Friday, January 19, 2018

The Game

"Frankly, it seems to me that the average pseudo-scientific tale (always excepting the really fine work of such men as Wandrei, Williamson, Keller and a few others) is pretty poor stuff, below the average level of the weird, detective or adventure yarn. I attribute this partly to the necessity of bending plot, action, and atmosphere to fit some scientific or mock-scientific theory or formula, and partly to the fact that readers of this type of fiction seem to demand the same plots over and over again, and to resent the slightest variation. I may be wrong, but this is the conclusion I have reached from reading the published letters of pseudo-scientific fans. All readers of the wood-pulps are more or less inclined that way (or I should say most, instead of all) but the p.s.f. seem unusually conventional. A queer paradox."

- Robert E. Howard to August Derleth, Dec 1933
One sees the guiding hand of Gernsback here, bending science fiction away from the scientific-marvelous of Wells to something akin to the scientific locked-room mystery. Instead of entertainment through a good story, the goal became to make as few mistakes as possible as Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.points out in The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction:
Contemporary writers of hard sf still refer to writing it as "playing the game." Hal Clement, an acknowledged master of hard sf, formulated it as a cheerful competition between authors and reads: "The fun...lies in treating the whole thing as a game. I have been playing the game since I was a child, so the rules must be quite simple. They are: for the reader of a science fiction story, they consist of finding as many as possible of the author's statements, or implications which conflict with the facts as science currently understands them. For the author, the rules is to make a few such slips as he possibly can.
Jim Baen pointed out that readers only allow so many breaks in the suspension of disbelief before they would stop reading. How much harder is the job for the writer when their readers are actively looking for reasons to break the suspension of disbelief?

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