Role of the Fable In Speculative Fiction

On oldie but goodie:

“The aspect of the fable in speculative fiction that most interests me is the quality of social influence.  The old form of the fable served to reinforce social norms, functioning as an enculturation device.  As fable has been expressed thus far in speculative fiction—Robert Coover’s A Child Again comes instantly to mind—this newer form serves as a cultural subversion device.  Rather than merely reinforcing or repeating received norms through the fable, the fable in speculative fiction serves to thwart social norms that no longer serve humanity.  The fable now becomes a tool that can be used to teach new ways of being, new modes of thought.

The fable in speculative fiction can “safely” inform and question “what is” by exploring “what could be.”  Apocalyptic/dystopian, horror, alternate history, or sci-fi can perform the same function as fable in speculative fiction, but none of those subgenres contain the safe distanced effect that the fable embodies.  The fable is far more universal in its appeal than the others which rely on the willingness of the implied reader to think with different intelligences.  Additionally the older form’s broad social acceptance and “safe” quality allows the newer form of fable to “get away” with more before the implied mainstream reader, usually socio-politically conservative already, begins to dismiss or reject the fable’s claims.

Further, from a writer’s standpoint, I really enjoy the fable as a storytelling lens because it allows me to conjure the image of the oral storyteller and bring a present-moment feel to the textual written artifact.  It opens possibilities for exploration that don’t exist in the other sub-genres.  When combined with sci-fi or alternate histories, the fable form or fable voice allows those possibilities to open up exploratory variations in interesting ways.”

I still feel that way six years on.


Switching the Form of an Artifact

I’ve been hashing through my “shitty” draft of Run, which started out as a post-apocalyptic novel. What if a community can train for war to find peace? After all, it hasn’t worked IRL pre-collapse, why should it post-collapse?

I don’t know if I’m running out of steam or if I no longer want to go in the same direction the story and characters were for the first 200 plus pages. The technology monkey-wrench for the story always seemed a little “off”—I usually research and find a tech to mess around with before I write a story and this time I seem to have gone the wrong way. So two things are working against the momentum and motives for finishing. I need and want to finish the manuscript. I care about the people.

But as I sat back spending two weeks too many figuring out the problems and solutionizing I realized, hey, this might be a much better graphic novel. Then I was going to re-write the same thing just switching the format. But today I realized, now, cross-formatting would do the story some good. Writing visually affects the way an artifact sees and feels, not only the way it “looks” as a graphic novel script. A novel has its own distinctive vision and feel. They are two different artifacts and need to be treated accordingly.

Which brings me to the present exciting thing-to-be-mulled-over-more-coffee: If I write the same tale, having fixed the tech monkey wrench to something with more umph given the post-petrocollapsed northeastern Pacific Rim world I imagined onto paper, well, digital paper in any case, shouldn’t I also allow the variation in style, story and outcomes that are bound to come along with a format change? It seems like a good idea.

Like I said, coffee and mulling. That’s where Run is headed. Maybe it’ll give the ending some distinction-by-artifact.



Entering story competitions is a necessary part of any authoring work, but I find that it’s much like marketing a story to a publisher; difficult.

I’m working on Narrative’s Fall 2010 Story competition and the deadline is fast approaching. Based on the winning stories from the past two Narrative comps, my fabulism spec-fic work doesn’t seem to fit but the conventional short fiction does. I have fewer works of the latter, but the few I have are much shorter than the winning past entries. For the $20 entry fee, I can only afford one entry so it’s a dicey crap-shoot, much like publishing altogether. I like submitting with confidence rather than blind, uncertain submitting as competitions often seem to be for me.

It is also frustrating to have to pay-to-play (entry fees) when I’m in between the Fall season and State Cup and tournament play. I have 2-3 month gaps in my Referee income stream which necessarily puts a damper on the cash flow for entry fees. But it’s a fact of life and I have to scrimp and scrape to find some entry fee cash nonetheless.

My internal universal comparison feature of my brain-wiring gets hung-up on the pay-to-play nature of writing. Is writing a dime-a-dozen thing? Sure, to some extent. But really, within the universe of decent or “good” quality writers, the dime-a-dozen context evaporates, in my opinion. Lots of people like to write, and a lot of those do. But that doesn’t mean everyone is a serious writer trying to make, or making a living doing what they love–and as with most career writers, writing is often the “only” thing we can do. So when my wiring compares what ought to be to how things are in a capitalist market-limited universal of competitive fiction writing, I have to ask, why is it that art, commercial or fine, is the only “market” zone is pay-to-play while nearly every other market-limited career sector is not? Would we expect the financial sector to pay-to-play?

Okay, I’ll admit in the increasingly feudal system into which American society is driven deeper pay-to-play is becoming the normal “employment” situation, but that doesn’t make if fair, equitable or “right” either. pay to play should be reserved for event specific circumstances. Apprenticed or journeyman or yeoman persons should not be subjected to pay-to-play. In other words, if you are an artist, or any other type of amateur-professional person, seriously pursuing the path required to make a living as a craftsperson in that vocation, pay-to-play should be considered an ethical breach for the person demanding it, and an insult at least to the person subjected to it.

That said, contests are relatively event-specific in nature. Pay-to-play fees however are unfortunately classist in nature. Fees are a form of event-specific threshold; a competition would like serious work only so it sets a fee structure per entry to limit the amount of entries the panel has to review and judge by means of a minimum bar. However, using a fee amount invokes a class component, and that is what is objectionable. To a $20 fee for a person making $30K+ is peanuts while a competent journeyman/yeoman or transitioning level writer making less than $10K a year, $20 is a steep bar. Should there not be some other means of limiting the entry number and quality of work?

I don’t know what that would look like off the top of my head, but it seems to me with all the creativity out there in the publishing world, someone would have the chutzpah to come up with a better way.

In the meantime, do I risk $20 on a piece I’m confident in but uncertain will fit the competition previous entries? As always it’s a crap-shoot rife with uncertainty.

This is where a mentor would come in awfully handy. And mentors in the early 21st century demand pay-to-play, typically at a premium rate. And therein goes the neighborhood.