#1  
Old 04-20-2009, 08:30 AM
Johnny Ecks is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 450

"Idea" Novels


So I finally picked up Damon Knights "A for Anything" and it has me thinking.
There is a sub-genre of Science fiction out there, the Idea book- A novel in which the plot, characters, and setting are all secondary to the idea of the book. In A for Anything, the Idea is what if there was a cost-free matter duplicator. In Poul Anderson's Brain Wave, the intelligence of every thing on Earth increases massively.

Can you think of any others?
  #2  
Old 04-20-2009, 09:47 AM
RealityChuck's Avatar
RealityChuck is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: Schenectady, NY, USA
Posts: 42,722
David Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself is about the idea of time travel and all its ramifications.

Kit Reed is currently exploring social ideas in her novels. Thinner than Thou was a vamp on the US obsession with diet and food; The Baby Merchant is about our obsession with having children, and her latest, Enclave is about modern teenagers and our obsession with their safety. (Note that all of these have great characters and an interesting plot, too).
__________________
"If a person saying he was something was all there was to it, this country'd be full of rich men and good-looking women. Too bad it isn't that easy.... In short, when someone else says you're a writer, that's when you're a writer... not before."
Purveyor of fine science fiction since 1982.

Last edited by RealityChuck; 04-20-2009 at 09:48 AM.
  #3  
Old 04-20-2009, 10:46 AM
Sunshine and Smiles is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: Maryland
Posts: 901
Jealousy - Alain Robbe-Grillet

Ice - Anna Kavan

These are idea novels. Oh boy are they ever! The first concerns the jealousy of a husband (unnamed) at a banana plantation, the second - an apocalyptic scenario where ice is unstoppably spreading over earth. Both are pretty experimental.
  #4  
Old 04-20-2009, 02:58 PM
rjk is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 1999
Location: At Zyada's beck and call!
Posts: 3,486
Hal Clement wrote "hard" science fiction, mostly based on some sort of scientific or technical idea. Maybe his best known is Mission of Gravity, about a Jupiter-sized planet with a 36-minute day, so it's spun out almost into a disk. (The best character looks like a squashed centipede, but that's OK.)

There's also No Blade of Grass by John Christopher, in which a blight kills all the grasses, including wheat, corn, rice, and so on.

There are a few idea mysteries too, mostly of the Locked Room/Impossible Crime line.
__________________
Bob the Random Expert
Bon vivant by day, cheesemonger by night!
  #5  
Old 04-20-2009, 03:02 PM
WordMan is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2001
Posts: 22,458
Brave New World and 1984 certainly qualify - although some folks refer to them as "speculative fiction" not science fiction, for the very reason cited in the OP.

Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age - about a world where nanotechnology is ubiquitous. Heck, any of his books are Idea Books at their heart 'cuz Neal can't shut his brain off (although I never read The Big U).

Ayn Rand - while Atlas Shrugged may not be considered sci-fi, it is an idea book, ultimately it is an Objectivist Manifesto. At least, I hope so - because that's the only reason I can think that is still endures - it can't be due to the quality of the writing...
  #6  
Old 04-20-2009, 03:11 PM
Kobal2's Avatar
Kobal2 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: Paris, France
Posts: 18,436
Jennifer Government by Max Barry. Ostensibly a thriller/investigation, but it's really more 1984 in reverse, and the anti-Ayn Rand : exploring what society would be like if corporations got so big and powerful they took over for governments. It's equal parts funny and scary.
  #7  
Old 04-20-2009, 05:40 PM
elfkin477 is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: NH
Posts: 22,759
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sunshine and Smiles View Post
Jealousy - Alain Robbe-Grillet
How about his The Voyeur? The mystery is decidedly secondary to the idea that seeing might not be believing.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind is more about whether ambition can supercede morality than it is about the characters or the plot.
  #8  
Old 04-20-2009, 05:54 PM
msmith537 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2001
Posts: 27,592
Quote:
Originally Posted by WordMan View Post
Ayn Rand - while Atlas Shrugged may not be considered sci-fi, it is an idea book, ultimately it is an Objectivist Manifesto. At least, I hope so - because that's the only reason I can think that is still endures - it can't be due to the quality of the writing...
I think it endures because a significant number of people who started reading it are still working on finishing it.


Phillip K Dick - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (AKA Blade Runner) - Deals with the idea of artificial humans.

Edwin Abbott Abbott - Flatland - Deals with the idea of how multiple dimensions are perceived. Story is about a square living in a two-dimensional world called Flatland. One day he's visited by a sphere and all hell breaks loose.

Stephen King - The Jaunt - Short story dealing with the idea of point-to-point teleportation.
  #9  
Old 04-20-2009, 10:08 PM
Sage Rat's Avatar
Sage Rat is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: Howdy
Posts: 21,819
Larry Niven - Ringworld

While the ring world was of course a non-trivial part of the book, I'd say that the main thing he built the first book around was the idea of the inheritability of luck and the results thereof.

Fyodor Dostoevsky - Crime and Punishment

Does an exceptional person have the right to kill another person? What is it like to have murdered someone?
  #10  
Old 04-21-2009, 07:13 AM
Just Some Guy is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
Posts: 3,444
I've found that in SF and fantasy there is a very significant number of fans (I'll go so far as to say they're majority) who are willing to ignore any fault with a novel if the high concept catches them enough. A concept is not a novel though and this means that a lot of the popular or well-regarded novels are complete and utter crap. The "idea novel", as you're calling them, is extremely common but very rarely written well.

Take Phillip Jose Farmer's Riverworld books for an example of this. Everyone who ever lived since the dawn of humanity wakes up on the bank of a planet long river and the last thing they can all remember is their own deaths. It's a great concept with a hook for any number of stories jamming anyone you want in history together. Farmer uses that concept to essentially tell self-insertion Richard Burton fan fiction. I'm not joking about that; the dialog is about as heavily expository and stilted as you can get, he takes time out from the story to write in his own petty revenge on a publisher he had problems with, and he barely works in an actual plot between his gushing over Burton. It's a dreadful book and it's considered an SF classic.

Or Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy which feature some painfully bad prose (I hope you like multi-page scientific descriptions of geological features!) and characters who as a whole behave like fourteen year old high school students rather than the middle aged professionals they are. And yet each book in the trilogy was a best seller and won a major award all on the concept of "realistic Mars colonization and terraforming". Never mind that they're absolutely dreadful as novels, the interesting idea is all they have.

Which isn't to say this is a bad thing. Decent authors can have a big idea and tell a story that doesn't make me want to throw the book across the room. Great authors can have a big idea and write a great novel with it. When someone says "The idea can take the place of interesting plot, characterization, or prose" they're wrong.
  #11  
Old 04-21-2009, 11:53 AM
msmith537 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2001
Posts: 27,592
Quote:
Originally Posted by Just Some Guy View Post
I've found that in SF and fantasy there is a very significant number of fans (I'll go so far as to say they're majority) who are willing to ignore any fault with a novel if the high concept catches them enough. A concept is not a novel though and this means that a lot of the popular or well-regarded novels are complete and utter crap. The "idea novel", as you're calling them, is extremely common but very rarely written well.
"Idea novels" make better short stories IMHO. Once you get past whatever new technology or whatever you are writing about, ultimately you still need to create a compelling story about interesting characters we can relate to.
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 03:29 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@straightdope.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright © 2018 STM Reader, LLC.

 
Copyright © 2017