I know science fiction is usually relegated to the side of the room where the geeks cower in their corner, but I think it is a mistake to generalize this genre and dismiss it. Even I’ve been known to dabble (I love me some A Clockwork Orange or an outstanding brain-bender like Philip K. Dick, the latter which I taught to my undergrads last year which ultimately became one of my more disastrous syllabus choices. Valis might not be the best selection to teach to 19-year-olds).
If written by the right person, sci-fi can be both entertaining and a perfect example to look at for any writer. For the remainder of this post, I will group sci-fi with the broader term coined by Tzvetan Todorov: The Fantastic.
If done well, these kinds of fiction are valuable if you are looking at the craft and technique of writing. They are plot oriented, rely heavily on the imagination and character development, and usually take great measures to set the scene. Novels that fall into the fantastic category, including sci-fi, usually are dealing with a journey that is presented at the onset.
But let’s move on to The Night of the Long Knives by Fritz Leiber. I do admit that this novella was not the best thing ever written but the beginning was enthralling. Leiber just drops you right into the middle of an unknown world with an unknown narrator and hooks you in,
I was one hundred miles from Nowhere–and I mean that literally–when I spotted this girl out of the corner of my eye. I’d been keeping an extra lookout because I still expected the other undead bugger left over from the murder party at Nowhere to be stalking me.
The way I looked at this novella was in three parts. The first part (beginning) was the best. It captured the reader immediately. You soon find out that we are in some post-apocalyptic version of North America. People usually roam solo and their method of protection is knives. The narrator named his knife, Mother. The middle sort of lags but then the story picks up towards the end. In the very least, it’s worth taking a look at the first third. It also doesn’t hurt that the book is available in the public domain.
“They killed God in the kitchen that afternoon. That’s how I know he’s dead.” –The Night of the Long Knives