#2. Some Good Ol' Fashioned Mindfuckery
Twist endings and plot gimmicks are something I've personally bemoaned before, even -- and especially -- within the genre of science fiction. But that's when the writers shoehorn them in there for no particular reason, or base the entire work on the existence of the twist. If there's no merit to your book beyond the shocking revelation that your protagonist is his own murderer, then you're just a literary M. Night Shyamalan and that makes your book, like, Mark Wahlberg or something.
Nobody wants to write a Mark Wahlberg, friend.
But if it's done well, and carefully, the end of a good science fiction book can wrap up a plot logically, make whatever important point it's trying to make, and still lay your mind gently down by the fire for some philosophical bonin'.
"Baby, I'm going to expand your concept of space-time so hard, your grandma will walk funny tomorrow."
I mean, that's why any author gets into the business: to screw their readers in their sweet, bootylicious brains. I can't spoil my own book, and hell, it's highly possible (even probable) that I'm closer to the Happening Axis than the Foundation Axis on the great Graph of Literature, but in the finale I at least try to put the moves on your brain. Maybe do that yawning arm thing and try to grab some of your brain's side-boob -- you know, just the classy, subtle stuff.
I know that, as a rule, it would be pretty stupid if every science fiction plot tried to blow your mind or include some shocking twist, but so few even make the attempt anymore. Did our science fiction writers just give up on messing with their readers? That's awful. Somewhere, The Last Question is crying a solitary, disappointed tear. Because a good mindhump every once in a while can function like the hook in a pop song: It's the thing that gets the rest of the work stuck in your head, and eventually forces you to drop everything else and analyze it -- if only to get "Hey Mickey you're so fine you're so fine you blow my mind hey Mickey you're so fine you're so fi-" to stop playing on infinite loop before you eat a plasma grenade.
#1. The Sense of Fun
It seems like a little of the sense of fun has gone out of modern sci-fi in the name of more plausible futurism. Sure, we're getting the most uncanny and believable future worlds yet, thanks to our increasing familiarity with the real technology around us, but it comes at the cost of absolutely ludicrous premises, lusty green women and ray guns that transform flesh into delicious Jell-O brand pudding. There used to be a secret kind of understanding between science fiction writers and their fans that, as soon as the reader picked up a sci-fi book, they were going to violently curb-stomp their sense of disbelief into a pile of bloody goo. And, in return, the authors would inundate their forebrains with fantastical alien breasts that go on rollicking high adventures throughout space and time.
Lithium Cracking Station
Last time on The Adventures of Maxine Mammary, Bouncing Battlebreasts ...
Golden Age science fiction was like your drunken ex-roommate from college: For the most part, you outgrew the guy and matured into a functional adult, but every once in a while he'd come to crash on your couch and, instead of chastising his life choices, you'd stuff some bail money in your sock and go out to shotgun beers from a flabbergasted policeman's riot helmet with him. Maturity is a wonderful thing, but sometimes you just need to toss adulthood in the dumpster and go punch a guy in a Little Caesar costume. Obviously, we still get a few sci-fi books that acknowledge the importance of fun -- Altered Carbon wanted to know what happens when you use people like floppy disks, so it threw plausible science right out of the car and never slowed down to see if it survived the fall. Ready Player One idly wondered what would happen if reality was World of Warcraft, and Redshirts didn't even bother with worldbuilding -- it straight up set itself in Star Trek, and then mercilessly ripped the whole thing apart from the inside like a literary facehugger, asking neither permission nor consent, and giving neither quarter nor fucks along the way.
As for me, my own book stars a murderous Abraham Lincoln, a punk girl with acid spit and an entire society based around getting high on time travel. If you can throw out the rules harder than that, then congratulations: You're a hit anime show.
The relative success of books like these says that there's still an audience willing to follow the most ridiculous premise you can slap on a space opera, just as long as you remember that having fun is fun. This is fiction! And science! Both of those things have proven time and again that they can do literally whatever the hell they want. And if either of them are any good, they also both have lasers, so what are you going to do to stop them, tough guy?
Yes, you get the occasional misstep: John Carter tried this tack, then super-jumped up its own asshole and disappeared from the box office forever -- but that was mostly because the studios titled it like an accountant's driver's license and marketed it exclusively in the DMZ. Seriousness absolutely has a place in science fiction, but it can't dominate: If you don't take off your lab coat every once in a while and rescue a three-breasted Ladyborg from the clutches of the evil Spidereans, you're never going to get invited to the Chrono-orgy.
Buy Robert's stunning, transcendental, orgasmic science fiction novel, Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity, right here. Or buy Robert's other (pretty OK) book, Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead. Follow him on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook.
For more from Brockway, check out 4 Realizations That Will Ruin Science Fiction for You and The Most Efficient Way to Do ... Everything.