|Trade paperback, 275 pages|
Published 2016 (originally 1994)
Acquired July 2019
Read August 2019
Based on my short-lived career as an author of mediocre Star Trek tie-ins, I've been assigned to teach a science fiction creative writing class this fall. So, I cast about for a textbook, and after skimming through a couple, decided upon this one, which was focused and straightforward and had some good insights. Bova has had a long career as an sf writer (beginning in 1959, and he had a new novel out this year!), but more importantly he had a strong stint as an editor at Analog (1972-78) and Omni (1978-82). It mostly focused on short fiction (ch. 3-14), though it also touches on novel writing (ch. 15-16, 18).
The book emphasizes four aspects of writing: character, background, conflict, and plot. For each of these aspects, Bova spends a chapter setting up general principles ("theory"). Then, he includes one of his own short stories. Finally, a third chapter explains how that story embodied the principles he set up ("practice"). It's a nice format, let down slightly that (on the basis of this book, at least; I haven't read much by Bova), he's a fairly middling sf writer. Three of the four stories here were good ideas, but coolly written; Bova has set-ups and ideas that could make you feel, but don't. One, "Crisis of the Month," is decidedly poor. However, they are useful at illuminating his ideas, and my plan is to pair his ideas with stories from The Best Science Fiction of the Year for 2018. I like his ideas, especially his take on how to write interesting characters. I do wish he spent more time focusing on what specifically is science fictional in each of the four categories: the background section does this the most, but a lot of his advice is fairly generic to all short fiction.
All that said, if you want a book about writing science fiction and just science fiction, it appears to be one of the strongest out there. My perusal on Amazon was not very promising; a lot of his competitors are unfocused (taking in many speculative genres) or spend a lot of time on basic elements of writing (which Bova assumes one already knows, and is how I would prefer to tackle my class), or just are chaotic (the table of contents for Jeff VanderMeer's Wonderbook, for example, overwhelmed me, though I might take a second look at it). It's not a perfect book, but I suspect it will teach well-- Bova has a very straightforward writing style, very businesslike-- which is the point for me. I guess we'll see this fall!