Who put all that science (and gadgets!) in my fiction?

I’ve been reading (and yeah, doing some skimming of) a bunch of science fiction stories and novellas lately. It’s interesting, because I’ve sort of been out of the loop with SF for a while, even though it was just last year — was it really only last year? Seems like a decade ago! — that my own SF novel came out.

I’ve come across some really good stories, but I’ve been trying to put my finger on what it is about a lot of these stories that have been throwing me for a loop. I find myself skimming or losing interest in a lot of the stories that either 1) have a far-future or utterly alien setting or 2) are filled with a ton of gadgetry and tech. In those stories, I lose touch with the characters. I feel like I can see the author in the background, just making up stuff. Waving his hands. Showing off her imaginational skills.

At that point, I turn the page and move on to another story. And I start to look longingly at that anthology of wizard stories that I’ve been itching to read. Or that book about magicians I just bought.

I think science fiction is kinda sorta dead to me. At least right now.

It’s the focus on world-building that often throws me out. I feel like the author is so eager to show me all of his or her research, or to pack as many wild “eyeball kicks” of weirdness and creativity into the story (usually in huge blocks of paragraphs that stop the narrative cold) that the characters get lost.

May_1950_Astounding_Science_Fiction
May 1950 Astounding Science Fiction (not the stories I was reading!)

Or worse (and this is a weakness of mine, so maybe I’m just projecting my own insecurities here), the authors see their characters only as pawns, to move around on the fancy-ass chessboard they’ve created to fully show off their artistry.

I know this is a common complaint about SF, but for some reason, maybe ’cause I’m reading them FAST, a lot of these stories just never took off for me. Or I gave up ten pages in; due to the world-building and exposition, many of these stories were quite LONG.

I’m kind of sad that not many of the SF stories I read did much for me. I think it’s indicative of the state of our high-tech world — to really make a story SFnal, you have to go over the top with your world and concepts. Why? Because our world has become a science-fiction world, with handheld computers and space shuttles and electric cars (but still no jetpacks!) and more.

So to set a story apart, seems like many SF authors feel they have to just go over the top with the details of their created world — a lot of stories felt more grounded in the fantasy world than the real world —  often at the expense of characters and, ultimately, at the expense of telling a good story. Some stories just never got started — they were simply a travelogue of the author’s imagination. Which usually put me to sleep, eventually.

Of course, you know what this means — I’m gonna have to go write a science fiction story, the kind of story I’d like to read. There’s no way around it. Me and my big mouth.

So while I’m working on that — please let me know in the comments which science fiction authors you’ve been loving lately, and why. And point me to some good character-driven SF stories, if you please!

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