On Sci-Fi Parables and Preachy Prose

I have a tendency to write parables. It’s likely the influence of all the old-time Golden Age sci-fi I read, but when I start a new story it seems that I’m thinking in terms of idea and consequences.

“Wouldn’t that thing be cool to have? What would be the consequences of that technology?”

Simple tales about the dangers of this or that, (technology, vice, way of thinking) in the context of a future setting, lend themselves to… well, let’s just call it some pretty preachy writing if not executed well. There are loads of these out there. I’ve fallen into the trap, and hopefully I catch most of that [Stuff that rhymes with trap] and it stays in my notes. I can also tend towards the didactic when I’m not actively thinking about avoiding it, so it’s especially important for me to dive into the psyche of the characters I place into these settings. Let’s not dive into my psyche as to why I’m this way.

In the previous post I touched a bit on one thought exercise that I often entertain. That thought experiment basically boils down to exploring the dangers of getting what you wish for. In many regards that’s the most common trope of sci-fi and futurism. Today’s wish is tomorrow’s research project and a reality the day after that. If sci-fi isn’t exploring the consequences, then we’ll just have to experience them first hand. Or so goes one justification for sci-fi.

But does that make good writing? Would you like to read that? Some folks will, and depending on the winds of attitudes toward technological change maybe many people will. Look at the craze over atomic, robotic, and computer technologies in the mid 1900s. For every one of those lessons that stick with us from that era there’s a good story and better characters to bring it to life. For every lesson that sticks with us there are countless others that fell flat or just got a, “Huh, that was interesting. I guess war is bad.”

It’s feeling what the characters feel that pulls us in and really teaches the lesson. Hitting someone over the head with a lesson is like a grown-up saying, “Because I said so!” to a questioning child. Sometimes you just need to experience a mistake to really learn from it.