The Sci-Fi Novel is a science fiction blog by Andrea Elisabeth Kovarcsik. Her posts explore the 100 best sci-fi novels, as well as sci-fi theory, themes, philosophies, and more.

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Clarity vs. Confusion

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I'm almost done reading Science Fiction 101, which is a collection of classic sci-fi stories from about the '50s, the Golden Age of magazine science fiction, and one thing I've noticed is that it was popular back then to write very confusing stories.

What do I mean by this?

Well, a few of the stories take place in the very distant future, and as such attempt to describe a completely foreign humanity or society. The authors generously use gibberish terms without explaining these terms or explaining to the reader what is going on really. I actually didn't finish reading those stories in the compilation because I became too confused and frustrated, so I realize I may have missed any such explanations.

The editor of the compilation praises these stories for precisely this reason, but I just can't get behind that style of writing. I think when writing science fiction, especially when writing science fiction, it's of the utmost importance to be as clear as possible. We are dealing with unknown worlds, made up worlds, unfamiliar technologies, totally planting the reader in a foreign land. It's up to us writers to provide enough information so our dear reader can get his or her bearings.

Certainly a little confusion can be a good thing for suspense-building and page-turning, but too much and we risk totally losing our reader who simply can't find her place in our world. And what a shame that is.

Maybe it's all subjective too. Robert Silverberg, the editor of the compilation, seemed to have no problem getting his bearings in those stories. I, on the other hand, didn't know what was going on for too long, and so gave up. The novelty of the confusion wore off very quickly.

That being said, I'm happy to be reading all sorts of sci-fi, and from various decades, because I enjoy mapping out the different styles of writing and storytelling.

But still, I think I'll stick with as clear a writing style as I can.


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