Why Spec is Absurd and You Should Embrace It

Perhaps I should suffix that title: If You’re A Weak Little Pissant Like Me

Welcome back to Outwardbounder in a bran’ new rotation! Revolution? You know, that circuloid motion this planet makes through its gravity well? The trip around the host star that has been arbitrarily labeled by its inhabitants? Twenty-Thirteen!

We made it past Twelve and the ball keeps on turning. Glad to see you all.

Outward’s outward journey continues:



Around these parts, the term ‘realism’ can be readily underappreciated. I get that. When hosting a speculative fiction blog, I constantly find myself trying to rationalize the intricacies of that pie up there in the sky.

But hey: it’s that time again. We’re long overdue. Time to break into the New Year with a dazzling display of pretentiousness. But not too much. I’m not bombastic. Just a bit tedious. Outwardbounder 2013’ll start out a little conservatively, if I can help it. I’ll take it easy with this post.

Try to elucidate on that realism.

Awkward justification time!

Here’s where I’m going with this–

Imagination can be a messy business. It’s a real balancing act. It all depends on your end goal. Satire is fun, but easy. (In SF or pure speculative fiction, it’s simpler to laugh at the green Martian than to learn how its vascular system works) I use humor all the time; whenever I feel like I’m sounding too much like a lunatic –or when I’m attempting to hide the fact that I know fuck-all about the topic. I lay it on heavy. But realism… that’s another kind of beast.

A lot of corn isn't always a bad thing.

A lot of corn isn’t always a bad thing.

Science Fiction conveys with it a tough crowd. A bunch of rabid piranhas who would tear me apart if they new I needed to use spell check to spell piranhas just now. You gotta push the envelope, or you’re as good as gone. As bad as B-movie notoriety or pulp fiction. (The genre, not the movie. Quentin is all kinds of great.)

It’s an arena of ideas, and there are many ancient gods that came before. There’s a long history of genius SF authors, all of them smarter than you’ll ever hope to be. They’ve already snapped up the juicy entrails of the speculative carcass, and all you’re left with is the refuse.

How can you hope to find your voice? Will your message be forever drowned out? Are you worth listening to? Even more importantly—are you worth taking seriously?

I’m familiar with how genuinely painful it is for your blood, sweat, and tears to be sadistically torn to shreds. If anything, there’s something particularly gruesome about someone labeling your work as trite, clichéd and unbelievable. That derisive snort they make as they toss your WIP aside cuts finer than a knife.

My shit is… implausible? That, I can stomach; but if it’s enough to break a reader out of my story entirely, I know something is seriously wrong. That’s where the coatings come in.

You can do one of three things: You can salvage your draft by converting it wholesale into a satire, or focus more adeptly at reality 101. The third one (which I’m not really focusing on here) is to just embrace your inner sadist and welcome ‘the pulp’ with open arms. Nuttin wrong with that route either.

My argument isn’t that “humorizing” your science fiction is a copout. Read Douglas Adams. My stance is that making a genuine push to “make that shit more believable” is much more challenging, and in the end, just as rewarding. Harden up that flabby fiction and rediscover the depth that was there all along.

SF is a tough racket to break in, full stop. Here there be pitfalls; and in such a variety, your head will spin.

Take the ‘predicting the future’ trope. That’s almost what SF is all about. There’s so many ways you can slip up. Overlook something here or misjudge something there. You can also completely ignore shit. *cough* pulp! *cough*

The fun thing about predicting the future? Your stuff ages quicker than a hopped up mayfly. There’s nothing quite like seeing the word ‘obsolete’ solidify over your front page in real time.

The answer? Be like me and focus on the tropes that the naked eye just ain’t patient enough to stick around for. Evolution! Stick your story world in a far off point in the future. Alien Galaxies! Stick your story world on a far off point in the galactic horizon. Alternate realities! Prove sentient toucans from another universe wrong, jackass!

Aliens, alt. worlds and evolution are the bread and butter of my speculative forays. They’re also delicious flavors in any spec fiction goulash. But I have to be honest…

Impatience and carelessness can undo those stories just as quick.

You can also do everything right. Take your time, focus on your craft. Read up on what jive your peers are hip to these days. You can bring a truly novel approach to your subject and ‘still’ be ridiculed, scoffed, and mocked. Just ask Dougal Dixon. I’ve never seen anyone play with a line so razor-thin.

When the man’s on, he’s on fire. He’s also prime for the voracious internet meme hoards.

Leech men from a distant future! Personally, I love this, but I can see why it makes the rounds o' ridicule

Leech men from a distant future! Personally, I love this, but I can see why it makes the rounds o’ ridicule


There will always be stumbles on your marathon to publication or acceptance. We can use all the defensive mechanisms in the book, but we still have to get our shit out there and seen by the readership. And they will laugh. The healthy majority of them will be those damned ‘derisive snort-ers’. Most people won’t like your shit.

But you aren’t writing for them. You’ll find your niche. You’ll find your crowd. Everything has a following.

Let the others laugh. You’re doing what you love.

And us readers are better off for it.


2 thoughts on “Why Spec is Absurd and You Should Embrace It

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