Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Justine Graykin says the topic of Ethics in Speculative Fiction "hit on a central tenet of my writing philosophy." Which is why I am pleased to host her mini-essay on the topic as part of the series on Ethics in SF on Reality Skimming. I am particularly pleased by her mention of Star Trek, an SF series to which I am indebted for my own sense of SF as a means to explore the human condition. Interested in contributing to the Ethics in SF series? Query me at

Ethics in SF: A series of interviews, articles and debates on the Reality Skimming blog, hosted by Lynda Williams, author of the Okal Rel Saga.

Justine GraykinJustine Graykin is an SF writer, librarian, philosopher, historical archivist and blogger who also loves to read. She is married with two children, too many cats, two dogs and flock of chickens on 50 acres in New Hampsire. She likes to hike, participate in community theater and is a member of Broad Universe. Read Justine's work online: Awake Chimera by M. J. Graykin, published by Absent Willow Review; Works by Justine, including "Archimedes Nesselrode"; and Excerpts from The Elder Light Series. About the last, Justine says, "My best work, that which I feel represents the kind of science fiction I really want to write, has yet to be published. It's a hard sell, but I keep working on it."

Q. Justine Graykin's blog is subtitled "Science fiction doesn't have to be cold to be hard." What does this mean to you as a writer, Justine?

Featured novel by Justine Graykin
Featured novel by Justine Graykin

Fiction that is based on hard science, that is, things that are theoretically possible given our present scientific knowledge, tends to be tech-driven, it tends to be militaristic, it tends to be dark. It has a feel to it that seems cold. Relationships tend to be one-dimensional sub-plots. Humor is usually cynical or snide (think Douglas Adams) if it is used at all. Hard SciFi is very impatient with warmth. Social sciences are neglected in favor of plots based on biology, astronomy, and most important, physics. If there is a nod to psychology or sociology, it tends to be very analytical, as if fearing it won't be taken seriously.

One of the best and most well-known exceptions to this is the Star Trek genre. It was warm, it was optimistic, it spent time with deep character development and relied heavily on relationships and interpersonal dynamics while playing with the possibilities of real, cutting-edge science. It's warmth made it accessible to people who didn't usually like SciFi. It also made it a target for lampoon and satire (although many of the send-ups are affectionate.) Unfortunately, Star Trek sometimes drifted out of hard science and into "magical" science, in which, in order to achieve a desired the plot twist, they waved the magic science wand, talked some tech, and presto. This, too, makes the genre an object of scorn for real geeks.

I stick to real science in my writing, including the "soft" sciences, and give the stories warmth, optimism and humor. I've made exceptions (shameless magic in "Archimedes Nesselrode" and dark horror in "Chimera") but what I consider the major body of my work follows the philosophy that SciFi doesn't have to be cold to be hard.

Your Turn: Comment with your own reaction to the questions.

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I think Plato was writing SF of the soft sciences sort when he created The Republic. I see echoes of it in Star Trek with star fleet standing in for philosopher kings. When I need to believe in a better world, it's good to have some examples to turn to. Problematic as they might be in real life.
Spider Robinson has long been a proponent of science fiction with an optimistic/positive spin. I have seen a few publishers calling for stories which have a similar bent. It seems to me that you will not lack for good markets in the near future!
Glad to hear it Arinn! Wonder if that's a reflection of tough times. I've heard happy endings - or at least uplifting emotion - is most popular in fiction at the worst of times.
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