When I start a new piece my first consideration is theme. If it’s not SF I generally launch straight into it, knowing it’ll be out of the way in a day or two.
SF poses additional considerations, for example what, exactly, is it going to be about? Have I read anything similar or, if not, am I drawing from general wells of inspiration provided by works such as Billion Year Spree, Hell’s Cartographers, Visual Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction, New Maps of Hell, Who’s Who in Science Fiction…
Like many teenagers, my youth was marred by lack of money and even less wisdom. When I could I bought anything to do with SF, including the above. In his introductions to the Spectrum Collections, Robert Conquest makes the point that as the genre deals with areas outside the scope of conventional fiction, the literary conventions for normal fiction should not apply. This poses the question: what is the legitimate purpose of the genre. The answer to that changes, depending on what’s in vogue – SF is no less prone to fashion that other genres.
To go back to ‘legitimate purpose’ I find it instructive to revisit those long ago surveys of the genre and I am currently dipping into Billion Year Spree
First UK paperback publication: Corgi SF Collector’s Library, 1975.
Tolkien is contrasted with Peake with an extract from each.
Peake says little, filling his character with the self-regard so prevalent in the literary outputs of yesteryear.
Tolkien progresses the action and briefly dwells the resonance through dream.
Tolkien is more direct whereas you feel Peake is close to breaking into a paean of all the words he knows on a theme. In many works this is a sign of all too prevalent Thesaurus Gambit; the writer throws a list of everything that could be found in say An Exotic Market, in hope of conveying Exotic to the reader. This tendency isn’t confined to the genre; attendees of Writing Groups pay heed please.
The critique of Heinlein is hilarious – “(an adroit way of dropping in) a telling detail” err Brian, that’s writing in the here and now; Dickens detailed characterisations, with high wordage levels splayed out over pages and pages have their market – most of which has long since passed beyond the pale.
What’s more important, character tick boxes or action? It’s a matter of taste.
That’s not to say that Billion Year Spree has no value – indeed for the purposes of orienting, one considers the editorial pitch, looks at the array of books considered, assimilates and moves on. It’s worth, however, taking a shot at books you’ve already read and this is where it gets easy to pick holes in Aldiss’ Spree. It’s almost too easy. You have to remember we each climb the mountain by using the endeavours of others.
Note on Corgi SF Collector’s Library
The Library was in limited to works published by Corgi so in an irony of ironies: no Philip K Dick, Ursula K Le Guin, J. G. Ballard or other luminaries of the time.