Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Reader's Suspension of Disbelief

Reading reviews of sci-fi or dystopian books, one of the comments I come across often is one about world-building. Specifically, whether trends and/or scientific advancements are plausible in this universe. For example, what kind of society would legalize a partial lobotomy in order to get rid of the sentiment of love? Why would anyone sit by idle when their children are being shipped off to an execution? And how, exactly, does society go as far as to rob children of their childhoods just so that they can go to university at 11 and invent time-travel potions?
Whoever tells me where I got that last reference from gets a cookie.
World-building, in itself, is a sometimes fun, sometimes exhausting, but totally necessary exercise. Some sci-fi/weird fiction writers avoid the plausibility loophole by setting their books in an alternate universe or alien world, where different physics and biology apply (think China Mieville’s “Embassytown”, for example). Others just keep their fingers crossed that you’ll just say: “Well, it’s the future, who knows what they’ll be able to do”. Then there are those who don’t give two shits about whether you think their premise is plausible.
Each and every one of those methods can work, if done right.
I think suspending disbelief is just like anything else in books: It depends on a writer’s skill. Half the books I recommended on Monday cannot stand the plausibility check (seriously, cities eating cities? And you played that straight?) and still they grip me with their passionate characters and powerful stories. On the other hand, perfect world-building won’t do anything for me if the writing or characters don’t hook me in.
So this goes out to any budding sci-fi/dystopian writers: If you have an impossible premise, make me believe in it. Have me sitting on the edge of my seat, gasping, crying, laughing, caring for your characters. Make me invested – if that happens, I won’t care how your world came to be.
What about you? How far are you willing to suspend your disbelief?
*Images courtesy of Goodreads.

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