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This is the Science Fiction edition…
The older I get, the dumber Star Wars gets – especially the prequel trilogy. The following video explains quite humorously why the only quasi-redeemable part in The Phantom Menace wasn’t really all that great…
Speaking of prequels – I know it’s only a trailer, but man oh man. Promotheus looks in.tense. Can’t wait to see it.
Several months ago, I came across John C Wright’s blog (I originally blogged about it here, briefly), simply called John C Wright’s Journal. He’s a SF/Fantasy writer, convert to Catholicism from atheism, and his posts are, in a word, excellent. Even if you’re not a fan of Science Fiction or Fantasy literature, his posts are well worth reading, as he covers topics wide and ranging – not just his particular craft. But in keeping with this week’s theme, earlier in March he opined on the most memorable SF characters of the Essential Authors, and how the Golden Age of the genre didn’t produce many of them whatsoever. It’s only been in later years where SF writers glommed onto the necessity of strong complex characters. Here’s a taste:
Looking over my list of 50 essential authors to read to be SF fans, I notice a peculiar dearth of memorable characters. Some of these tales, I cannot even bring the names of the protagonists to mind.
Let me use a completely subjective standard of what is memorable, namely, do I think with my skills as a writer, or those of any other obscure midlist writer of ordinary skill, could portray the particular nuances of speech and mannerism which the character shows, and have him be recognized by the reader?
Could I identify two or more dreams or main motivations pulling the character in opposite directions? This last is the crucial question. One-dimensional characters have no motivation; two-dimensional characters have a simple motivation; three-dimensional characters, as in life, have conflicts of motivation.
There is a second thing that makes characters memorable: those with no particular details given about their lives are memorable if they are archetypes. Those with particular details are memorable if the details are organic to the character, not merely arbitrary quirks. Do I know the character well enough to anticipate his taste in women, food, sports, music, politics?
Of early science fiction, characterization was almost nonexistent.
One factor which makes the human characters not memorable in many of these SF works is that the aliens are so memorable. The author wants to emphasize the strangeness of the extraterrestrial in the background, and this means the human in the foreground should be the opposite of strange. When Klatuu lands in a flying saucer, he does not hide among circus freaks, costumed vigilantes or satanists escaped from a mental institution. In order for the story to work, it must be a typical suburban household he enters.
Another factor which tends toward the blandness of SF heroes, come from the tradition of ‘golden age’ SF under the editor John W. Campbell Jr., under the Big Three authors of Heinlein, Asimov, and Van Vogt. Namely, that these men quite conscientiously set out to make a certain type of approach to life, a certain type of man, appealing to the audience. They were glorifying the technically competent man, the engineer, the scientist.
In the same way that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle determined that his Great Detective Sherlock Holmes would be a man of ascetic intellectualism, as precise and unemotional as a theorem of Pythagoras, Campbell and the Big Three presented a view of man as a creature of reason, almost as a Houyhnhnm, who solves his problems with Sherlockian detachment.
And such men tend not to be quirky or self-aggrandizing. The most we can expect from them is a wry sense of humor.
I devoured Asimov works when I was a kid. And the only character I can recall – Hari Seldon from The Foundation Trilogy – had one redeeming characteristic, and that was his brilliant intellect. But he died early in the first novel, and I cannot for the life of me recall any other memorable character from the remaining novels. Or any of the other novels of his I’ve read through the years.
Character drives story – but in the early days of sci-fi, the story and the wonder and the science and the aliens overwhelmed the character – and also the reader, so much so that complex characterizations could be overlooked. That practice doesn’t serve well for today’s readers, from what Wright wrote. I don’t read much modern sci-fi – Tim Powers being the exception, and his works aren’t traditional sci-fi – so I should do myself a favor and download a few to my Nook and see if Wright is correct in his opinion. Any suggestions?
Thank you for the prayers from my sister and her husband. The heart issue seems to be resolved, but he’s still meeting with a radiologist this week for the lung cancer.
[w00t! Check it out!
10! 11! No longer a one-digit midget – now it’s a bigger 2-figure!]
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