What Makes Great Sci-Fi Writing?

Talking with Roberts, he keeps coming back to science fiction’s metaphorical quality. That might metaphor be an accurate extrapolation of real science, or a hyper-real reflection of our own troubles, or something more outlandish altogether, but the metaphor is the common denominator.

“Samuel Delany once said that sci-fi is a radically metaphorical literature because it aims to represent the world without reproducing it, and I think that’s right,” Roberts says. “If I am asked for a definition of sci-fi, if somebody leaps out at me on the street and says, ‘Adam! Define Science Fiction!’ I will usually mumble something about the moment near the beginning of Kubrick’s 2001when the ape throws the bone into the air and, just after reaching its apogee, the bone transforms suddenly, beautifully, wondrously into an orbiting spaceship.”

Roberts can point to plenty of reasons why the scene is powerful, but is keen not to reduce the image to those explanations.

“It is something ‘about’ technology, about the way humans use tools, our habit of intrusively, even violently interacting with our environments, about the splendor but also the limitation of such tools, the way even a spaceship is, at its core, a primitive sort of human prosthesis,” he says. “But when you start explaining the cut in those terms you become aware that you are losing something, missing some key aspect to what makes it work so well. It works not by a process of rational extrapolation, but metaphorically. Kubrick’s cut is more like a poetic image than a scientific proposition. And there you have it, in a nutshell, my definition of science fiction. This genre I love is more like a poetic image than it is a scientific proposition.”

Adam Roberts is the lead tutor of Curtis Brown Creative’s new six-week online Writing Science Fiction course. The course runs for the first time from 27 April to 6 June. If you want to learn how to write your own stories that are out of this world, enroll by 25 April: https://www.curtisbrowncreative.co.uk/course/writing-science-fiction/

Curtis Brown Creative is one of the UK’s most successful writing academies, running courses online and in London. It’s the only creative writing school to be owned and run by a major literary agency (The Curtis Brown Group). Find out more about the courses they run here: https://www.curtisbrowncreative.co.uk/

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