The “S” in Sci-Fi is for Surprise

The summer as a high school student I spent on an exchange program in Northern Sweden, I developed Tonsillitus and couldn’t sleep. The eighteen hours of daylight didn’t help.  Fortunately, the bookcase in my room was filled with paperback science fiction novels. “They are a great way to learn  English,” my hosts explained. The stories about advanced civilizations who traveled at triple light speed through wormholes made me forget my painful throat. They entertained. They surprised.

 While I tend to read more “literary” novels than anything else these days, I still judge books the same way. I do not want to be able to predict what will happen next. I want to be surprised. Reading, for me, is about exposing your mind to new ideas, new situations, and people you may in “real life” never have the opportunity to intimately know. Stories give us an important way to connect with each other.  They entertain. They teach.

A good science fiction novel, alternatively also called speculative fiction, easily transports you to another world. If you crave or need to escape your present day reality, the Sci-fi genre has many titles to choose from. Recently, during a long cross-country plane trip I listened to Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. Sixteen plus hours, if you listen, and 486 pages long, it did the trick in blocking out my discomfort of being confined to a cramped airline seat. Appropriately, the narrator was also in a confined space, a spaceship. As the novel opens, he is suffering from amnesia and trying to piece together where he is and why.  Skillfully, all is gradually revealed as the narrator deals with his present circumstances. It’s a long adventure, a bit redundant at times, but a joyful ride. I recommend the novel.

Photo by Tobias Bju00f8rkli on

As with any genre, science fiction or speculative fiction, which can include altered history and uncanny reality, comes in all shapes and sizes. Quality novels are sold in bookstores alongside the boilerplate variety. Innovative plots are considered more important than characterization, but in the marketplace there’s evidently room for all. I’m specifically attracted to work that contemplates philosophical and spiritual questions, so one of my current favorite contemporary authors is Tom Chiang. His novella, The Story of Your Life, adapted into a screen play for the 2016 movie Arrival, explores the question, How do we deal with the inevitable?  Along the way we meet another civilization that experiences time differently from humans.  Learning their language, transforms the protagonist and provides a bridge to dealing with an inevitable personal tragedy.

                                     Writing Prompt

In Stephen King’s, A memoir of the craft—On Writing, he shares with the reader how many of his inspirations come from imagining how people might act and react when placed in certain extraordinary situations. “I want to put a group of characters,” he writes, “(perhaps a pair, perhaps just one) in some sort of predicament and watch them try to work themselves free.”

Speculative Fiction/Science Fiction, provide the writer with unlimited possibilities. By following King’s approach to start, try something like this as a writing prompt.

What would you do if you woke up one morning and the sky was bright green?

What would your character do if they stepped outside their house and heard all the plants talking to one another?

Surprise yourself, by creating uncanny settings and situations and seeing how your characters react. Maybe you’ll like what you’ve penned or maybe you’ll move on to something else, but the important thing is to keep writing and keep revising.

Thank you for your feedback. Visit my author page to check out stories I’ve published and follow me on twitter at SN Maril.

Published by Nadja Maril

Nadja Maril is a communications professional who has over 10 years experience as a magazine editor. A writer and journalist, Maril is the author of several books including: "American Lighting 1840-1940", "Antique Lamp Buyer's Guide", "Me, Molly Midnight; the Artist's Cat", and "Runaway, Molly Midnight; the Artist's Cat". Her short stories and essays have been published in several small online journals including Lunch Ticket, Change Seven, Scarlet Leaf Review and Defunkt Magazine. She has an MFA in creative writing from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. Former Editor-in-Chief of What's Up ? Publishing, former Editor of Chesapeake Taste Magazine a regional lifestyle magazine based in Annapolis, and former Lighting Editor of Victorian Homes Magazine, Maril has written hundreds of newspaper and magazines articles on a variety of subjects..

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