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Aliens and Alien Societies (Science Fiction Writing Series) Hardcover – March, 1996
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Whether you're a writer or a reader of science fiction, this how-to guide provides thought-provoking analyses of the ways in which aliens and alien societies can be portrayed convincingly. It's almost as fascinating as the many classic SF texts it analyses.
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Top Customer Reviews
Writing "hard" science fiction is much different from writing "fantasy" science fiction, or "softer" science fiction. Mieville's cactus people wouldn't exist if he'd followed the restrictive rules of hard sci-fi, and they are intriguing. Mieville didn't build a world with climate, rotation, axis position, mean distance from a sun, the type of sun, or any other hard facts, he just made his species absorbable and intriguing. The presumption that even "hard" science fiction is for mathematicians, physicists, professors, scientists, and total numbers-geeks is preposterous and insolent.
You'll have to ask yourself, as a writer, "how far do you want to go?" Are you writing science or science fiction? Is this a thesis or compelling imagery? Schmidt pointed out that certain people write in to the publisher when the hard facts are shaky, but remember that these are guys portrayed by the "comic book guy" in The Simpsons. Do you cater to the few who don't have a life or do you use your creative talent to entertain the majority?
Even one of the stories mentioned by Schmidt, Stanley G. Weinbaum's "A Martian Odyssey" didn't follow such strict guidelines as Schmidt presents, and still created one of the most intriguing aliens to have ever graced the written word. Weinbaum didn't explain Tweel's evolution, or any evolution on Mars, he didn't explain the rocket propulsions or the thermal sleeping bags or the reason Earth beings went to Mars, but he created a story that holds intrigue throughout many generations and is classified as "hard" science fiction (with humor). Heinlein rarely went into the details described in this book, nor Norton, but they are still classic Sci-Fi writers. Both Star Trek and Star Wars have broken apart Schmidt's theory of "necessary fundamentals".
Actual "writing about aliens" doesn't start until chapter eight, continuing through chapter nine. Many readers may give up before then. Science Fiction (IMHO) 'supposedly' takes for granted the fact that warp travel, or faster-than-light travel is accepted, I find no need to extrapolate a hard-science based core for this, whereas the author seems to think it's mandatory. I honestly don't believe the modern science fiction reader requires an extensive physics lecture to believe in faster-than-light travel.
Still, this book, IMHO, should be required reading for anyone who writes "hard" sci-fi or "fantasy" sci-fi. While the physics of the writing may seem overwhelming, the ideas you can (and will) develop from reading over the intricacies of foundation writing are invaluable. For the "hard" sci-fi writer this will be a beginner's manual, for the "fantasy" sci-fi writer it will be a guideline and an inspiration. Schmidt says, "The very essence of science fiction is that you'll be creating situations that no one has had to deal with before - and then inventing ways to deal with them." He quotes Hal Clement as saying, "Work out your world and its creatures as long as it remains fun; then write your story, making use of any of the details you have worked out which help the story." If you work within the strict guidelines of this book, Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park" is "hard" science fiction rather than general fiction. (as would be many of Crichton's novels)
The Pros: The book is heavy with great references in both non-fiction and fiction, though the fictional references seem to be highly restricted to a clutch of about ten books rather than the broad range offered by hard sci-fi authors, plus there is an extensive reference, a glossary, and an index.
The Cons: With all the technical physics, technical astronomy, bioengineering, evolutionary and anthropological sciences introduced at the beginning, a budding writer might lose hope or interest before getting to the meatier parts of the book. These chapters, however, are necessary.
My recommendation is that if you are serious about either "hard" or "fantasy" sci-fi writing, you should pick up a copy of this book, but not as a "starter" for goals or inspiration. Rather, this book will fill out your thoughts and creativity after being stimulated by other, easier to read writing introductions. Good luck, and Enjoy!