Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Review of How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card, author of the acclaimed Ender's Game and its numerous sequels, among other gems, has long established himself as one of the most interesting (and opinionated) voices in the world of speculative fiction. So it’s hardly conceivable that any speculative author not read his views on the genre. However, this slim volume is a mixed offering.

First published in 1990, a good portion of its content—most notably the last chapter “The Life and Business of Writing”—contains decidedly outdated information. And clocking in at just 140 pages (including the index), this is certainly no definitive tome on the art of writing science fiction and fantasy. That said, it would hardly be an Orson Scott Card book if it failed to offer some nuggets of dazzling pertinence.

This is not a book on craft. As Card points out, there are many books, aimed at writers of all stripes, that aptly cover the subject of technique. Instead, he focuses on the peculiarities of the speculative realm, including a fascinating chapter on the origins and history of the genre. He goes on to discuss world building (although with a slight science-fiction bias), determining what kind of story you’re trying to tell and therefore the best way to go about it (his MICE quotient, dividing stories into the four categories of milieu, idea, character, and event is brilliant reading no matter your genre), and manipulating the strictures of the genre to your best advantage.

This is not a perfect book by any stretch of the imagination. Card could have doubled his page count without disappointing me. But the pearls of wisdom contained herein are too good to miss.
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