Friday, April 20, 2007

Show and tell

I've been having issues with Science Fiction lately.

Not issues as in "it's nerdy" or "it's not realistic" or anything. I'm a total nerd, so I don't mind the possible nerdiness associated with SF. And as for realistic... As long as the internal logic holds up, I'm happy.

I have other issues.

I've noticed that I pass seemingly inconsistent judgement on SF. On the one hand, I've been saying things like "one thing I really like with SF is how a lot of writers turn the genre into a forum for discussing ethics, philosophy, politics, economics as well as the limits - or breaking of limits - of science". On the other hand, I've heard myself say: "yeah, he's got great ideas, but I don't like the way he turns his books into a way for him to give vent to his own ideas about ethics, philosophy, politics, economics and the limits of science".

See my dilemma?

I'm seemingly contradicting myself, which disturbs me. Because I really believe I have a point in both cases. So how can this be right?

Well. There are different ways for authors to pass knowledge to their readers. One way to do this is to have one of your characters explain things to other characters. This is pretty explicit and usually not terribly subtle. Pretty full on. Another way to do it is to show the reader how something works by letting it happen. This is less in your face and is generally considered a more subtle way of letting the reader know how things work. The difference between the two strategies is sometimes referred to as "show, don't tell". Some of the SF I've consumed lately has mainly had "tell" and less "show", which has disturbed me. I love the idea that writers have a plan, that they want their readers to get more from their text than a well told story. But I still prefer the story to remain well told.

My main obcection however, isn't to "tell". It's toa very special form of "show". namely show off. There is a limit to how much detail the reader actually needs access to. Seriously.

Please, please; show, don't tell us everything!

1 comment:

Johan Sundström said...

That's really my personal itch with cuddlecraft, though slided sideways one level of abstraction -- it's not something to convey in words, but something best suited for showing; being part of. Mentoring, or living, or inventing together.

Damn you for always throwing me off into reveries! :-)