Deconstructing the Sci-Fi Novel, Part 1 – The Biggest Bounty
Have you read The Biggest Bounty yet? If you would like to, you can grab a copy via this link here and then the rest of the blog entry will make sense. Now that you’ve read it I’m sure you noticed that it’s a swashbuckling science fiction with action, adventure, intrigue, milk, and a little bit of comedy thrown in for good measure. This is book 1 of the “Zeus and the Pink Flower” saga where the two protagonists had just recently met and started working together. Chris and I wanted to start at the beginning and follow these two throughout their careers. As such, there were two things he and I wanted to touch upon with this book.
One thing that always makes me roll my eyes is the “I know a guy” story-telling device. This plot device transcends genre, and can be found in television, movies, books, plays, comic books, and haiku. The protagonist has a minor mystery that needs to be solved to help further him or her along with the larger mystery. This minor mystery is solved by going to a character never mentioned before and then never mentioned again. I think what aggravates me the most about this device is how these characters know each other. Let’s say Character Protagonist has an item that he knows nothing about, so he takes it to I-Know-A-Guy for information about it. This kind of implies that two characters have different backgrounds, because if they had similar backgrounds then Character Protagonist would have a pretty good idea of what the item in question is. That also implies that I-Know-A-Guy has a different background than everyone in the supporting cast around Character Protagonist, or else one of the supporting characters would know what the item is. The story has now introduced another mystery of how Character Protagonist knows I-Know-A-Guy, a character with a completely different background than Character Protagonist and the supporting characters. They obviously have a past together, but something must have happened or else I-Know-A-Guy would be a member of the supporting cast. Suddenly, I find myself wanting to know that story far more than the story that has been presented to me. With the “Zeus and the Pink Flower” saga, Chris and I wanted to start at the beginning with Zeus and Fiore so we can tell the stories of how they met these helpful I-Know-A-Guys when they meet them later on as well as follow our protagonists through a much bigger story.
Over explaining. I just finished reading a techno-thriller about a virus capable of rewriting the genetic code of men. The author spent waaaaay too long explaining how viruses work, how those who study viruses work with them, and how his theories could work in the real world. It was so much information. I was born right around the Age of Aquarius and spent all of my teen years in the 80s with a remote control in my hand and a love of microwaves – instant gratification isn’t fast enough. I appreciated that the author had clearly done his homework, but with so many info dumps, I found it very easy to put the book down. I’m not saying that I would have been satisfied with a technowizard waving a magic keyboard and saying, “Because science,” as the only form of explanation, but I thought that over explaining was detrimental to the overall work. For The Biggest Bounty, Chris and I used technologies that we’ve all seen plenty of times before so we didn’t have to explain anything, let alone over explain. None of our technologies are new. We have laser guns and cybernetic body parts and handheld computers and jump-ports and flying cars. We know that science is an integral part of science-fiction, but we just didn’t want it to get in the way of the story.
So, have we established that you have read The Biggest Bounty yet? The book was something of a departure from the comfortable feel of writing fantasy or horror for us. Clearly, this is not hard science fiction (quite on purpose). There’s often a clunkiness involved with starting a new project. It sets in somewhere between the half-conceived plot of the story and the outlining of the chapters. Brian and I were both nervous about the project, but decided that we wanted to push ourselves. Ultimately, we opted to add some swashbuckling to our science fiction, some humor to our seriousness, and some current world issues to our off-world adventure. And we can state our reasons in one word: familiarity.
We decided to add in elements with which we were familiar. Sure, it resulted in a hybrid genre of sorts, but our goal was to come up with something entertaining, not something that adhered to the rules … except that we both know one big detraction from a science fiction story, whether it’s hard science fiction or not – the writer may not know the science involved in a daring getaway or how to apply the Pythogorean Theorem to an alien spaceship for the purpose of maximum propulsion, but there’s always at least one reader who does! Moreover, there’s always at least one reader who knows the scientific failure and is more than willing to share it with thousands (ok! Since you are that reader with a mathematically gifted background, then read that word as “dozens”) of other readers. That is the imaginary line that neither Brian, nor I, wanted to cross. We both knew that no matter where this adventure took place and no matter where our characters roamed, it wasn’t going to happen because of our poorly constructed theory or space travel or time continuums or anything else of that nature. Simple. Straight forward. Easy does it. Like flipping a page. Until you get to The End…