Some recent reading got me thinking about science fiction. Specifically, it got me thinking about something that comes up from time to time that is almost universally found in bad science fiction. Perhaps bad is the wrong word. Dull science fiction at least.
There are exceptions of course, most specifically when an author is actively playing against type. That exception is rare however. What I am referring to is when an author creates a world of science fiction, then fails to make that world important to the plot in any meaningful way.
Science fiction isn’t the only genre that suffers from this, but it’s the one I’ve noticed it happen in the most. Fantasy novels might be cookie cutter in their plots sometimes, but rarely fail to include fantasy elements that the plot wouldn’t work without. For some reason, some authors seem to think that science fiction elements can just be spice in the background.
I look at it like this; if you have a plot and series of events that could all occur in a modern setting, then you probably aren’t utilizing your setting properly. For example, if I create a world where man has achieved colonization of other planets in our solar system, then I better have a plot relating specifically to something that derives from that colonization.
Really great fiction does this well. The author weaves a plot around the technology and social aspects of the setting in a way that the plot simply couldn’t exist in a world without them. At the very least, it would require a similar setting to manage. Why in the world does this even need to be said though? To me, it seems obvious. Why bother putting light drive in a story and then not using it at all? Why have everyone be cybernetic and then ignore it in favor of something more mundane?
Honestly, even when you are playing against type, the elements of the setting should still be important enough that you can’t separate them from the plot. Let’s say your story is focused mostly as a romance, but set in the distant future. You’re playing against type a bit since most science fiction plots favor action, suspense and grand scales. Your little romance is focused on two people living in a world that happens to be science fiction rather than modern.
Most of the primary plot and even sub-plots are focused on the romance. Well yes, but how they get from point A to point B is going to be rife with the trappings of that setting. If everyone has cybernetic bodies, maybe an intimate scene happens when both are connected through a wire link trying to resolve a subplot. Maybe his original body gets destroyed and the replacement he can afford isn’t physically attractive to her. There are endless possibilities that spring from the setting itself. In a more standard setting, you’d not be able to accidentally overhear a thought through a cybernetic link. The closest you could get to a sudden change of form would be an accidental disfiguring, but the implications change.
Take a long hard look at what you are writing and where you’ve put your characters. If the events of your story could all happen anywhere else just as easily, perhaps rethink the nuts and bolts of your plot and take a little time to reweave it more tightly into your setting. Think of the absolute best science fiction you’ve ever read. I am certain every single one you can think of was inseparable from the setting. That’s where you want your own story to be.