Sample Essay

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A quality many great works of science fiction share is the creation of a vivid vision of an alien world in the mind of the audience.

Speaking on what makes an effective presentation of an ‘Otherworld’ Tolkien says that in order to create an effective suspension of disbelief in the reader, it is not enough to simply say that there was a ‘green sun’, but the writer has to be able to describe with a degree of completeness, a world in which a green sun is credible. An effective presentation of the otherworld has to have, what Tolkien terms, the power of ‘sub-creation’ i.e. creating another world inside the mind of the reader.

Merely to describe strange and wonderful things one after another is not enough, all these things must be present inside a coherent framework, the otherworld must be internally consistent (Tolkien 1964, p. 46). In other words we can say that the fantasy novel, as conceived by Tolkien, is like a game between the reader and the novelist, like any game, it must have rules.

What Tolkien has said regarding the fantasy genre of novels is applicable not only to the fantasy genre and to the medium of books, but to but to other forms of speculative fiction as well, whether they are portrayed in the format of a novel or in the format of a film or a TV show. Science fiction critic Suvin is talking about something similar when he defines the genre of science fiction as having at its primary locus a new object or idea, ‘novum’ .which must then be convincingly explained in “concrete, even if imaginary, terms; that is, in terms of the specific time, place, agents, and cosmic and social totality of each tale” (Suvin 1979, p. 80).

If the novum remains unexplained and undefined with respect to the totality or the universe in which the story occurs, the work of art in which the story is told is not usually perceived to be a work of ‘science fiction’. For example, the highly popular TV Show, ‘Pushing Daisies’ features, a man who is able to bring the dead back to life with a single touch. It is not explained at all through what agency he is able to have that power. A possible explanation may have been religious (God-given power, angelic intervention etc.), magical or scientific (genetics). Aside from the ‘novum’ the rest of the universe is the same as ours. Similarly, in the TV Show ‘Early Edition’, a man receives tomorrow’s newspaper every day, allowing him to prevent accidents before they happen. In this story too, there is no explanation of what agencies are involved and the world in which it occurs is pretty much the same as ours.

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