Wednesday, 5 December 2012

David P. King - Speculative Fiction Writer

Today's Speculative Fiction Writer is aspiring MG and YA Science Fiction author, David Powers King. Please give him a warm welcome. 

Aspiring Advice: What Makes Great Science Fiction?

Good morrow, friends and fellows. When Ellie asked if I could be a guest, I had to say, "Yes!" I mean, come on. She's got the coolest sci-fi vibe (her space suit proves it). Since it was pointed out that I've been focusing on fantasy for quite a while now, it's time to give science fiction some love. Your wish is granted. Here we go!

What makes great science fiction?

That's kind of a loaded question, isn't it? I won't claim to know the answer. I can give a possible answer, but before I do, it's important to know what this genre is, exactly.

My writing career began with science fiction, but after a while, I gave fantasy a try. What I discovered was that fantasy was a little easier for me to write, even though the storytelling concept isn't much different from that of science fiction. So what's the difference between science fiction and fantasy? Plausible Fact - plain and simple. With fantasy, we often deal with the unexplained, mystical, and magical. It may have a system of rules or measurable properties, but these rules often defy laws that govern our existence as we know it (burn metal inside our bodies ... who does that?). Science fiction, on the other hand, adheres to the laws of our known universe, or in the very least, there's a sound theory behind the mechanics and technology that we may not have - but we could have it, later on in the future.

Good science fiction has a reasonable explanation that makes the impossible sound possible, no matter the setting and theme. Time travel, deep space travel, androids, nanotech, cloning - you name it - they all have grounds to become a possibility (some are now). It's been said that science fiction is a precursor to science fact, so if there's a plausible theory for that wormhole over there, I'll drop my disbelief and jump right into it!

If the science is spotty or ill researched, I'd send a prob in first ...

Getting an audience to suspend their disbelief = good science fiction.

So what's great science fiction, then? The above must be there - maybe not intricately detailed, but the science and theory must be present. After that, it's up to the characters and how they handle the science that's given to them (or mishandle, which could be every bit as interesting). No matter the advancement or setting, it's people (or other sentient beings) who use these theories and places to make their story. How does their science shape them? How does it drive their motivation and goals - their fears and dreams?

What makes great science fiction? Great characters.

This is not the rule, just my thoughts on the matter. Science fiction really isn't so different from any other genre. If the characters are real, unique, genuine, and totally flawed, the stories they belong to will be read and enjoyed, regardless of genre. The genre is more or less the setting, the tools by which the characters use to deal with their problem. Whatever genre you write, know your characters and make your story great.

What do you think? What makes great science fiction? What are some of your favorites in among the genre? Is it the science or the characters that make it your favorite?
I'm David, and active galactic nucleus' have superluminal jets!


Thank you, David. A fascinating guest post that shows that whilst the science behind the story must be probable or consistent, science fiction isn't all about facts and figures. Like any other genre, if you don't have great characters it won't work.


  1. Glad to see David making the rounds and dispensing his wisdom with his usual dose of humor. Thanks for sharing, David. Even though I'm not a Sci Fi writer, there's always a lot of good stuff to learn.

  2. Great characters are essential for any genre.
    Look at any of the great science fiction shows and movies, and it's the characters that make it happen. Firefly and Stargate are awesome BECAUSE of the characters.
    Which is why I focus on characters first when I write.

  3. Thanks again for having me (and for putting up with my two-month-ago premature announcement of this post)! And you're most welcome. I'd do it again in a nanosecond. :)

  4. What a brilliant insight. Could I ask a question? *raises hand*

    David, do you think male authors find it easier to write sci-fi? I rarely see female writers out there doing it, but men do it very very well. It's almost their niche, in the same way YA is overwhelmingly female writer driven.


    1. I found it easier at first. I devoured sci-fi as a kid and preteen, so it felt natural, but I agree that much of sci-fi feels male-driven. Even if the MC is female, she often won't sound like a woman, or at least she'll get along with the boys better than most, or be the opposite extreme. I find fantasy easier to write now, but I can't help but feel the powers that be mock the idea of a guy writing YA, and for the female audience. Hoping to break the "mold," if that's possible. :)

    2. My first YA fantasy was for my wife, after all. :)

  5. Hi David, hi Ellie! Hooorah for great science fiction with great characters and not so complicated science stuff but then that's just me as I'm rubbish at science! Take care

  6. Awesome post! I have not written much sci fi, but I do read it and agree with everything you say. I think that's why I'm a Trekker rather than a Jedi. I love knowing how the tech works and why. However, I do love the occasional adventure in a galaxy far, far away. :)

  7. This post encourages my efforts to get know my characters well. Thank you! :)

  8. Never thought much about the difference between science fiction and fantasy, so I appreciate your insight. I think any story, science fiction, fantasy, or otherwise, needs great characters. Thanks again for the info and food for thought!

  9. Hear, hear! That is exactly what I think makes great sci-fi too. Making the sci-fi facts sound plausible IS really hard. I agree that any story whatever the genre has to have great characters and character development to be awesome.

    Allison (Geek Banter)

  10. Great insights here. I think that's why I gravitate more toward writing fantasy - it's the magic, mystical, unexplained elements that drive it. S/F needs to have some root in plausibility.

  11. I read my first Science Fiction over sixty years ago and have been hooked on what I think of as SF ever since. What many nowadays may not realise is that before 1978, there was a glass wall which relegated SF lower than the literature standards of the Dandy comic. Mind you there was some pretty awful stuff around. Since Star Wars broke the glass wall in 78, SF has become much more widely accepted as worthwhile viewing and reading and a whole lot of clichés have gotten into the public vocabulary, like ‘hyperdrive’ and ‘blaster’ that no longer need explaining. During my long following of the genre, a definition of Science Fiction has eluded many people over a number of years and I have followed the arguments and definitions and still have no clear idea of where the genre fits. As for good SF? Of course, as stated, characterisation should come first but the concepts of SF are important too. Big SF, like Stephen Baxter and Peter F Hamilton appeals to me but it is very ‘hard’ SF, since at least a ‘coffee table book’ understanding of science is necessary to follow many of their gadgets. So it is harder SF for those who do not follow the latest trends in science. Apologies for the rather lengthy comment, but it has been a hobby horse of mine for some years.

  12. Glad to see David here. He has shared some wonderful insights.


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