I tried and I failed. I wanted so much to do it that I sought recommendations and advice. But in the end I just couldn’t read a so-called classic science fiction tome.
I’ve been dabbling in genre writing in the last year, churning out bits of psychological horror, but written in my usual, literary, character-centered style. I’ve enjoyed the challenge and the freedom that comes with experimenting in a new realm. But I knew I needed to learn more. I asked some members of the genre writers group in which I participate for recommendations. Last week I ordered one of those titles, Hyperion, a Hugo Award winner by Dan Simmons, and when it arrived I eagerly dove into Chapter 1.
Or actually, the Prologue, which as any literary novelist knows is often the mark of a hack writer. But I overlooked that, only to enter a world of such vague, insider jargon that it was unreadable to any but the most inured sci-fi fiction fans.
A sampling from the opening pages:
“The situation is very confused,” said Meina Gladstone. Her voice was weary. “The consulate and Home Rule Council fatlined us three standard weeks ago with the news that the Time Tombs showed signs of opening. The anti-entropic fields around them were expanding rapidly and the Shrike has begun ranging as far south as the Bridge Range.” Confused indeed.
“A FORCE:space task force was immediately dispatched from Parvati to evacuate the Hegemony citizens from Hyperion before the Time Tombs open. Their time-debt will be a little more than three Hyperion years.” What does any of that mean? Talk about not grounding your story…
It wasn’t just the obscure space-speak that put me off, it was the weak writing, the reliance on a character who is a didactic author substitute, whose purpose is to explain the setting to readers as though they were children. The story may ostensibly be about the future, but this style of writing is planted firmly in the 1800s.
What made me laugh hardest was the scenario for Chapter 1. As a member of several writing groups over the past six years, I have often reviewed the submissions from potential members who wish to write sf. So many times have I endured an opening that goes something like this: a mysterious space traveler awakens from a cryogenically-induced sleep, into a mysterious world of which he knows nothing. His first clues come from a mysterious message, thoughtfully left for him by his mysterious captor or benefactor, which details the tasks he must pursue if he is to discover the mysterious secret of this new world…
Well, guess what Dan used to jump start Hyperion. You got it—the mysterious “Consul” awakens after a cryogenically-induced…
Who am I? Where am I? Gag me again.
Now I know where the inspiration for that nonsense came. It’s published (honored, even) writers like Simmons who have poisoned the keyboards of many beginning genre writers with this weak, smarmy style.
Maybe the book gets better, but I’ll never know. After twenty pages of this mess, I threw in the towel and put the book on the shelf. Perhaps I’ll have it cryogenically preserved and try to read it again in 100 years. I still believe there are good genre books out there, and I am determined to find some. But in the meantime, I’ll stick to good old literary prose in my genre stories.