Posted on May 4, 2005 Posted by John Scalzi 11 Comments
The bulk of The Rough Guide to Science Fiction was finished last month, but I shipped off the last of the “canon” pieces last night — meaning the 50 reviews of the science fiction films every human should see, and which are the centerpiece of the book (the last one I wrote up: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which I feel is significant but also vastly overrated). in the book proposal, these 50 reviews were supposed to clock in at 20,000 words; I ended up writing 32,000 words, and probably could have written more had I not forced myself to keep some of the reviews as short as possible. But no matter how you slice it, I overwrote this section by about 50%.
Which is actually the case with the entire book: It was originally envisioned at about 80,000 words and I ended up sending along about 120,000. My editors are doing their thing now, trimming the book down, but no matter what it’s likely to be 20% to 30% longer than we envisioned. Why? Simple: There’s so damn much to write about in science fiction film, and even at 120,000 words, I feel like there are still gaps in the text. In the next few days I’ll be going through the book’s “thumbnail” reviews (most under 100 words) and looking to see which science fiction films I’ve missed that I’d look like a fool for not including (“You idiot! How could you forget The Forbin Project?!??!?”), and I expect I’ll probably want to add at least another 50 or so before my poor editors grab them from me, kicking and screaming, and tell me to go away so they can do the layout of the book, already. At some point sufficiency is the order of the day. I’ll just hope that any big gaping holes I see will be invisible to the rest of you. Hey, it worked for the Universe book. I do know that the very last day I’ll add something to the book will be May 19th, when I have to dash off a couple of paragraphs about Revenge of the Sith, since it would be stupid not to include it in the book. After that, it’s out of my hands.
It helps that I actually think this is a good book. As I’ve noted before, this book was supposed to jammed out in three months but it ended up taking close to nine because there was so much research to do; we not only hit science fiction film but have bracketing chapters to cover the entire history of science fiction as well as the current reach of science fiction in fields other than film. We cover a lot of ground. If nothing else, it’ll give a really value for the money and for the form factor: The books in Rough Guides movie have a small, square appearance — they’re kind of the MiniMac shape — and I think people who assume that a small book will mean a surfacey treatment of the subject may be surprised. There are worse things.
For this reason, I don’t really think I overwrote the book; I have many flaws as a writer but writing more than I absolutely have to has not been one of them. I wrote more than I thought I would, but I wrote as much as I think the subject needed in the time I had to do it. Hopefully, it’ll be enough.
Update: Before I forget: The Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film has a tentative release date of September 29, 2005. In the UK, anyway. I don’t know what the US release date is, but since my other Rough Guide books were released simultaneously in both countries, I can’t imagine it would be substantially different this time.
La Jetée? Stalker? Aelita?
Yes. Yes. Yes.
I guess I’ll be buying it, then!
Well, gosh. That was easy.
If I’d meant it to be hard, I would have asked about Quest, The Ugly Little Boy, and that Czech film from the Sixties that’s live action but with speech balloons.
Instead I tried to be cruel but fair.
Yup. I wrote up the moderately obscure ones, but not the totally obscure ones.
What about Alphaville?
Just kidding, I am so not a fan of Alphaville.
I liked your Rough Guide to the Universe and will be ordering a copy of this one when it comes out.
So we’ll be able to buy your book the day before Serenity opens? You’re not worried Joss will take the wind out of the sails of a century of science fiction pictures?
The book sounds wonderful, I’ll have to get it. Hearing about it makes me wonder if there’s a book out that which covers science fiction writing in the same sort of detail and scope. I’ve read lots of SF but nowhere near enough, especially in recent years, and I know there’s lots of classics and must-reads I’ve missed. I’m guessing our estimable host or one of the other comments could help here?
You’ve read the memoir “You’ll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again,” by Julia Phillips, right? She was one of the producers of “Close Encounters,” and devotes quite a lot of the book to the making of the movie.