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Samir's Critical Corner

I love good writing. Samir's Critical Corner will have reviews on World Literature but you will also find reviews on various subjects like Mathematics or Tai Chi, and on specific niches like Nigerian writers.

Currently reading

South Sea Tales (Oxford World's Classics)
Robert Louis Stevenson
Progress: 122/289 pages
How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy - Orson Scott Card Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy (HTWSF&F) is published by Writer's Digest Books, which means it's sparse, focused purely on the topic and has an average price tag. These are not necessarily good things.

The book is about a 138 pages minus the index, implying that in 138 pages the beginning writer is expected to walk away with enough information on how to write speculative fiction. Hogwash. In addition to this, of the 5 chapters, only 3 are HTWSF&F, and of these 3, only 2 are specifically ideas and tips about SF&F. So in reality, we're talking of 52 pages only.

Chapter 1 'The Infinite Boundary' is basically about what constitutes speculative fiction and, in speculative fiction, what's what - horror, fantasy, SF etc

Chapter 2 'World Creation' is the beginning of HTWSF&F and the most extensive chapter in the book, yet it is in no way comprehensive since any single topic briefly discussed here could, in principle, be written about as a whole chapter in its own right. It's basically about world building, mentioning lot's of things like time travel, rules for magic, inventing the history etc but it never really goes into depth on how to do these... wait a minute, what was the title of the book again?

Chapter 3 'Story Construction' is an all-too-short chapter, which frankly speaking, could be dropped into any writing book. The only thing different that Card does here, is to use examples from speculative fiction. The most relevant piece of information is what Card introduces as the MICE quotient, which all stories have a bit of - milieu, idea, character, event - but one will be prominent and the writer should know which one it is.

Chapter 4 'Writing Well' only talks about 'Exposition' for 12 pages and 'Language' for 4 pages. There is little here that is new and the material on exposition is broad based.

Chapter 5 'The Life and Business of Writing' has nothing to do with HWTSF&F with the exception of naming markets where speculative fiction is sold, and this material is completely outdated! In an age where the publishing market changes on a month by month basis, and the internet has brought about a revolution in self-publishing, one can skip this chapter entirely and just Google or reference a market guide to know where to send in stories.

So there you have it - a book titled HTWSF&F justified mainly by using examples from speculative fiction, because in reality only about 10% of the information here is really on SF&F when you exclude references to these genres. The book should have been more aptly titled The Do's and Don't's of Speculative Fiction.

The only reason this received 2 stars rather than 1 is because what Card expresses in writing, he does so clearly. Then again, this book could have been summed up in one large A5 mind-map and that would have probably been more effective.