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Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy Paperback – February 15, 1993

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This how-to book is divided into four parts: "Storytelling," "Ideas and Foundations," and two sections on mechanics, markets, and dealing with editors. Issac Asimov wades in rather superficially on "Plotting," "Dialog," and "Revisions," but Poul Anderson's almost technical essay on preparing a scientifically valid world couldn't be better, and Hal Clement's piece on peopling such a world is just as good. Norman Spinrad uses the techniques of futurists to model how space colonization could occur and provides graphs for the beginner. The tilt here is toward "hard" science fiction, but Jane Yolen's meditation on fantasy, "Turtles All the Way Down," is lyrical and even moving in its reverence for the past. Connie Willis writes about comedy and Stanley Schmidt, amusingly, about cliches. The market listings are exhaustive, including little magazines you won't find elsewhere. Valuable both for the beginner and the pro.
- John Mort, Kansas City P.L., Mo.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Some of the more cogent writing on the subject in some time. Highly recommended.” ―Booklist

“I think nearly everyone who is serious about writing should get a copy and keep it on hand.” ―Scavenger's Newsletter


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (February 15, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312089260
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312089269
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #421,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 47 people found the following review helpful By A. Bowdoin Van Riper on June 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
At the most basic level, this book delivers what the title and subtitle promises: How-to essays by some of the biggest names (as of the mid-1980s) in science fiction writing. The majority deal with science fiction (rather than fantasy) and with magazine (as opposed to book-length) pieces. Would-be fantasy writers should beware, but should also be willing to cut the editors a little slack on the subject. New writers with no track record and no agent (the book's target audience) have always had an easier time publishing short fiction than novels. Fantasy is (and has been for decades) almost entirely published as novels, but there's still (if only barely) a market for magazine-length science fiction.
The book is not, however, what it clearly *wants* to be: THE book for writers trying to break into the genre. The essays in it were written at different times and for different purposes. They vary wildly in length, depth, and (most critical) in the amount of knowledge they assume on the part of the reader. Trying to read the book straight through can give you a severe case of intellectual whiplash. If you want a unified, coherent book about how to write quality science fiction and fantasy, this is NOT it. (Try Orson Scott Card's _How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy_ or Barry Longyear's _Notes to a Science Fiction Writer_ instead.)
The real gems of this book include, as other reviewers have noted, Stanley Schmidt on worn-out plot devices and Connie Willis on humor. IF you want to write hard science fiction (stories where the scientific details are firmly in the foreground and integral to the story), then add Hal Clement's on aliens to that list. IF you want to write fantasy, then add Jane Yolen's superb essay on using elements from mythology and legend.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By cammykitty on May 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
I was disappointed with this book because my primary focus is on fantasy, not science fiction. Originally I decided to pass on this book until I found out that a SF writer and teacher I admire loves this book, so I changed my mind and got it.
If you know Analog which focuses on hard science fiction and Asimov's which focuses on character-driven science fiction, this book is exactly what you would expect. There are some incredible articles on how to create a believable planet and how to extrapolate from the present society to hypothesize what a future society might be. Stanley Schmidt, the current editor for Analog, included some interesting articles on story ideas editors see so often they know the ending after reading the first paragraph, and articles on what as an editor he is trying to do for both the writer and the reader. If you are a fan of Asimov or Heinlein, you may be interested in their articles just to understand how they think. Except for Connie Willis's wonderful essay on comedy and the world-, creature-, and society-building essays, the actual writing advice is good for a beginning writer, but won't have new information for an intermediate/advanced writer.
For the right person, this book is a gem. If you are trying to publish in Analog or Asimov's, I'd say it is a must. If you are interested in hard science fiction, there is a lot this book has to offer. If you are interested solely in fantasy, this book probably will be a bit of a disappointment.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Brian L. Raney on November 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
Aristotle had once said, in part, that a workable falsehood is better than an incomprehensible truth. If Science has any imagination, it is used in its ability to simplify complex concepts, by sometimes making small assumptions, in order to explain them better to the common laymen. Science fiction writers borrow heavily on this concept to tell their own stories.
Since man, in reality, cannot travel faster-than-light to reach distant stars in his own lifetime, the writer of such a fantastic tale should be able to explain how such a fantastic journey could have ever taken place. How you explain this fantastic journey between the stars in your story (though now a well-established convention in SF) can mark the difference in fiction between science, fantasy, or just plan unbelievable (...). It is up to you, and if you want to write good believable science fiction, then you should make every effort to learn everything you can about your scientific subject, and then you can create your own workable falsehoods.
The editors of *Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy* have divided the book into three sections, which they hope will inspire would-be-authors into writing credible fiction. Section One deals with *Storytelling* and includes the controversial essay from Robert A. Heinlein *On the Writing of Speculative Fiction*. Controversial because he advises, "you must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order." Section Two deals with *Ideas and Foundations*, which will advise you on how to write better believable science fiction by using real rational science. (The essay on *The Ideas that Wouldn't Die* is mandatory reading.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
There is a difference between writing passable fiction, and writing great fiction. I think this difference is what the previous reveiwer was not understanding. Sure, with no research and making things up as you go you can write competent, average stories. But not great ones. And it is to authors of great stories that this book will appeal. The book assumes you are not an amateur, that you want to publish. And it quite frankly tells you that certain things will not get you published. So while some readers might feel stifled, these readers must then be prepared to be un-published, at least in the sorts of magazines that the editors of this book are involved in.
Further, I dispute the previous reviewers assertion that science fiction does not involve real science. If he does not understand why both I, and the authors of this book, are insisting on fact (or at least, a reasonable explanation for deviation from actual fact) then I suggest that his problem is not with us, but with Aristotle. Aristotle was the first to write about rhetorical strategy, and his theories on the necessity for and distinction between probability and possibility are still quite useful.
Oh, and to all aspiring sci-fi authors, I especially recommend the chapter on the ideas that wouldn't die.
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