Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rigor mortis

Authors talk about it. Magazines demand it. I think it's silly, and I think you're silly if you disagree with me!

That statement was rather rigorous, wasn't it? You would think it ought to be professionally published, what with everyone in the speculative publishing industry talking about rigour. (N.B.: American spelling was adopted for the title of this post in the name of punlarity, which is a cross between puns and hilarity.) Seriously, though: everywhere I look, there's a big to-do about magic systems being rigourous, FTL concepts being rigourous, rigourous visits to the bathroom after morning coffee... it's enough to make a man strap a combustion engine to himself, so he could say he has lived life "rigorously!"

But if you did that I would call you an idiot because you could have lived a wonderful life without an engine strapped to your back and you would have appeared less afflicted by a palsy except that that is beside the point.

I've never understood why speculative fiction authors and editors want rigour in fantasy and science fiction. When you make up something that doesn't exist; if you are the kind of person who postulates physical and chemical absurdities; if you do this for a living; if you make things up, write them down, and sell them; you would think that you could get over yourself long enough to admit:

"Yes, actually, all of this is made up. The thing about the fireballs, and the dragons, and the time-travelling-through-black-holes? Actually, none of that is possible. They are all of the strictest impossibility. Did I have you? Did I really have you going? Well, that is due to my unnatural rigour. I managed to disrobe you of even the tiniest modicum of understanding you may have possessed about the physical and natural world, due to my felicity of language."

No. Stop it. Shut up and jump in a well, because the well is probably the furthest you have ever been from home and it would be fitting should you starve there. You would also likely die from dehydration due to your psychological divorce from reality.

Okay, alright, I'm sorry. I realize this is probably just me. If you're into rigour, well, please, don't on my account simply cease being rigourous. But I will never understand why, having made up something that doesn't make any sense, speculative fiction writers and editors feel the need to convince themselves and others that, if only this were possible, all of this would be quite logical.

I.e.: Premises fail.

Good-day, eh?



  1. A hillarious rant, haha.

    I for one understand the need for a set of 'ground rules' with worldbuilding, tech, and magic, et cetera, but I also see quite frequently that many authors overdo it by a long shot.

    Jay Lake, for example, is freakishly rigorous. A phenomenal writer and storyteller, but his attention to rigor is mindblowing.

    Harry Potter lacks any sort of rigor whatsoever, so far as I can discern, and it hasn't exactly broken J.K.'s bank.

    I guess it's just a matter of taste, and a reflection of one facet of a writer's skill level. I, for one, am no more rigorous than a story absolutely requires of me.

  2. I'm on the same page as you: I am only as rigourous as required. Sometimes, of course--and despite what this rant might suggest--I get a little carried away and become a little more flamboyant or philosophical or scientific than usual about something, and the degree of rigour concomitantly increases. But, generally speaking, I think it is hilarious to talk about magic being rigourous. It's like suggesting that battlecruisers ought to be cute.

    They're battlecruisers.