Writer’s Digest, 1993, 314 pages, C$26.99 hc, ISBN 0-89879-536-2
The very existence of certain books can tell you more than you wished to know about the world. Go to your nearest mega-bookstore and look around at the book categories. Who could have thought that there could be so many new-age freaks, needlepoint enthusiasts or (bookshelves!) amateur gardeners?
You may think you know all about interest groups, but really; had imagined that there could be a whole series of books for wannabee SF writers? I’m not kidding; Writer’s Digest Books has a series of books aimed specifically at the beginning science-fiction writer. Books on how to create alien societies or create typically “Science-fictive” effects. In hardcover, no less.
The Writer’s Guide to Creating a Science-fiction Universe has a self-explanatory title. The authors aim to provide any new and struggling writers with an array of facts, thoughts and technique with which to create a believable backdrop for any serious science-fiction story.
In truth, this is pretty much the only thing a prospective writer has to know in order to write good SF. Whereas good writing techniques can be adopted from almost any other type of fiction writing, the essence of SF is in its creation of imaginary, yet plausible worlds that can withstand the scrutiny of even the most demanding readers. The authors are careful to ground prospective writers in the SF ethos of imaginary realism and the result is a book that’s not only useful, but well-intentioned: They not only give out specific information, but also encourage the writer to develop a true sense of what is meaningful in the genre.
It is a measure of how useful this guide is that you can not only read it cover to cover, but also use it as a reference work. The first part of the book is more or less a snappy overview of essential scientific knowledge required to write adequate SF, and one can easily refer to selected excerpts to ensure that they haven’t screwed up. Even though the book dates from 1993, it has aged well so far, mostly due to its reliance on general overviews rather than advanced research (see Charles Sheffield’s Borderlands of Science for a book that fails on this level.)
And even for those not really interested in writing SF, this Guide can fulfill another purpose: The writing is clear and direct, lively but detailed, so that it can serve as a general science vulgarization book, with occasional asides to recommended SF (in a scientific context) as well as an introduction to the whole idea of SF-as-fictional-study-of-change. There is, easily, a freshmen-level college course in general science to be distilled from this book.
Interestingly enough, George’s Ochoa bibliography is a marvel of scholarly eclectism, with dozens of books on a wide range of subject, from movies to history, public library answer books to sound recordings. One gets the feeling that be brought the same vulgarization abilities and professionalism to The Writer’s Guide to Creating a Science-Fiction Universe. The result is worth it.