Reality is Just a Crutch for People Who Can’t Handle Sci-Fi

The title of this post I took from a small sign I bought many, many years ago at a sci-fi convention called Balticon. I always put it in a prominent place in every cubicle or office I’ve ever had. I’ve loved sci-fi since I first started to read something other than Dick and Jane and endured ridicule for it from friends and family. My mother swore reading sci-fi would give me nightmares because covers of paperbacks books back then were pretty lurid–a lot of big-headed, bug-eyed, multi-limbed aliens menacing a buxom blonde. Many times, the story within had nothing to do with the cover, but covers sell the book.

And, of course, I gave writing sci-fi a try, thinking I was good enough as a teen to submit to the venerable sci-fi genre magazine, Fantasy and Science Fiction. The rejection didn’t discourage me from writing, but it did make me realize that I was a better sci-fi reader. One of my short stories, published last year in eFiction Magazine, has a sci-fi hint–it’s the story of a professor hired for what seems is her dream job, then she finds out it involves time travel. Since it was a character study, I didn’t need to go deeply into the physics of possible time travel.

I know I’m about to offend some, but to me sci-fi is space, spaceships, space travel, traveling to other planets, encountering aliens (“new life and new civilizations”), living or co-existing with same with the concomitant problems, and time travel. To me it’s not telepathic cats, even if they live on another planet, any form of elves, pixies, ogres, orcs, dragons, or quasi-medieval themes. That’s fantasy or its derivative, sword and sorcery. But Sci-Fi as a genre is very forgiving and has fans who are always open to genre smash-ups.

Now, I have enjoyed some fantasy–Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, Anne McCafferty’s Pern series, Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja, Tolkien’s books, among others. I’m currently on book five of George R. R. Martin’s multi-volume A Song of Ice and Fire. But I always go back to what, again to me, is pure sci-fi. Bradley and McCafferty infused some sci-fi into both series, but the sci-fi aspects were always secondary, so far in the past, they were myths and legends, and I could never accept how women were treated in Bradley’s Darkover novels.

One of my favorite books of “pure sci-fi” is a collaboration by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, The Mote in God’s Eye. This book involves a quasi-military, human space fleet sent on a first contact mission to a newly discovered planet with life. It’s a well-written and well-spun tale of the things that go right, and wrong, with a first contact, and Niven and Pournelle meshed so well as writers, you can’t tell two people wrote the novel.

A few weeks ago, another writer from my local group, SWAG Writers, approached me with an offer to collaborate on a sci-fi piece. I demurred because I still don’t think I’m a sci-fi writer, but his concept was interesting. Then, I remembered finding a snippet of something I wrote probably more than thirty years ago (I could tell it was type-written.), and I pulled it from its hiding place and re-read it. There was something about it that could fit with my fellow writer’s premise, and I transcribed it as is as a Word file and sent it off to him. What came back was great–excellent enhancements of what I’d written, including an incredible character name, and an addition of a blaster-battle (somewhat requisite)–and I riffed off that to the tune of about 2,500 words late on a Friday night.

I get it now that I don’t have to be an astrophysicist to write sci-fi, and sci-fi has always issued a wealth of memorable characters. So, I’m having fun with collaboration, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it’s going to go–short story, novella, novel, who knows? But that’s the anticipation, and the lure, of writing.

How about you? Have you ever collaborated in your writing? How did it go? Who are your favorite collaborators? Would you take up an offer to collaborate?