Thursday, February 17, 2005

SF Plot Devices

And now for something completely different, I found this essay on plot devices in Science Fiction novels to be very amusing and instructive, especially as he uses as examples some of my favorite authors, such as Zelazny's (second) Amber series and Simmons' Hyperion books:
The general public regards sf as a wonderland of amazing gadgets and special effects in titanic collision -- where, by implication, all problems and conflicts are artificial because the author (or the movie producer) can always dispose of a superscientific threat by dreaming up a hyperscientific counter-attack. What a superficial and unfair view -- or is it? By and by we shall examine the technological clutter of some recent and popular books.
The author of this essay is one David Langford, whose writings I am not familiar with, but as he's apparently a physicist and likes the same kind of themes I do, perhaps I should start reading him! The review of one of his books (Different Kind of Darkness) at Amazon says:
Even the most serious of these 36 tales of fantasy, horror and science fiction are charged with a subversive wit and spirit of playfulness that show Langford's determination to turn genre clichés on their heads. "Cube Root" plays out as a standard post-apocalyptic scenario about the breakdown of social order following a nuclear strike—until the soldiers whose eyes it is seen through discover the disaster was faked, and that they're possibly part of a behavioral study. In "The Motivation," pictures discovered in a pornographer's stash point to a mystery whose solution provides its own peculiar titillation. A physicist by profession, Langford (He Do the Time Police in Different Voices) laces his stories with teasing references to particle theory, fractals and higher mathematics, and often finds ingenious fictional analogs for them, as in "Waiting for the Iron Age," in which the immortal Wandering Jew offers a brief meditation on quantum physics and the inevitable entropic decline of a world he'll outlast. The author is particularly fond of closed-room mysteries, which he wreaks variations on with the vigor of a math prodigy unraveling insoluble theorems. Vampires, Lovecraftian horrors and virtual reality simulations all make appearances, but Langford's deft and clever touch makes them seem refreshingly original themes.


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