Downton Galactica? Battlestar Abbey? It’s all Culture and Character, Folks

Great article on Tor.com here.

This piece reminds me of one of the best pieces of advice for science fiction or fantasy writers that I’ve ever read. My sieve-like memory for detail doesn’t allow me to quote or even paraphrase the source, but the essence of it was that in the best SF/F the science or the fantasy isn’t the centre of the story. They’re the framework, the setting, and probably certain plot drivers, which surround the actual heart – the people and civilisations interacting, the personality and culture clashes which resonate with the reader because of their familiarity. 

Iain M. Banks is the master at this, in my opinion. His Culture novels – the name itself flagging up the key theme – are anthropological masterpieces, often based around one civilisation (the Culture) being far more technologically advanced than the other that they’re interacting with, and dealing with the political and sociological fallout of even the most benevolent interventions. We can all recognise the parallels in that, I think.

“This has all happened before, it will all happen again” indeed.

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