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Adventure versus Mind-Blowing - The Motive Center
July 9th, 2006
12:35 am

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Adventure versus Mind-Blowing
My wife and I were discussing different types of fiction, and she commented that she never really wanted to write (as she had seen in a blurb) "mind-blowing" works. She had nothing against them, but she didn't even see how to begin writing something like that.

Knowing Toni, I returned that that was because she's always loved adventures rather than mind-blowing fiction. I realized that "mind-blowing" is often associated with far-out science fiction -- things that are so bizarre and strange that it makes you shake your head and wonder how they could ever come about. (Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels are one example.) But it is also about being inventive, sometimes at the cost of humanity. Thus, I suspect that "mind-blowing" is often (not always) appealing to the Achievement motive, aiming at the intellectually new and different, whereas "adventures" are about Power/Influence motive, where you are having a dramatic impact on others. Arthur Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama was mind-blowing, as was Niven's Ringworld, primarily because of idea and scope. Some people have referred to these as "travelogue" books because the plot consists of: (1) find strange object, (2) explore strange object, seeing many strange things, (3) go home. Characters and plots sometimes fall by the wayside, but in SF, that doesn't always matter if the idea is big or strange enough.

Adventures, on the other hand, are normally about someone coming into conflict with society, enemies, etc. Swashbuckling stories, be they pirates, Robin Hood, Musketeers, or space opera are usually on a big human scale: taking on the king, the emperor, the Boskonians, whatever, preferably in a dramatic way. Note they are also often about class issues. All about the influence.

Really good writers, of course, can sometimes combine the two, and this is really awe-inspiring. One writer who seems to do this consistently is John Varley. His Titan trilogy, recently reprinted in paperback over here, is both mind-blowing and rip-roaring, swashbuckling adventure -- and sometimes ironic satire of swashbuckling at the same time. I know it sounds impossible, but he does it, and he manages to have characters you care about, who change in reasonable but substantial ways from book to book, based on what has happened between books.

I'm telling you, these motives are everywhere...

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