Weird Tales: Scott H. Andrews on Why I Write Fantasy

Writer: Scott H. Andrews
Weird Tales Story: Excision (Issue #347, Nov/Dec 2007)
Writer Bio: Scott H. Andrews is a chemistry lecturer, a musician, an amateur historian, a luthier, a connoisseur of zymurgy, and a writer. His story A Brief Swell of Twilight won the 2006 Fiction Award from the Briar Cliff Review.

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When friends read my genre fiction, they often chuckle at the irony of a Ph.D. chemist writing not science fiction but fantasy. I find it ironic as well -couldn’t I be getting some cool use out of all those years in grad school? But the single most interesting thing for me in those years of schooling wasn’t the science, it was the people. Science is a method or a mindset -one I most certainly have, or my bookshelves wouldn’t be organized chronologically. Science is discovering information and designing application. But it’s not quirks and contradictions, like people are or life can be. It’s not awe-inspiring absurdities. And in this hypermodern age, it’s no longer the breathlessly unexpected.

That must be why I write fantasy. I want those quirks and contradictions, in characters and their worlds. I want awe, regardless of whether infection-draining magic or giant winged lizards are scientifically possible. I want the breathlessly unexpected to burst from the page, while also telling me something about who we humans really are.

Fantasy is by no means the only canvas for capturing these traits, but it’s ideal for emphasizing them because it allows us to exaggerate them to entertaining and symbolic levels. Fantasy doesn’t have to focus on science, or on a murder mystery or a scheme for global domination, so it’s free to be about the people. They move through the awe of their exaggerated surroundings, revealing their human quirks and contradictions. Their stories captivate us with the unexpected, while also illuminating our own humanity. And that has to be the single coolest use for infection-draining magic or giant winged lizards.

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks a lot for a very interesting perspective on fantasy, Scott. I studied a lot of anthropology in college, and I find that a scientific outlook can go a long way towards making fantasy even weirder. A little anthropology means you’ll probably never read Tolkien again again without stopping to wonder, “Hey, why ARE these orcs so evil? If they were just evil to each other all the time, wouldn’t their society implode?” Science, I find, is good not just for showing us how the rules work, but how to break them too.

  2. Aaron Singleton says

    The attraction to fantasy seems like a natural fit to me. Gene Wolfe worked as an engineer until the mid-eighties. Robert Jordan likewise. Jack Vance majored in mining engineering. All of these fields are very exacting, yet these guys have all written some wonderful fantasy (perhaps RJ’s stuff wasn’t exactly in the same league as the others). It seems to me that it takes an analytical mind to create worlds from scratch and populate them with fantastic people. Just my opinion.

  3. says

    Aaron, I _totally_ agree that F world-building benefits from a scientific approach. A lot of the setting details I come up with end up “under the hood”–inner workings of the world or society that I know about but that aren’t always aparent to the reader or present in that story.

    The engineering commonality, especially among geniuses like Wolfe and Vance, I find really neat. I have no formal engineering training, but I’m a pretty good carpenter, so I think my mindset has a bit of amateur engineer to it. Those two, for whatever reason, are also great at getting at the personal side of characters.

    Hunter, the anthropology is something I often find myself overlooking, but I’m always brought back to things like that because they are much more about the people than hard science details like the oxygen content of the atmosphere. And I think everything in the end really has to be about the people.

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