Otherworldly Words

By Michele Callaghan, Manuscript Editing

What does science fiction have to do with postmodernism and its ilk? Apologies to friends and college sweethearts who make their living dissecting the writing of others, but when I edit a book on the topic of literary criticism, I pretend I am editing a science fiction novel.

Since my childhood viewing of My Favorite Martian and Star Trek and my adolescent following of Ursula K. LeGuin, I have had a fascination for worlds that exist outside of our ken. And the first rule of science fiction writing is that you can make up any world you like, as long as you keep it consistent throughout the telling of your tale. If Spock has pointed ears in season 1, he must have them in season 2. If his ears get straightened, you must explain why to your audience. If Kal-El was ejected from the planet Krypton as a baby and cannot be exposed to Kryptonite, then, if all of sudden he can, you must explain why.

Scholars of fields ending in “-ism” like to coin terms much as the science fiction writer coins worlds. Subjugated peoples are anti/colonial or re-pressed. Parentheses (a)bound. Nouns have more suffixes and prefixes and evoke the German language with their longnounishness. Terms are Capitalized with greater Frequency.

Through trial and error, I have decided that in most cases I will not try to make these manuscripts follow the beaten path of the Chicago Manual of Style. I allow latitude to these erstwhile LeGuins and Roddenberrys. I do require, however, that the words have the same meaning throughout. So, if the subjugating classes engender anti/colonial feeling in chapter 1, they can’t be (anti)colonial in chapter 6. If History is the great leveler in the beginning of the book, the ideal can’t be rendered in lowercase in the end.

And, just as the best in science fiction tells us something about the real planet that we live in, books delving into the meaning behind the writings of others do best when they lend meaning for the world we inhabit.


Filed under Behind the Scenes, Editing, For Everyone, Literature

2 responses to “Otherworldly Words

  1. Pingback: Otherworldly Words | jhublogs

  2. Have to tell you, I got into a boatload of trouble teaching a science fiction class in a 9th grade English class at an all-girls school. The year was 1986 or maybe 88. The point of the class was to discuss ways in which science fiction allows us to take threads from our current world and spin them to their logical (or some sort of horrifically logical conclusion). I mentioned that in the world of the mid-80’s, many women were delaying childbearing to grow their careers. As a result, many would age out their fertility. This might become a significant social problem. We had already solved many male fertility issues via sperm banks. I suggested to the bright, mostly pretty and mostly affluent girls in my class that it might be that their eggs would be in high demand and that the cost of college would only increase. Perhaps, I suggested, as an example of how a sci. fi. plot might be constructed, the older and infertile might someday advertise in college newspapers for donors with eggs likely possessing desirable genetic characteristics. Needless to say, some parents were very angry that I would have suggested something so monstrous and inappropriate. I got a lot of grief for that class. But look at what has been happening for many years now. That’s why I love sci fi. Johanna Oreskovic