Judge’s report: Science Fiction Story – May 2015

“Science fiction is the literature of the human species encountering change, whether it arrives via scientific discoveries, technological innovations, natural events, or societal shifts.”

It is part of human nature to look into the future. Our very anatomy propagates the notion: our eyes look forward. Although we have the power to glance to the sides, and sometimes even turn around and look back, our natural state drives us to look forward. Our bodies are engineered for easy forward movement; we associate betterment with going ‘up’.

It is natural, therefore, that the tendency of looking forward appears in literature. Many authors have written about the future: the future of individuals, the future of nations, the future of the species, the future of the universe.

Science fiction is integrated into modern society. From household names like Star Wars, Star Trek and Stargate Atlantis, to obscure novels predicting the future (sometimes scarily accurately) – the genre lives and breathes with us.

In a world of the cloud, smart phones, Skype, snapscan, finger print identification, apps and virtual reality, science fiction has also, to an extent, become less fiction and more reality.

There is, however, a certain stigma associated with science fiction, especially in the literary world.

It can often be seen as a ‘lesser’ genre; not literary enough. Not focused on character development enough. Too far removed from reality to successfully associate with. But these critiques can be uttered against any genre. In my experience, a good story is a good story, and the genre informs the context. Think of George Orwell’s 1984. Pure science fiction.

Critically acclaimed. Fantastic. If someone manages to write a good story, with solid characters, motivations, and a world even the most sceptical of readers can visualise, the genre becomes almost irrelevant.

For example: Jane Austen. None of us live in the 19th century, none of us were even alive back
then. But we relate to it. We understand it. We get it. We hear the carriage crunching on the gravel. Because Austen could write.

And to my great delight, I can confirm that the members of the SAWC can write. For the Science Fiction short story submission, the Circle’s members produced stories of interstellar travel, personality-altering microchips, teleportation and science-induced immortality, to mention but a few. The stories were, for the most part, well-constructed, thoughtful and clever. I was very happy to see the writers’ imaginations brought to life; beautiful ideas, beautiful worlds born.

But part of the process of judging writing, is to identify certain shortcomings. My advice to the writers, and in fact, to all writers, is this: remember that stories are inevitably about the people in them. The reader wants to care for a character. We want to be interested enough in the person (who may or may not be human) to read on. Don’t place all of your attention on world-building or science, and neglect the core of the story.

And don’t forget to edit your work. Edit it in two ways: 1. Eliminate spelling mistakes, grammar and punctuation issues. They are jarring, and can detract from the value of your actual writing. 2. Edit your work from a developmental point of view. Write it, leave it, read it again. Cogitate over it. And don’t be afraid to cut words. Writers are very sentimental over every word they write – but sometimes the delete button is your best friend. Don’t be afraid to rewrite – it will do you good in the end.

Remember Ernest Hemingway’s wise words: “Write drunk – edit sober.”

Having said that – this competition’s stories were of a very high quality, and the SAWC is doing a sterling job of training writers with a future in publishing.

A job well done, and may the force be with you all!

Marius Du Plessis