Friday, October 27, 2000
When we last spoke, gentle readers, I briefly mentioned research. I don't do much research, not in a consciously planned sense. I am rather impressed by -- maybe even a little jealous of -- self-proclaimed research junkies such as Hilary Moon Murphy. Hell, she's even a librarian. Isn't that, like, cheating? (And she has such a cool name, too.)
I feel like I should do more research. I even feel like I'd like doing research. I like reading history and popular science. As I mentioned, The Selfish Gene totally rocked my world. Lying around my house propped open to whatever page I was last on are various nonfiction works like Moses Maimonides' The Guide of the Perplexed, Francis Fukayama's The End of History and the Last Man, and several copies of The Economist. I like reading this stuff. But it doesn't feel like "research" -- it doesn't feel like it's all that related to, or likely to end up in, my fiction.
Also -- lately I am using the great majority of my reading time to luxuriate in an orgy of fiction, mostly classic science fiction and fantasy (I just read Bester's The Demolished Man, a great book), but also li fi (that would be the snotty abbreviation for "literary" fiction) and some mysteries (which I figure are good for learning plot -- Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammet, etc.)
One hesitation I have in writing anything I need to research is, when do you stop? I'm intrigued by the notion of writing historical fiction -- or spec fic in a historical setting -- but the task of researching a distant era seems endless. For one thing, I'm really not at all interested in doing medieval-Western-Europe-with-magic or mediterranean-late-bronze-age-with-magic; high fantasy and sword and sorcery have so done these to death that I don't really think there's anything left. Maybe ancient China with Taoist magic, okay, but that would require a truly mind-boggling amount of research, wouldn't it? There are so many little things to get wrong, and unless you're going to do it right you might as well just make up your own universe...
I think alternate-history worlds could be very interesting too, interesting from a historical perspective -- it's really speculative history. What would have happened had Islam gotten past El Cid and established a foothold in medieval France? I'm fascinated by such questions. But if you're going to do that you really need to do MORE research than if you're doing straight historical fiction -- you need to be enough in the mindframe of the era to imagine how else things might have turned out and how people would then have reacted. I always think about this stuff and end up concluding "maybe someday... if I ever don't happen to have a day job..."