I have, for the last year and half or so, been a member of the British Science Fiction Association. You'd think, being British and a writer of science fiction of reasonably long standing, I'd have been a member for years. However, I've long struggled with the notion of what such an association is for, given that, for most, the production of written science fiction is a solitary activity, excepting the popular parlour game 'Drabble'. It's not as though they give you more direct line of sight to publishers or agents, which would be of value to me. Yes, I suppose if we were all knee-deep in TV or movie science fiction, then we'd need to be more collaborative, but wouldn't working in that milieu make that happen anyway? And as for discussing the consumption and enjoyment of science fiction, isn't that what pubs and beer are for? Deeper analysis than that risks treating genre fiction as having more explanatory power or meaning than it has. I mean, the vast, vast majority of the time we're just trying to entertain. End of.
The BSFA's publication Vector shows what happens when it's-just-a-bit-of-fun is taken way, way too seriously, with articles of various degrees of pretention or portent disappearing up their own fundaments in a haze of pseudo-intellectual nonsense. Imagine not just every slice of burnt toast contains the face of Jesus, but you've decided you can predict the future from his facial expressions. And whilst I'm grateful the BSFA produce it and post it out to me, the fact that it's available free on the interweb makes paying a membership fee even more questionable.
One notable exception from the trend towards social science PhD leather elbow patch unreadableness is Marie Vibbert's article 'Jobs and Class of Main Characters in Science Fiction', which I enjoyed considerably. Now, I could bang on about the utter, utter misunderstanding of the concept of class that predicates Marie's analysis, but it turns out she's American, so obviously class, to her, is all about money, whereas in Britain it's all about... well, class, obviously - which is separate from, albeit wonkily related to, demography, which is more about what's going on here. That apart, it's an interesting take on authorial choices without seeing patterns in the clouds that just ain't there.
You've previously seen how I like a good bit of Excel, so I though it may be mildly amusing if I were to put my own stories, both published (50-odd) and unpublished (40-odd) through the same analysis, partly to see whether I diverge from the norm, and partly to judge whether there's some fundamental difference between what the market's bitten on and what they've spat back at me.
Marie, using a semi-scientific but, to me, entirely reasonable salad of Orion SF Masterworks, BSFA award winners and a 'best of' Google search, gives us this result, compared to Pew Research figures on the US population as a whole:
And my survey says...
So, what to think? Well, firstly, my unpublished work looks a lot like the sci-fi universe, whereas my published work looks more like real life. And, overall, I'm a lot less inclined to give my protagonists unrepresentative positions of power and influence than writers generally. I wasn't expecting to draw the conclusion that I'm right and it's the rest of the industry that's wrong, but if that's what the numbers say...
Tempted as I am to end there, it's probably nothing other than noise. But, if there is meaning to be gleaned, it may reflect British versus American mores (which I don't think Marie even acknowledges, let alone tackles), far better expressed and discussed here. I get why Americans want their heroes to be starship captains and superheroes - if my nation had precious little history, I'd want Arthurs and Beowulfs too - but get Britons to write sci-fi and you end up with Doctor Who, Hitchhikers and Red Dwarf. We don't want people with power, we want outsiders and the oppressed middle, because that's who we look up to and feel most kinship with, respectively. That's why many of my stories have people of ability trapped below the decision makers, implementing absurdity despite themselves: lions led by donkeys. Not sure that trope makes it across the pond unscathed every time.
However, like Marie, I had difficulty assigning class to a lot of my characters. Some - God, Death, a sentient refrigerator - I simply excluded, but others - a "magician", a teenage girl, kids - made me ponder. But much of the time I'm writing an every(wo)man, a placeholder, a cypher we can all hang our own faces on. When you, dear reader, read such stories, you can place yourself in the shoes of the protagonist whilst, similarly, I'm writing me - and, because I see myself, class-wise, occupying that middle ground, I see those cyphers as of similar class - even if that me is another gender, age or race, because that battle to overcome hurdles to get to what you want, whether that's to survive a near-death encounter or just sell some t-shirts, is universal. And, after all, isn't that exactly why we write and read fiction?
Trouble is, you can't stretch a simple, universal truth like that into a pseudo-academic Vector article...
Click on the images or search for these on Amazon.
You're here, so surely you know how to do that?
2084 - The Meschera Bandwidth
2084. The world remains at war.
In the Eurasian desert, twenty-year old Adnan emerges from a coma with memories of a strictly ordered city of steel and glass, and a woman he loved.
The city is the Dome, and the woman... is Adnan's secret to keep.
Adnan learns what the Dome is, and what his role really was within it. He learns why everybody fears the Sickness more than the troopers. And he learns why he is the only one who can stop the war.
Persuaded to re-enter the Dome to implant a virus that will bring the war machine to its knees, the resistance think that Adnan is returning to free the many - but really he wants to free the one.
24 0s & a 2
Twenty-four slipstream stories. Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.