Writer’s Life: Self Doubt

I love Science Fiction. I love Bradbury, and Asimov, and Heinlein, and Ellison. I love Star Trek, and Farscape, and Firefly, and Doctor Who. I would love to write Science Fiction. I have tried. But I have not been able to “get into it,” and I’m not sure why.

As I look back over what I have written, my best work seems to be in the Fantasy genre, not Science Fiction. I remember watching an interview with Ray Harryhausen in which he expressed his preference for Fantasy as his idiom of choice. He said there was a dream-like quality to it that he appreciated. On the other hand, isn’t Science Fiction also capable of such things? Star Wars conveyed that kind of “dreaminess,” that desire for adventure and glory, just from that scene in which Luke Skywalker watches the sunset outside his home, wishing he could leave the farm.

Ray Bradbury said, Science fiction is the most important literature in the history of the world, because it’s the history of ideas, the history of our civilization birthing itself. …Science fiction is central to everything we’ve ever done, and people who make fun of science fiction writers don’t know what they’re talking about. He further said, A science fiction story is just an attempt to solve a problem that exists in the world, sometimes a moral problem, sometimes a physical or social or theological problem.

Perhaps I am not imaginative enough to contemplate these types of issues from a tabula rasa. Most of the Fantasy I have written to date has been adaptation of older tales. Trying to view familiar stories in new ways. But that means that I already have characters, settings, and conflicts ready-made, at my fingertips. I don’t feel terribly original.

Of course, the argument can be made that after six thousand years of recorded history, and probably ten times that of oral traditions now lost to us, there are no “original” stories. That it’s all about how we handle and tell the same dozen or so stories left to us. If so, it feels like cold comfort.

I suppose I’m simply not imaginative enough to create worlds and situations from scratch. Even if I remain in Fantasy as opposed to Science Fiction, I am not creating anything new. I’m simply re-imagining worlds and characters and stories that have already been established. I have never created anything new like Terry Pratchett, or Ursula K. Le Guin, or Neil Gaiman, or Isaac Asimov, or Stanislaw Lem, or Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I am currently working on a fourth book. I have ideas for two more. All of them firmly in the Fantasy genre. One of them, like Medousa, is Myth-based Fantasy.

Maybe I should try once more to put together a Science Fiction novel. Or, just accept my own limitations and write what I can. On the other hand, Pratchett once said, “Science fiction is fantasy with bolts painted on outside.” So I suppose I could try again… Or, maybe after I finish these next three books, I’ll lay down my pen.

In the end, does it really matter? Humanity is not likely to survive another century, given the rate at which we are currently destroying the biosphere. It’s not like there will be anyone left in the future to read my work. Part of the reason I write is to be remembered; I have no family of my own. But even if I did, who would remember my name in fifty years? In a hundred? How many people even remember their own great-grandparents?

“A science fiction story is just an attempt to solve a problem that exists in the world, sometimes a moral problem, sometimes a physical or social or theological problem.”

Maybe I just need to select a problem to solve. The world has a wealth of those.

About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a high school ESOL teacher, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in Beijing's Fangshan district
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