Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why doesn't Michael Chichton write Science Fiction?

Why doesn't Michael Crichton write Science Fiction? No doubt, many science fiction fans consider Michael Crichton to be a science fiction author. Including Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park and Next, many of his his novels deal with science fiction themes, but his publishers and publicists rarely connect his works with science fiction, and book stores rarely shelve his best sellers with the science fiction. What is going on here?

Allen Steele's novel Coyote provides part of the answer. If you've never heard of Allen Steele, he is a science fiction writer who has twice won Hugo Awards for novellas. He is a talented writer.

Coyote showcases some of the best and worst of the science fiction genre and provides some hints why writers like Michael Crichton might avoid the tag science fiction.

Bad News first: The novel starts with four pages of hard science: the history of the search inhabitable planets complete with name dropping and polysyllabic jargon. Only on page 5 is a character introduced! Only in science fiction are novels allowed to start with textbook extracts!

More Bad News: This novel is a loosely connected collection of novellas (written by an award winning novella writer). Again, only within the science fiction genre can a short story collection be marketed as a novel. For example, twice in the book humans meet intelligent life forms, and in both cases the encounter is brief and forgotten.

The Good News: The science is wonderfully creative from a planet that circles a Jupiter-like gas giant instead of the primary star (aka Sun) to a complete ecology of plants and animals that inhabit the planet.

More Good News: Within each novella the characters are are human and their problems are well explored from the scientists who steal an interstellar ship to escape a tyrannical government to a group of teenagers that run away into the unexplored wilderness of the new planet.

In terms of exploring the issues of governments and exobiology, Allen Steele is up there with the best. However as a novelist, this is book is awkward and disappointing. Such books might be why Michael Crichton avoids the label science fiction.

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