What If I can’t think of a title for my blog post

Explaining a story is probably as bad as explaining a joke, but I wanted to add a quick note to my short story at Spacewitch.

Asking “What if” is often understood to be central to writing science fiction (what if there’s life on other planets, what if there was a robot that looked just like a human).

I was lucky enough to see Nina Allan last month, and she argued that while science fiction becomes ever more popular, it often stops asking What If. It uses one unusual element (aliens, robots)  but allows everything else to plod along as normal around that element. Good speculative fiction, she said (and I paraphrase) is speculative all the way through. It keeps shaking out the consequences of the central What If.

I confess I feel inadequate in the face of the ‘What If’ – I don’t have a proper What If very often. Sometimes I have quite a few Why On Earth and Isn’t It Annoying That.

But this short story came from a proper What If, which I owe to Jared Shurin and/or Magnus Anderson. I was primed for it. I was in a pub after a book event, surrounded by speculative authors, and thinking Wow these people probably What If all the time: ceaselessly sparking with speculation, barely able to brush their teeth without forking paths of futurity springing up before them. I need to get me some of that. And thus I was probably trying it out on every comment I overheard. (What If we DID have another pint? What if crisps WERE available?)

Then, fortuitously, Jared or Magnus told me that bodybuilders on hormones have a lousy sense of proprioception. They forget how big they are, or where their limbs are, and are constantly barging into things or falling over. I’m not sure if this is true, but it’s a brilliant image.

Then I thought – what if there was a drug which gave you an absolutely accurate perception of your abilities?

From that I wrote Reach > Grasp. I will try to cultivate yet more ambitious What Ifs, and not be satisfied with to What If We Were All Just Nice To Each Other For A Bit and What If I Had Lunch Early.

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