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As a lifelong reader of science fiction and ‘good’ fantasy, I devoured the genre contents of three Southern California public libraries by the age of twelve. I wrote my first short story in the first grade and I followed with many others over my younger years. Penning my first novel in my early thirties, I launched a long, prolific career of rave reader reviews and slush pile rejections. Whatever that professional hurdle was, I never vaulted it. Throughout, I continued to write shorts, mostly as a way to exercise the ideas from my imagination. Well, life intrudes, and in all honesty, the glamorous life of plumbing, electrical, and kitchen remodeling dominated my time. With a career change, I find myself with the time and inclination to pursue my first passion… the Art of the Story.
As a reader, I have found a place for both Science Fiction and Fantasy, but they are very different. Mentally reduced to their finest points, ‘Fantasy is about Escape’ and ‘SciFi is about Hope.’ Good stories are about people, and I’m delighted to be swept up in the scope of an author’s vision, but take notice that I have a built-in forgiveness when reading scifi stories, my favorite genre. In short, I prefer ‘Hope.’ Fantasy and magic has always been a harder sell for me and the bar for quality is set much higher. That being said, whimsy, magical surrealism, character stories, and a compelling narrative will capture my attention. Anything on the spectrum of Tolkien, to Neil Gaiman, to ‘John Dies at the End,’ will do it.
As a writer, my sensibilities are reversed. Good, compelling, mind-bending scifi is serious business. The speculation drives me. Wondering where technology and society might go, and what might happen along the way keeps me reaching out to grasp and codify possibilities. I won’t reel off complex math to justify things like FTL travel or 11 dimensional mechanics, but my passion is for science fiction rooted in the possibility of actually coming to pass, so when I do world-building, I broadly extrapolate from a layman’s understanding of the work of real world researchers, theoretical physicists, and genetic engineers. Characters and action must also be right. Will the world, the character, the story, ring true and be interesting? Did I channel the inspiration properly?
That idea brings me to why I would write in the fantasy genre, at all. The truth in some stories require logic, concrete facts, and physics to step aside. Some stories are hampered by the question, ‘why?’ These stories, as rare as they haunt me, naturally belong in the fantasy genre. Also, I occasionally enjoy a good sword fight.
I stay true to what I believe to be good genre form, but when someone reads what I write, I want the genre and I to step out of the way. I don’t mind a reader pausing to take it all in, or to digest, but I don’t ever want a reader to pause in disbelief. As Joseph Campbell inferred, a good story brushes lightly against those Eternal Truths that inspire myth, even in science fiction. Myths – even minor, ancillary ones – can create themselves, we just need to pay attention and take note. Writing isn’t just about genre and words, it’s about the Cosmic Infinite… the Art of the Story.
John A Webb