Friday, September 20, 2013

SCIENCE FICTION


As a kid, I was a voracious reader of science fiction. I liked the big three, Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke, but I also read some of the lesser luminaries, such as de Camp, Norton, and Fredric Brown. The late 60’s saw J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy achieve cult classic status, and I began to shift from more conventional science fiction to the genre of heroic fantasy, sometimes called “sword and sorcery.” I once read an editorial that claimed a story could be very good science fiction and at the same time be very bad literature. It was along about this time that I read City, by Clifford D. Simak. I thought that City was a shining example of the point that the editorial was making. I didn’t think it was a very good book as far as literary merit was concerned, but I thought it was excellent science fiction.

While I was taking the legal writing course at the University of Florida, I got the idea of trying to blend a science fiction motif with a sort of a police procedural. The result was The Killing of Jorm Pelorvis, an imaginary opinion by the Florida Supreme Court trying to decide precisely what the term “human being” meant. How “human” does someone have to be in order for his killing to be deemed murder? I thought it was an intriguing question, and I thought I came up with a rather inventive answer. I put the story aside and completely forgot about it until recently, when I discovered it at the bottom of a box of old papers.

I laboriously transcribed the story from a handwritten manuscript to a digital typescript, carefully removing the anachronisms from the text (e.g., DNA was unknown when I wrote the story). Then I wrestled with what, if anything, to do with the manuscript. I decided to publish it on Kindle. I had enjoyed writing the story, and someone else might enjoy reading it. There was one huge problem with the story. It was written in the form of a legal opinion, and legal opinions are dreadfully dull.

The Killing of Jorm Pelorvis seems to exemplify the proposition that good science fiction is not necessarily good literature. A good novelist could probably turn the concept into a rollicking good story, but I am no novelist. I think I’ll stick to writing nonfiction.