Now that my debut novel is out, a lot of people have been asking me—why science fiction? It’s tempting to respond to these kinds of inquiries with something pat, but since all my previously published efforts were in the crime and mystery genre, providing a more convincing response has become more or less a necessity these days.
I was taught that a fiction writer’s charge is to build a story that not only completes narrative construct, but also inevitably says something satisfying about the human experience. Without the later tacit connection to the reader’s everyday world, fiction may be beautifully crafted and precise, but in the end—really—who cares? And that’s putting it mildly. I’m not saying there isn’t pleasure in rampant escapism or a drowsy yarn prior to in-flight beverage service, but such bilge is easily and inevitably dismissed. Truly memorable fiction should at least try to evoke something of importance and question the status quo. While that may seem obvious to most, to many aspiring writers it is not. One of my earliest successes in crime fiction was securing a slot in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and much later I learned from the editor, Janet Hutchings, that my story “The Lifeguard Method” prompted the angriest letter she’d ever received in all her years at the publication. The irate reader (incidentally a lifetime subscriber) was so appalled by my work that she cancelled her subscription. When I tried to apologize to Janet, she patiently patted my arm and laughed, “Don’t be sorry…if you’re not pissing people off, you’re not doing it right.”
Science fiction provides gargantuan provocative flexibility in this regard. It wasn’t until I was deep into the early drafts of Koko Takes a Holiday that I realized the full, liberating power of this flexibility. The light bulb didn’t just go off over my head—it detonated in a molten, white-hot fireball. You can do almost anything within the framework of speculative fiction, and if you like to stretch your story’s allegorical and satirical elements (like I try to do) the imaginarium of SF has room to spare. It’s not an uncommon revelation, but the possibility quotient supercharged my creativity. It was as though I had daring temptress sitting across the desk from me each time I sat down to write, goading me on and raising the ante, “No, no…go further, go stronger, go wilder….” It worked out.