Thursday, November 7, 2013
Why I Don't Read Much in My Genre
I was reviewing my 2013 reading list the other day and it struck me how few science-fiction titles are on that list. Not so odd, you may think, except that science-fiction is my chosen genre. My very first story was sci-fi and so too was my debut novel, Alpha Redemption, as are my two upcoming releases. So why don't I read more sci-fi? Surely it makes sense to read within your genre to improve your own writing? Well, yes and no.
Back in the day, when I had a full head of a hair and a readily-identifiable body shape, I worked in the fitness industry. One thing I discovered was something called cross-training. The idea is to do more than focus only on those muscles you use for your particular sport, but to supplement this with other activities. There was a time when professional athletes followed a simple training regime. Tennis players practiced tennis. Golfers played gold. Swimmers swam. Today, the benefits of cross training are common knowledge. Tennis players use weights to improve their power and they hit the running track to increase stamina. Even golfers can be found doing things other than golf. It is no longer enough to just focus your energy on one activity. To improve your game you have to supplement your training with activities not quickly associated with your sport.
In 2013 I read twenty three books, of which only two were science-fiction. The reason for this is that, while I love the genre, I so often find the writing to be lacking soul. When I pick up a piece of science-fiction I pretty much know what to expect. As a rule, writers of sci-fi have a lot to say about worlds filled with exotic technology but seem unwilling or unable to populate those worlds with believable characters. Many of these stories are best-sellers, so people must like them. For me, however, I need a main character I can care about. Last year I ended a book by a best selling author and could only wonder what people were raving about. You know something is wrong if the main characters are in dire peril and you don't care, simply because the author has not taken the time let you get to know them.
Whatever you may think of Star Wars, there is a good reason why it was (and still is) so popular. The stories may be set in fantastic worlds filled with interesting technologies. It may have flying cars and light sabers. There may be droids and laser guns and weapons the size of small planets. These, however, merely enhance the experience. What makes the stories so compelling is that they are, at their heart, about a boy trying to discover who he is and where he came from.
Writers of science-fiction can learn a lot by studying Star Wars. I'm not talking about all the whizz-bang technology, but the human element. Another good series is Firefly. Why it only ran for one season is a mystery to me because it has more soul than just about anything out there, in any genre. Perhaps there was not enough whizz-bang technology to keep the mainstream sci-fi buffs happy, I don't know.
All I know is that, as long as sci-fi continues to produce writers who care more about technology than they do about people, I will be looking elsewhere for my inspiration. I will do what modern sportsmen do and employ some cross-training. I believe this can only improve my game and make my writing stronger.