Grumble: The problem with science fiction

Forgive the slightly clickbait-y title, I guess I should more accurately have titled it ‘My Problem with Science Fiction (Not All of it, Some I Like)’. Whatever, if you’re still reading, you care about a stranger’s opinion on sci-fi as a whole, so I’ll dive right in.

I think science fiction tends to oversimplify things.

Part of writing effective fiction is creating a whole world, but taking your time to explore it so the reader gets a real taste for the setting of the book. Maybe the focus is one neighbourhood, in one city, in one country in your world. Hell, maybe it’s one tavern/coffeeshop/bath-house.


Or one picturesque mountain range—I’ll be honest, I just wanted to add a picture.

The point is, part of good writing¹—like good photography—is framing. Knowing how much background to allow, while still drawing attention to the important parts.

Is there enough sub-plot to stop the story seeming condescending/fairy-tale-esque, while still keeping the tension high enough to draw the reader in and have the main plot move along effectively?

Does the worldbuilding add to and/or drive your plot, or just slow it down?

Most importantly (at least when it comes to my grudge against science fiction), unless a planet is so scarcely and newly settled it may as well be a city, why have a race, or a planet of people with no diversity in culture? Humanity has so many variations in appearance, skin tone, height, culture, religion and language but go to space and suddenly any old spaceship captain can spot which planet someone’s from by their skin tone or the culturally significant beads they wear? I call bullshit.

Now, obviously multi-planet, space-based sci-fi is far from the only kind, and I don’t even have a problem with all sci-fi set in space, I just think there’s a generally overlooked tendency to over-simplify when these traits do appear.

Maybe sci-fi is just a young enough genre that there hasn’t been enough in-depth masterpieces for new works to be compared to², thus pushing the genre as a whole forward. Maybe it’s because sci-fi lends itself to tv, movies and visual art easier than other genres, so there tends to be more short cuts taken via visual techniques³.

I don’t know, I just want more world-building and depth of culture in sci-fi, is that too much to ask? Don’t answer yet, I have to go outside and yell at some kids to get off my lawn.


¹That I’m still quite a way from mastering, so don’t think I’m judging

²Though I have high hopes for Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire series, a modern classic that I 100% recommend

³Training montage, anyone?


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