Monday, August 18, 2014

A Difficult Admission

Since joining the 1632 team when first invited by Eric back in 2001, I've had fantasies of being an SF writer. To an extent that I never thought would happen, those fantasies have come true. I have published SF fiction in hardcover anthologies from a major publisher. I receive regular (small) royalty checks, I present popular crowded presentations at SF conventions, my publisher sends me Christmas cards and invites me to authors dinners. I've moved from outside looking in to inside looking out.

But in the past thirteen years, I've discovered something very surprising about myself. I am not, in any normal sense, a fiction writer. When presented with a character and a setting, when presented with the potential for a story, when I need to answer "what comes next?" my mind goes blank. The longest sustained fictional setting I have managed just barely scraped past 5000 words, and that very nearly tore my mind apart.

On the other hand, I'm quite a good writer, fast and prolific. I can produce 5000 words of text in a short single sitting, and can turn that out day after day without stress. I just can't do first or third person fiction that way. My special gift is elsewhere.

If you look back over the posts on this site, if you look at my published work in the 1632 universe, if you visit any of the Weird Tech sessions at the 1632 minicons, you will figure it out for yourself. I'm very good at explaining complicated things in a way that is both interesting an understandable. I'm not Carl Sagan or Neil Tyson, or Issac Asimov, or frankly any of the people listed in the appropriate Wikipedia article. Still, I'm pretty good.

What I can frequently manage, that those folks don't even try, is explaining science fiction from the inside. What are the limits and potentials of a slower-than-light multi-stellar civilization? What happens to radio in a time travel story to the 17th century? How do you make records in the 17th century? What is the likely social impact and the biological effect of the English War Unicorn on 21st century warfare?

Wood Hughs took the three part radio FAQ for 1632 and produced Turn your Radio On. Gorg Huff and Paula Goodlett took the non-fiction piece on record production I wrote with Chris Penycarte and gave us Trommler Records.

We've published a lot of non-fiction in the Gazette over the years.  Some of it, including most of Iver Cooper's work is essentially reference work, pieces that establish a basis for people who need a fact or a tidbit for the universe. Some, and I think most of mine, on the other hand are written from within the universe. They are non-fiction, but further the story by setting up the characters and the mechanisms that happen. What they lack, and why we publish those as non-fiction is that they don't have plots, they don't have character development. That doesn't mean they can't be entertaining. See Father Nick and Brother Johann's piece on fluidic computing.

In the future, I plan to put some of my original non-1632 pieces here. Sometimes (as in the case of those English war-unicorns) I get a universe, and sometimes characters and vignettes dumped on me. I've struggled for years to drag them into stories in short or long form. Sadly, it just doesn't happen, and there appears not to be a market for universe building.

On the other hand.  If there are any of you who have universes of your own, and who would like to let someone else play in it and to explain things, anyone who would like to have the numbers run, the t's dotted and the i's crossed for your story universe, let me know. If there's a place in an anthology or a place for an addenda to a novel or a novella, if you're not the sort of author who thinks that explaining things takes away the wonder, then have I got a deal for you!

Rick Boatright -- SF Universe popularizer for hire -- cheap.

Meanwhile, back to the trenches. There's a whole lot of complicated things out there that folks don't understand, and apparently it's my job to fix that. :-)

-_ Rick