I finally finished reading Science Fiction 101: Exploring the Craft of Science Fiction by Robert Silverberg. I’ve written a few posts already about this book, regarding characterization, the novella No Woman Born, and sci-fi clarity vs. confusion. Now I can bring all my thoughts together.
What Is Science Fiction 101?
Science Fiction 101 is not so much a how-to guide as a collection of classic science fiction stories that Silverberg really loves. After each story he’s included an essay about why that story is a sci-fi classic and waxes poetic about all that it does well. I can’t help but feel that it’s more a collection of personal favourites, though Silverberg is quite an accomplished writer himself so his favs do count for something.
As I mentioned in previous posts, some of the stories in the collection I loved and some I couldn’t get through. Those that chose the novelty of confusion totally lost me, while stories that offered depth and emotion had me hooked. At the same time, I can’t blame the authors for writing experimental stories and trying new things. I think science fiction lends itself well to that because it’s fundamentally so speculative.
What Is Science Fiction?
On that note, Silverberg offers what he believes are the main characteristics of science fiction, and those I think he’s got on the nose:
- An underlying speculative concept, systematically developed in a way that amounts to an exploration of the consequences of allowing such a departure from known reality.
- An awareness by the writer of the structural underpinnings of our known reality.
- Imposition by the writer of a sense of limitations somewhere within the assumptions of the story.
- A subliminal knowledge of the feel and texture of true science fiction.
— Science Fiction 101
I think numbers 1 and 2 are the most important here for science fiction. But I also don’t think we need to hold PhDs in order to write good sci-fi. Maybe for hard sci-fi for sure, but an excellent story can get away with the very bare minimum as long as there is a speculative concept. And as Ursula K. Le Guin has stated, sci-fi doesn’t need to be just about chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy or space travel. It can play with the social sciences as well. For example, I’d place The Hunger Games in the category of science fiction because it offers speculation about a very specific social situation and how the characters deal with it.
My Favourite Stories from the Collection
So back to Science Fiction 101, the stories I enjoyed the most from the collection are:
- “Fondly Fahrenheit” by Alfred Bester
- “No Woman Born” by C. L. Moore
- “The Monsters” by Robert Sheckley
- “Common Time” by James Blish
- “Colony” by Philip K. Dick
- “The Little Black Bag” by C. M. Kornbluth
If you can get your hands on any of these stories, I highly recommend them.
All in all, I’m glad I read this book because I got the opportunity to read some classic science fiction that isn’t on my list and that I otherwise wouldn’t have read. And I can see their place in the history of science fiction as a whole. Some of these stories, which are mainly from the ’50s, are highly experimental, while others tackle technological concepts and their consequences. The outburst of sci-fi magazines during this time made short stories accessible and increased their popularity as well. As I mentioned above, even the most experimental of the stories have their place in sci-fi history as stories that dove deep into the genre, pushing the limits of speculation and storytelling.
If you’re looking for some Golden science fiction, these stories are a good place to start.