A certain writer friend of mine suggested I buy a book that proported to publish the first-ever science fiction stories. So I am reading Plato’s story of Atlantis, the exerpts from the epic of Gilgamesh and Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Brilliant stuff. The reason I think it’s so good is not because of the stories themselves but they way they are told. The writing, and the authors reputations, give the stories veracity. They seem true.
Plato tells the Atlantis story through an man telling someone of something he heard from a reliable source. The facts sound real. Truthfully, when I read it I think things like ‘well, maybe if the place was on an island and a volcano erupted like Mt Etna did sometime later, it could be buried beneath the sea.‘ Or, when I discussed this with a work colleague, ‘well, maybe Atlantis was real but not as advanced or beautiful. One tends to speak well of the dead and, like Chinese whispers, it could have gained momentum and become more elaborate along the way.’
It seems to me that great science fiction needs to leave the reader thinking the proposition in the story or book is possible.
This makes me think of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Like all good space opera it is set well into the future and far, far away. But the characters and politics, deadly and tribal, are reflected in our own world today (Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan etc). Another who is really good at that is Peter F Hamilton in his ‘Void’ series.
Someone once said to me all stories that have ever been told were first told in the Bible. Hmmm, or maybe other similar books in much older civilisations. It is the way it is told and the connection with the reader, the veracity of the tale, that seems to me the most important aspect.
Note to self: try to remember this when next writing a scifi story.