postheadericon How To Write Science Fiction, Allison & Busby, Paperback, ISBN 0-74900-135-6

This is one of the books that sparked my spending frenzy in getting Bob Shaw hardbacks. I hadn’t heard of it (although I may have been vaguely aware of its existence but not fully acknowledged it) and I bought it from Amazon I think and eagerly awaited its arrival as it was more or less a ‘new’ book for me.

How To Write Science Fiction

How To Write Science Fiction

The book itself is split up into lots of segments. Perhaps Bob Shaw wrote it over a period of time and gathered it together only for publication or maybe it was designed that way. There are a lot of useful hints and tips on the act of writing itself, irrespective of genre.

Shaw says here that he has published 100% of the work he has written. Apparently he had totally forgotten about The Mercenary Mirage – published a couple of times including Overload after it was sent back unsold to him by Forrest J Ackerman: perhaps he totally forgot about other stories too?

It was an enjoyable read and felt like Shaw was talking to me, rather than me ploughing through a book – which can happen with some non fiction books. The tone is light and informal and the fact that it is in short sections helps the reader enormously as there are no big chunks to digest in one reading.

The first chapter deals specifically with Science Fiction, and it is here, right at the start that Shaw has a section headed The Reader Knows Best. The manner of the book is mainly pleasant Shaw doesn’t fluff up reader’s egos and repeatedly points out that publishing is tough. He gives the sage advice to look into what the market is looking for before embarking on writing a story as he details in the section entitled The Importance of Market Research. For a lot of people it’s the other way around: write a story then look to market it.

In the second chapter Shaw talks about ‘priming the subconscious’ and his little army of Brownies who deliver and develop story ideas, although he has no compunction against brownie cruelty at times by taking them by their (metaphorical) throats and demanding good ideas.

Shaw also talks about discussing ideas with other people. He worked at the same company as SF writer James Blish and they often bounced ideas around. Shaw then moves from ideas to plots.

It is when talking about plotting that Shaw brings up Light of Other Days – which is included in the book and is part of the chapter on plotting. Shaw reveals to us that he spent two years on the idea for Light of Other Days before committing it to paper. He then describes how he looked for the plot to best describe the idea. I found this to be the most interesting part of the book. That Shaw would take the time to develop plots for an idea until he was satisfied that he had presented the idea in the best possible form.

Chapter four delves a little deeper into Science Fiction itself, in particular the difference between hard and soft SF and ways on how writers can bluff their way through a story technology wise.

Shaw then takes a look at characterisation, human and alien. In this chapter Shaw informs us that his publisher initially rejected Ground Zero Man on the grounds that it ‘was by no stretch of the imagination …science fiction.’ And then goes on to say the same publisher picked the book up later. There follows a few other sections including one on alien names.

The next chapter discusses building worlds, and Shaw reveals to us some of the things that went behind his book The Ragged Astronauts, the first in a trilogy. This is a series which could be thought of as bordering on Fantasy and having little to do with Science Fiction.

Chapter seven discusses the staples of science fiction, rocket ships, ray guns and robots. Here he investigates the various ways science fiction writers overcome the Einstein barrier which prohibits faster than light speed travel. A short section looks at futuristic weaponry. Then there are a couple of sections on robot and computers.

The last chapters round things up. Bringing everything together, including the topic of selection, and grabbing the reader at the beginning and endings. There is an exceptionally useful section where he points out words in a paragraph and gives reasons why he chose those particular words over others.

The final chapter is called Going To Market. This chapter also contains questions and answers with Pamela Buckmaster from the Carnell Literary Agency.

The book was released in 1993 but contains a lot of important information and tips: mainly because they are all still relevant today.

7 Responses to “How To Write Science Fiction, Allison & Busby, Paperback, ISBN 0-74900-135-6”

Leave a Reply