Episode 9: Kasie Explains Science Fiction Basics

On September 8, 2018 Kasie flew solo and tried to unravel this Science Fiction thing. Here are the show notes:


Dr. Kasie Whitener, Clemson Road Creative, fiction writer

Theme for the day

The many genres of Science Fiction


  • Who we are and why we’re here
  • The topic for the week: Science Fiction
  • Book discussion — currently reading and its analysis through the lens of the topic
  • Craft book discussion — Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird
astronaut astronomy cosmonaut galaxy
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Segment 1

Genre: Science Fiction generally defined as fiction based on imagined future circumstances in which scientific discovery and technology have caused major environmental, social, and economical changes.

It’s the impact of science on this future state which determines the work’s fit in the genre.

Let’s talk about “future” in that definition, though, because we know Star Wars, for one, is a Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away. So what relevance does time have to Science Fiction?

Imagining the Future: Why the world needs Science Fiction

  1. When considering worlds that are logically possible we can consider our place in the universe and contemplate fundamental questions around reality and meaning.
  2. Science fiction inspires people to become scientists.
  3. Science fiction depicts how society could function differently. Consider the multiracial cast of the show Star Trek which demonstrated a kind of cooperative, character-based culture.

Science fiction has predicted a lot of the technology we have today. Consider the cell phone and Captain Kirk’s handheld communicator.

Aside from giving us ideas about the future, does a science fiction story have to take place in the future? Or does the Long Time Ago tradition hold up?

There’s a kind of freedom in SciFi — you can imagine the world the way you want it — but there’s also a logic, something stronger than the gravity that holds fantasy down. Science Fiction has to be based in some kind of historical development of the tech.

Unless it’s alien-sourced.

Here are some basic characteristics of science fiction according to our friends at Shmoop.com:

  1. Setting in an alternative world
  2. Non-human characters
  3. Allegory — a commentary on some real-life happening in our world done through the clever use of Science Fiction (think Orwell’s Big Brother or Asimov’s Foundation – the Roman Empire)
  4. Science (duh) and technology figure prominently in the plot and our characters’ personalities
  5. Time travel
  6. Journey
  7. Dystopia
  8. Age of Reason (roots) think Frankenstein: an appetite for knowledge has disastrous results
  9. Advances in science and technology — units can do more than they can do now.

Keys to Science Fiction:

Setting — an imaginary, or speculative setting is expected in science fiction. Two tips for building yours: 1) imagine traveling the world you are creating: what do you see? How do you move? Who do you encounter? Work through those visual clues to help design the set and experience for your characters. 2) Personify the world itself, imagine it as a character: what does it think of your actual characters? How does it treat them? How does it feel about itself?

Types of Science Fiction:



Alternate History

Alien Invasion

Parallel Universe


Hard SF (interested in scientific accuracy)

Galactic Empire

Segment 2

The human part of Sci Fi: no story works on tech alone. How are the characters affected?

Thinking of Ready Player One and the effect the virtual reality lifestyle has had on the characters willingness to be honest with one another.

What are some other human side effects to the kind of advanced technology we see in science fiction? Some other examples of how humans are changed — for better or worse — by the tech?

The Most Cliche Character Types:

The bumbling robot

The genetically superior human

The robot who wants to be human

Pure energy beings

The accidental time tourist

The evil twin

How do you avoid cliche character types when writing in a genre where there’s an expected pattern? Is it harder or easier to create deeper, more complex characters?

Some writing rules we wish sci fi and fantasy authors would break:

  1. The Prologue
  2. The Info Dump
  3. The Portal Fantasy
  4. The Overuse of Magic
  5. Faster-than-light travel

Are there other overused things in SciFi that you get sick of? Things that take you completely out of the story?

Are you new to Sci Fi? Not sure where to start? Here are The 23 Best Sci-Fi Books to Give to a Noob (that’s you) and to just tip your toe in, here are the Best Sci Fi Short Stories of all time.

Segment 3

What we’re reading (in the context of a Sci Fi discussion)

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird craft book wisdom:

Her advice regarding settings was to envision the world your characters are about to enter and to research those sets unfamiliar to you so that you can include a few key details to set the scene. It ought not to be a full examination of the entire world beginning-to-end, just enough detail to let the reader fill in the rest. Or call your friend who used to live on a spaceship and ask what it smelled like.

We’ll revisit Science Fiction on September 22, 2018 when we’ll be joined live by Brian Barr and Rex Hurst, both science fiction authors.

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