As a writer, if you are looking for something difficult to write, it would have to be hard science fiction poetry.
Why? Because I guess you are using both sides of your brain, there’s no lead in, it has to be intelligent and moving. There’s just nowhere to hide. The poetry of hard science fiction is a genre that should be regarded as an elite literary form, as it should be talking about our future in a way that will engage the spirit as well as the mind. There is some of it out there, hosted online by entities like the science fiction poetry association.
When I was writing my novels I put aside thoughts of genre, though I was hoping to be widely read by people who like thrillers and political fiction as well as science fiction. But what I actually wrote was hard science fiction, that is, work based on science and facts. The people who joined me on Twitter and the “also bought” list told the story. I thought this was great – my readers may not be a multitude, but they are intelligent people. So began my swift descent into the world of genre snobbery, a topic I learned a lot more about at a great session at Sydney Writers’ Festival 2013. Panellists Lauren Beukes, Robert Drewe and Luke Davies talked about writing across different genres. Between them they covered novels, poetry, journalism, novellas, scriptwriting, comics, and stuff I’ve probably missed out.
They discussed the gulf between people who read science fiction, which as we all know is the literature of ideas, and people who read literary fiction, which is also very thoughtful. Their observation was that readers of one genre frequently won’t read the other, because one is highbrow and the other is beneath their notice. Lauren Beukes (scifi/fantasy) thought that everybody should just shut up about it and read across genres, because they all have something to offer. Luke Davies (poet, novelist, screenwriter) confided that he was completely elitist about poetry as the highest literary form. This made sense to me, in terms of purity of language and ideas without constraints of plot or characters.
My conclusion is that the highest form of literature is poetic hard science fiction. This sounds almost a contradiction in terms, but I don’t believe that it is. For example, when I wrote my Cyberethics PhD, I felt as though I was trying to construct something very practical and useful, like a chair. The structure had to be solid enough for someone to sit on, so all the “legs” of the the thesis had to be strong. Then I went ahead and wrote my novels, Mindwave and Survival Year, in which I try to show how these ideas will translate to the real world. Then it felt more like town planning. There are two ways to do this too – the strictly practical, or the extra effort that you make to try and make something that will inspire the people who live there, help them live a productive life. If I had been to this session before I started my writing, I would have tried to write poetry as a starting point towards making my books have beauty, something to transcend the form of a science fiction or political thriller genre novel. As writers we need readers of our ideas to be inspired to change the world, not to just read, and then put down their device.
So I will try the ultimate genre – when I’m ready for the challenge!