Book Review: The Craft of Writing Science Fiction that Sells by Ben Bova
Aptly named, Ben Bova’s book dissects various points of the craft of writing, showing where many writers fall short. He uses some of his own short stories to illustrate his points, which I think is one of the strengths of the book. His format of discussing the theory, providing an example through a short story, and then giving an analysis with a checklist is a great way to present a wealth of information in an understandable way, easy to remember way.
In reading some of the negative reviews, I get the sense the reviewers interpreted “science fiction that sells” as “science fiction written to fit the hot selling formula of the day.” I don’t see it that way. I think Bova was attempting to teach writers to create high quality fiction that readers, editors, and publishers will want to buy. He is inspiring as he challenges writers to turn their ideas into fresh stories that challenge readers to think. That’s hardly teaching writing by formula, in my opinion.
Other reviewers have commented that Bova includes practical pointers that other books on writing overlook. I fully agree, and appreciate that he included so many useful suggestions. His chapters on character, background, conflict and plot all clearly explain how a writer creates and combines these elements to develop a gripping story.
Later chapters cover novel writing. The chapter on thinking out your novel before you write it gives some great suggestions on how to prepare enough outline and background information so you can write more efficiently. He does mention that your characters may take over the story, causing you to rewrite the outline. But that’s a better place to be than having to scrap large sections of a novel that just don’t work.
His final two chapters discuss one of the science fiction writer’s main goals: the get the reader to think. He shares ways to develop themes and ideas, and where to find inspiration.
Given the book’s 1994 publication date, it is a little dated in terms of the publishing industry and technology. Surely it is no longer necessary to tell people not to submit handwritten manuscripts. The massive rise of self-publishing happened long after Bova wrote this book. However, his advice on writing is as relevant as it ever was.
As someone who has never tried to write science fiction, I consider this book to be a great resource as I try to write in a new genre. Much of his advice would be useful to writers in any genre. Given all the material this book contains, I’m delighted I read it and would recommend it highly.