Book Review: Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction

Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction:  How To Create Out-Of-This-World Novels And Short Stories, by Orson Scott Card, Philip Athans, Jay Lake, and the editors of Writer’s Digest

Speculative fiction, which is composed of science-fiction and fantasy, however broadly they are defined, has been a staple of writing since the latter part of the 19th century when genres of writing were explored and when mass-market writing became accessible to a large audience of readers.  In a broad sense, fantasy tends to look backwards and towards the magical and supernatural while science-fiction tends to look forwards and towards the scientific and the technical.  Within such writing as a whole, though, there is a wide degree of flexibility for writers to approach different angles and approaches with the knowledge that a good living as a writing and a solid audience can be attained by someone who is willing to work their craft.  The authors of this work have some interesting comments to make and this work is a collaborative effort that is really four smaller books in one and something that ought to make a great deal of writers puzzle over what it is that they want to say through their development of the writing craft in speculative fiction.

The materials of this book are divided into four parts, each by a separate author, and each of the parts is really a separate work that is only tangentially related at best to the other parts of the book.  The first part of the book, taking up a bit more than 100 pages, is written by noted writer Orson Scott Card, who discusses how to write science fiction and fantasy (I) in four chapters.  First he begins with an introduction, and then he discusses the infinite boundary of speculative fiction (1), the importance of world creation in creating a compelling place for one’s fiction, even if it does not make its way into the stories themselves (2), a discussion of story construction (3), as well as a discussion on what it means to write well (4).  After that Philip Athans discusses the state of fantasy and science fiction at the beginning of the 21st century in a relatively brief chapter (II).  This is followed by another relatively brief chapter that discusses the world of steampunk with some critical comments about the nostalgia of the imagined Victorian past (III).  The fourth and final part of the book, extending for more than 200 pages of the nearly 400 pages of this work, provide ten chapters that serve as a fantasy reference for the writer (IV) by various authors, including traditional fantasy cultures (1), world cultures (2), magic (3), witchcraft and pagan paths (4), commerce, trade, and law in contemporary fantasy (5), fantasy races (6), creatures of myth and legend (7), dress and costume (8), arms, armor, and armies (9), and the anatomy of a castle (10), after which the book ends with an index.

What does a reader get out of this particular book?  I found this book a fascinating read but not necessarily a very coherent one.  It seemed to me, at least, that this book was contained of four very loosely connected pieces that were put together because the book could sell well given the name recognition of its lead author while also not requiring very much effort by him or the other contributors.  And in general the approach works.  Orson Scott Card does have the credibility to talk about how one can acquire mastery in writing about science fiction and fantasy.  If I do not know or particularly care who Philip Athans and Jay Lake are, their contributions are modest and still interesting.  And if I do not know at all who the editors of Writer’s Digest are, I found the resources they provided to fantasy writers to be interesting as well.  If you want to write better and you have interests in speculative fiction, this book provides information that will allow one to think about the need to define one’s writing better, to recognize trends in publishing, and to acquire some sound knowledge to serve as a foundation for one’s fiction.  And that is all something that many writers, myself included, can certainly appreciate.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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