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Science Fiction Giants: A Difference in Writing

It’s interesting reading stories written by the legends:

  • Murray Leinster
  • Philip K. Dick
  • Isaac Asimov
  • Arthur C. Clarke
  • Ursula K. Le Guin…

There’s a difference between their stories and the way we write our stories nowadays. One facet that really jumps out at me is that whilst most hardcore science fiction writers nowadays use metric units in their stories, these older authors had often used Imperial measurements. (This makes sense, of course, since the world in those days was much less globalized.)

Another is that oftentimes you can detect certain…antiquated…analogies or beliefs, for instance in statements pertaining to race or ethnicities.

Leinster is hugely guilty(?) of both of these (for better or for worse; I’m just sayin’). As an example of the latter, check out his 1945 short story, “First Contact”. The relevant parts in this excerpt are signified by emphasis:

“It’s all been thrashed out over and over, in theory,” said the skipper. “Nobody’s ever been able to find a sound answer, even on paper. But you know, in all their theorizing, no one considered the crazy, rank impossibility of a deep-space contact, with neither side knowing the other’s home world! But we’ve got to find an answer in fact! What are we going to do about them? Maybe these creatures will be aesthetic marvels, nice and friendly and polite—and, underneath, with the sneaking brutal ferocity of a Japanese. Or maybe they’ll be crude and gruff as a Swedish farmer—and just as decent underneath.”

Please note that I’m not trying to insult any of these authors. I love every one of them. I just found these little observations, especially the ones above about Murray Leinster’s stories, rather intriguing, to say the least.

Happy reading!

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