Wednesday, November 9, 2011

In which we continue to expound about character-driven sci-fi...

Okay, this is officially a trending topic. In addition to the handful of discussions we have going on right here at Spacefreighters, there have been similar discussions and posts going on over at SF Signal and The Galaxy Express.

Last week we had the great quote from Mark Tiedemann (It's Not About the Buttons).

This week we have a panel discussion, You Gotta Have Characters, featuring thoughts from author and The Galaxy Express blogger Heather Massey and five other authors and editors.
Here are some gems:

Human nature is fairly unchanging and relatively easy to predict. For instance, people were acting like idiots several thousand years ago, and will no doubt continue to do so into the unforeseeable future. This is a good thing, because people doing stupid things is the essence of conflict and drama. Conflict and drama make for good stories. 
- Lyda Morehouse

Not everyone is a tripped out science geek; however, all people know something about, well, people--and also relationships. Therefore, character-driven science fiction offers a built-in hook to pique readers' interest in physics, chemistry, biology, etc.
- Heather Massey

If, as I believe, the heart of fiction is character, then the core of science fiction is character and world building. But however marvelous it may be, a world without characters to inhabit it makes for arid reading.
- Helen Lowe

I think that art and life, when you aspire to something greater, require risk. The risk can take many forms. You can risk your life to go to another planet, risk your body by testing a new nanochip, risk your relationships as you insist upon doing the first two despite your partner's concerns. To me, the story comes from the result of taking that risk.
- Lynne Thomas

I once threw a very famous technothriller across the room because it had nothing that could be identified as characters. Ideas, check. Plot, big fat check. But when I looked for characters, as in real human beings living amid the tech and the derring-do, I couldn't find a single one.
- Judith Tarr

The real discoveries and work that's being done right now is weirder than most professional fantasists' imagination, and the quality of science and technology writing is very, very good. Without characters -- the human heart in conflict with itself was the way Faulkner put it, though I heard it from George RR Martin -- I don't think we can bring anything to the table that can't be beaten flat by reality.
- Daniel Abraham


  1. Thanks for linking to the Mind Meld! I really enjoyed reading the answers of the other participants, even as I was swooning over being in their esteemed company.

    Frankly, it's hard not to win when authors write character-driven SF, especially if they embrace reaching out to mainstream readers.

  2. I know, how smart and lucid you all sound! :D Seriously, I couldn't believe how many times I thought while reading, "Yes! That is AWESOME."

  3. I do know what you mean, Sharon. Sometimes I feel that sense of how awesome they are by just reading what they have to say!

    I think well developed characters make the story. Of course technology adds to it so well for us!

  4. You highlighted some very inspiring quotes, Sharon. It's perfect timing for SF Signal to showcase this particular hot topic. I hope everyone gets a chance to hop over and give the whole discussion a read. What a stellar panel.

    I've been mulling all the ponder-worthy comments here on Spacefreighters. Though I do like CDSF as the acronym for what we write, there are still advantages to tagging it good ol' SFR.

  5. Heather has mentioned in a couple of posts the importance of reaching out to the mainstream. I think that would be an excellent follow-up discussion...

    5 ways to make your novel more appealing to a mainstream audience! :)

    1. Character-driven stories

  6. Yes, Sharon, he (or she) was a lovely praying mantis--and I'm intrigued, wondering what kind of book you could be writing that would have required that sort of research!

    I, too, enjoyed the panel discussion over at SF Signal and felt way too intimidated to comment! I do wonder, though, if we aren't all preaching to the choir as regards character-driven SF. Where is the tech fanboy perspective in all this? I certainly hear it loud and clear when I discuss SF with my young male friends at kung fu camp, who would choose Ben Bova over Asimov, Vinge over Brin.

  7. Re: tech fanboy perspective:

    My feeling is that if any of them who visit SF Signal had disagreed with that particular MM, then they would have said something. Most likely a lot of them are reading character-driven SF even if they don't want to admit it.

    Or maybe their silence means the character-driven vs. tech debate is not as much of an issue as it once was?

    For me, a more pertinent question is this: Do book sales reflect a stronger interest in character-driven SF than in the past?

    SF has all kinds of audiences now. It's not just for fanboys anymore.

    Media tie-in books are heavily action-adventure driven. That's another way SF has evolved beyond the hard SF segment.

    SF Signal is very open to a wide variety of perspectives, so please jump in to a discussion there whenever you like. I've got your back!

  8. You may be right, Heather, on all points. I just don't have enough info at this point to carry the discussion further, since I'm not a heavy SF reader. Keeping up with two genres is just too much. Most of my time is spent on romance, including, SFR, with a few SF recommendations from my hardcore SF friends sprinkled in. Think I'll go out and get The Year's Best Science Fiction and see what the lay of the land really is. BTW, has anyone heard what became of that anthology project Linnea Sinclair was doing with George R.R. Martin and others on SF love stories?

  9. Donna, do you mean Songs of Love and Death? It's's the link to Amazon. Glad you mentioned it because I had forgotten to grab a Kindle copy. *snarf!*

    I think Heather said in more eloquent terms what I was trying to explain. Instead of SF being a stand alone genre and SFR being thought of as some kind of weird hybrid between SF and R as it once was, I think the SF has expanded/is still expanding to include and accept it, but it's still considered part of the romance genre too.

    So we've got two audiences to court, depending on the venue. What we call it depends where we're marketing it. SFR is probably not going to be popular in the realm of the SF conventions, but CDSF may appeal to a healthy percentage of that fan base. At romance book signings it's more identifiable as SFR.

    I don't think the label we apply to it has to be set in stone. It's still the same book no matter what the label says. Call it a creative promotion strategy. :)


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