I'll be keeping up a basic set of Q&A here.
The moderator's first question was:
So I guess my first question is, when you open a new sf/f book, do
you have any sorts of filters that you knowingly put on? Are they
different depending on whether the book is science fiction or
If you aren't following over there but want to keep up, here's what I said:
My filters tend to revolve around the question, “is it a good book”. I have never knowingly entered a book with a prejudice against any character therein – except inasmuch as the characters can sometimes tick me off so monumentally that I not only toss THAT book but also use the character and the ticky-offiness of that character as a filter against the entire rest of the body of work of a particular writer. The character that particularly exemplifies this is Thomas Covenant – I gave up after the second book of the original series, picked up the third and struggled a little way through it because of an obstinate demand of my inner reader for some sort of closure, and then screamed hard and threw the books against the wall and never EVER picked up anything by Stephen Donaldson again. I’m told he’s a great writer. That’s as may be. I can’t get past his character.
I realise that this question is meant to take aim at the cultural baggage that you bring with you to a work of fiction – but I’m the wrong person to ask that question. I have lived in so many different places, been friends with so many different people, took part in so many different cultures, that I’ve very much learned not to approach anything with a set of preconceived ideas or if I do to expect them to be shattered into smithereens before I’m too far into anything. In fact, to go running off into quite the opposite direction, if this is the sort of filter you were after, I relish and anticipate and am fascinated by the things that are different and new and that I haven’t seen or experienced before. I have always been a bookworm and a teacher’s pet in the sense that I love –learning-, always have done, and reading a good work of fiction can be the most fundamental of learning experiences.
And yes, it does make a difference as to whether the work is SF (about things that could be possible but aren’t – at least not yet) or pure fantasy (about things that were never possible, but perhaps ought to be…) The criteria for that “good book” filter I mentioned above are different for those two definitions. The science in SF has to at least sound feasible, even if it is way beyond our ken right now. For instance,I know that FTL drives are currently (and possibly completely, now and in the future) beyond our ability to imagine let alone implement – but in a Universe built on the supposed fact of its existence has to hang together given that scientific fact is a FACT in that Universe. I don’t need technobabble, I just need a sense of emotional truth, but there are higher tech demands on that truth when it comes to a Science Fiction story. Fantasy depends on something far more visceral – possibly far more difficult to achieve – because in Fantasy you really have to end up believing in the utter literal reality of dragons. At least there is a theoretical basis for FTL – the speed of light and its limitations and lack thereof. A dragon is a creature fully born in the mind and imagination of its creator, and the reader has no basis for verisimilitude at all. And a fantasy that does not stand as strong and completely self-consistently believable in its context… is no more than a package of pretty pictures.