components of the stories I consume, and the stories that I tell. When all is said and done, I write science fiction because I could communicated as effectively by writing anything else. A common piece of advice given to writers is to write what you know. I’d like to suggest that this is incomplete, you should not just write what you know but also write what you love. Write what comes most comfortably and you will communicate yourself the most accurately. That’s what writing is all about.