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The ‘must haves’ of science fiction resource books

December 3, 2014

Reference books are something that any writer should stock their library with. Here are two that really got me excited both as a writer and a scientist and I will not let go of in a hurry.

Get started in writing science fiction and fantasy

Get Started in: Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Adam Roberts, claims to be ‘…an authoritative and engaging introduction to writing science fiction and fantasy for the complete beginner.’ In reality it is a masterclass of how to craft polished writing in any genre. This book is so much more than a simple ‘how to’ book, because it is rather like having your own personal writing mentor sitting by you while you work. It is also an extremely useful review and extensive reflective exercise for someone who has already progressed some way into the writing process.

To a certain extent Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy chucks away the format of a standard writing manual as Adam Roberts’ personality and rip-roaring prose exudes from every page. Such an overt personal presence has the potential to be very irritating to a reader, but in this case makes for company that is both informative and entertaining (hilariously so in many places). It is this combination of humour and really good advice, with appropriate examples, that makes all the key concepts stick long after you have moved onto the next point.

It is clear Roberts has an immense knowledge, not only of science fiction and fantasy, but of all types of literature and films, since he makes excellent use of examples from a wide range of genres and historical periods (all of which can be found in the index). This approach is designed to encourage writers to widen their appreciation of what makes good writing, because so many wonderful techniques work across any genre.

There are also some helpful notes on making your potential audience aware of you, as well as the mechanics of being published, either through the traditional route or by self-publishing. However, they are not extensive because this is first and foremost, an extended essay on how to write well.

So sit down and enjoy the type of pace and poise that usually graces Roberts’ novels and really get to grips with what it means to be a great writer.

What if


What if? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, by Randall Munroe.

In many ways What if? makes you think outside the type of box that Adam Roberts insists you climb out of as a science fiction writer. Like the previous book, What if? has a prose and rhythm all of its own, as well as the type of stick man cartoons that look like they have been drawn by a child, but are genius in their exposition.

Munroe is the creator of the cult webcomic xkcd that explores a wide range of themes from science to philosophy (which some would say are inextricably entwined). He left robot building at NASA to pursue a career in drawing comics online, so has good pedigree when it comes to science and understanding the power of pictures to convey ideas. What if? is the result of questions that have been asked by fans of Munroe’s webcomic.

They are indeed strange, but are the kinds of queries that come as a result of some deep thinking. So it requires an equally novel and carefully considered approach to answer them. Munroe is clearly up for the challenge and generously delivers.

The answers are hilarious, entertaining and really get to grips with some serious science. It is the type of source book that is priceless for any serious science fiction writer who wants something different to write about, but at the same time needs information on some pretty tricky concepts.

Having said that, this is a book for anyone who loves conundrums and the solving of them. So this is a compendium of delights for anyone wanting to sit down and enjoy an interesting journey into some weird science.

Get Started in: Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy by Adam Roberts was courtesy of Teach Yourself, an imprint of John Murray Press acquired through NetGalley.

What if? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe was a present that should not have been opened until Christmas, but I could feel it was a book, so self-restraint went out of the window.

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