I love science fiction almost as much as I love fantasy so I’m always happy to go see a new Sci-fi movie. The other day I watched yet another sci-fi movie that I enjoyed but felt was a bit predictable. This didn’t really bother me because movies are short but when it comes to science fiction books, which can take much longer to finish, I’m a lot more picky and so I started thinking about what it is that makes some science fiction stories better than others.
Science fiction offers a great opportunity to explore strange new worlds and meaty themes. Both of which fire my imagination. I love to fall asleep thinking about new worlds and civilizations and the up sides and downsides to each. The fact that a lot of science fiction tackles tricky issues like over population, dangers of technology and problems with power and dominance is also attractive to me. Because the worlds are different enough from the real one, I find my mind likes to chew on these large and complicated problems. But often even very interesting worlds and themes aren’t enough to pull me through a whole book.
Plots are important. I like a good plot. When a plot is tight and intricate it makes science-fiction much more fun to read and yet after thinking about it I realized that even a smashing plot wasn’t enough sometimes.
Really the thing that makes me want to finish a book is the characters. I have to be interested in the people who live in the world. I don’t even have to like them. I read Under the Skin by Michel Faber and I couldn’t put it down, but the main character is basically a sociopath is Scotland who abducts young hitchhikers who hitch lifts from her. I won’t reveal the science fiction aspects of that story because that would ruin it for people. Still, know that it is science fiction and it is great. But I do prefer books have characters I like for some reason. When I can identify with them a book is just more lovable.
Its odd but the things that make me really like a character aren’t usually the big things, its usually stuff like how in Mindtouch by MCA Hogarth the two main characters take time out of there lives to do tiny but sweet things for others. Be it taking sick children out for ice cream or tucking breakfast into the stasis box so their room mate can sleep in but still eat something hot when they wake up, they constantly show their gentle and thoughtful natures.
I think seeing the world and the people in it in a different light and understanding new things is a part of why I read science fiction and enjoy it so much and if a story fails to give those new understandings I find myself scanning the horizon for new fiction that does. But eventually I decided that it boils down to this: If you can take out the science fiction elements and still have a great story and wonderful rich characters, I generally like it a lot more than those stories that rely completely on the wow factor of a well imagined science fictional world.