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SF102: Learning the Basics

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Author: Michael Bard

First a brief apology for last issue, or the lack of editorial therein. I've had to move and had so much to pack that I had a lack of time for other things. A thousand books or so, furniture, and I don't want to know how many miniatures. But it's done now, so we can continue without interruption.

There are lots of books on writing SF, and they all say you should read science magazines, have a basic knowledge of science and physics and biology and chemistry and other related stuff. And so on and so on.

What virtually none of them tell you is that you need to READ SF. Good SF. And a lot of it.

There is no better way to get a feel for how to do things than by reading how things have been done. And don't limit yourself to transformation SF. Read the kind of SF you want to write. Lots of it. They'll show you how it's been done, and what you need to think about to tell the stories you want to. How would high G acceleration feel? How about living under conditions of centripetal force? Feeding the family pet fuzzy? Etc.

This is the most important advice I can give. And the most helpful.

And, the most enjoyable.

If you don't know where to start, I went through a top 10 list of transformation SF in an earlier issue and that can be found here

Now, I'm going to add to this list with what I think are just good SF authors and some recommendations to read to learn from and admire (and enjoy). Note that this is not a complete list, and, indeed, has considerable personal bias.

Hard SF:

Gregory Benford, David Brin. Try "Startide Rising" by David Brin (not so hard as other stuff, but lots of wacky ideas and all have at least a possibility of being possible) and "Great Sky River" by Gregory Benford (an except was published in TSAT and can be found at http://tsat.transform.to/stories/great.sky.river.c8.html

Aliens:

Larry Niven. Niven is the best, bar none, creator of alien Aliens currently writing. Read his works, admire, take careful notes. The novel "The Mote in God's Eye" had the background by Pournelle, but the ALIENS by Niven.

Description:

Poul Anderson. He has the best gift of evoking an alien word just in the choices of a few words. Particularly the names of object -- "Shimmerleaf" for example. Think about what that name evokes. He can depict the alienness of another world like no other. And his human characterizations are really good too. Sadly, his aliens are really just humans in a fursuit...

These should give you a start, but don't limit yourself to these. Virtually anything by Robert A Heinlein before 1970, or by Isaac Asimov, or Alistair Reynolds or...

The field is vast and endless. Read, enjoy, and learn what's possible and how it's done.