Much great science fiction, from Frankenstein on down, is conceptual. It starts with an idea and explores its ramifications. This is something sci-fi does well.
It does not have to, however. There is nothing wrong with a straight-forward adventure set in the stars. Ideally, it should include more than just adventure or there is no point in it being science fiction at all! The setting, futuristic or otherwise, should at least bring some interesting speculations to the page. It allows the author to bring in thoughts that might not work in another genre.
I don’t write sci-fi. Not yet, at least, though I have notes toward possible novels and stories. Yes, I do have a ‘concept’ for a novel. But I’m mostly about characters, about people and their interactions. I probably don’t really think like the best SF writers. Even ones who created great characters, such as Le Guin.
What is my concept, you might ask? I came across the ‘thought experiment’ of medieval philosopher Avicenna, known as ‘the floating man,’ the idea that an intelligent being with no senses or experiences, ‘floating,’ would still be self-aware. I would be inclined to disagree (being with Aristotle on this one that “there is nothing in the mind which was not first in the senses”) but it is certainly a concept that could be explored and science fiction would be a good place for that exploration.
Of course, it is tied to a tale of espionage and adventure, with a working title of ‘The Floating Mind.’ I may get around to actually outlining it fully and tackling a narrative one day. Or not — so many other projects to work on!
Fantasy, I shall continue to turn out. In many respects, it is more suitable to these sort of philosophical questions, the ‘big’ ones of existence and god and all that. It’s myth. Everyday life certainly may be investigated endlessly but with fantasy one can step back and ask how much of it is real. To use a complete cliché, one can look at the forest instead of the trees. And, having recognized that the forest exists, cross the hill and find another one!
To me, fantasy is very akin to poetry. It explores more with metaphor than do most forms of prose writing. Perhaps that is its personal appeal.
In honesty, however, I feel myself more and more drawn to writing mainstream fiction. At the moment I am writing, rewriting, and editing on a new novel of that sort, to be titled ‘Waves.’ It continues the stories of the characters introduced in ‘Shaper,’ published last year, the surfers and others in the little (fictional) Florida coastal town of Cully Beach. And I can get away with a different style, more stream-of-consciousness and less action. That actually makes it a little harder to edit, to decide what should stay in and what should go — with a fast-paced adventure, those sorts of choices tend to be obvious.
When I finish it, who knows what I’ll tackle? Most likely, another fantasy adventure set in the world of my Malvern novels. I have a new trilogy (of sorts) planned there and would like to make a start. But I must get back to a Donzalo sequel eventually, and I have a whole series of spy novels I’ve been thinking of, and a western or three.
And just maybe that science fiction novel.