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Friday, March 28, 2008

Guest Post: When Does Fiction Become Unbelievable?

Firstly, I'm honoured to guest post here, while, ahem, some people get to go away on holiday! ;) I struggled to think what to post about, and then I saw a film trailer...

When does fiction become unbelievable?

I haven't seen 10,000 BC yet, but I gather that the mammoths play a large part in the creation of the Ancient Egyptians' pyramids. Fine, I'll accept that: it's fiction, a ridiculous premise, but it sounds quite fun. A strange alternate history. What still bugs me is that the mammoths gallop at speeds of upwards of 60 kilometres per hour. What?! I can accept that they hung around several tens of thousands longer than in actual reality, but during that time, they also devised some way to motorise themselves?! Perhaps in hundreds of thousands of years worth of evolution, they developed little natural rubber wheels? Nooo.

But in SFF, a certain suspension of disbelief is often required. In all imagination, really. We are quite prepared to accept the Chosen One, spoken of in prophecies written on napkins by the Ancient People, but I've friends who throw books across the room if a cave is described inadequately. "Hewn from the living rock," just won't cut it.

It's often the mundane done wrong that annoys people. Have magic coming from a nameless source, but woe betide you if the smell of a trench (or goblin faeces, etc) isn't up to scratch.

A lot of authors talk of a good story being combined of one element of the mundane, and one element of the fantastical. Brandon Sanderson's YA novel, Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians or something, has librarians in it -- this is obviously quite ordinary. The fantastical element: they're an evil librarian cult which sacrifices small boys.

So, there I was, tied to an alter made from outdated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians. As you might imagine, that sort of situation can be quite disturbing. It does funny things to the brain to be in such danger — in fact, it often makes a person pause and reflect upon his life. If you’ve never faced such a situation, then you’ll simply have to take my word. If, on the other hand, you have faced such a situation, then you are probably dead and aren’t likely to be reading this.

And it's a book I really want to read! :) I'm off now; thanks. And yes, Mr. Sanderson, deliver the pimpage-cheque soon ;)

The Book Swede

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  1. Oh this is a such a great topic. One of the most popular posts I've ever had on my main sci-fi blog was titled Superman Can't Have Sex and it was all about the feasibility of sci-fi tropes. I think I'll re-post it for readers who haven't seen it.

    I think almost anything can be believable if there is a context to put it in. But if it's something that pops up out of nowhere without any explanation-- then why bother?

  2. It's interesting because fiction is really something we don't believe to begin with, but it has to be believable to work (especially in terms of internal consistency, though external consistency is important as well).

    I agree though, it's usually the discordant details and the things we know well done wrong in subtle ways that toss us out of stories as readers.

  3. You sort of stole my topic :P. I was going to write about why I won't see 10,000 B.C.
    For me, I think it comes down to what is believable from a realistic perspective. Magic isn't real anyway, so we generally have to accept that as being one of those things we don't let bother us, but when you use a REAL historical setting and try to pass it off like a realistic representation of said setting, that's when I have a problem. 10,000 B.C. took a great idea and murdered it by putting two civilizations together that could NEVER have existed together in that capacity. That's where it gets me. If something stupid and horribly mundane had occurred I could have let it go, but that movie tried to rewrite history, which I find insulting to the human race :P.

    Otherwise I agree :P