Spec Fic for Newbies

This book from Luna Press Publishing is subtitled, “A Beginner’s Guide to Writing Subgenres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror”. It is worth noting that the two authors, Tiffani Angus and Val Nolan, are both academics, though Angus has a novel to her name and Nolan has had a short story shortlisted for the Sturgeon. I think their experience in academia informs how they have approached the subject.

Spec Fic for Newbies is divided into three main sections: science fiction, fantasy and horror. Each section is subdivided into chapters on key themes. So the science fiction section contains chapters on aliens, robots and dystopias; fantasy has chapters on witches, sword & sorcery and paranormal romance; and horror has chapters on vampires, zombies and cosmic horror. Those lists of contents are by no means exhaustive.

Each chapter contains information on the history of the use of the concept, some famous examples, and some discussion as to different ways the concept has been deployed. There are also suggestions in each chapter as to how the concept might be taken in a different direction. These are called “activities”, which makes them sound a bit like part of a school lesson, but they are useful.

This is probably starting to sound very dry and, well, academic, and it would be were it not for the way in which it is done. I don’t know Val Nolan well, though he is at Aberystwyth so I’m sure our paths will cross soon. Tiffani Angus, on the other hand, is a friend I have known for some time since she was a student of Farah Mendlesohn’s at Anglia Ruskin. Angus has an infectious personality, and that bleeds through on every page of this book. When I read it, I can hear her voice in my head. That makes the book great fun to read.

Of course it is not a page-turner. The structure of the book makes it very much a reference work, not the sort of thing that you would read from cover to cover. It is also “for Newbies”. Given that I have been reading and reviewing speculative fiction for (ahem) many decades, there’s not a lot in this book that is new to me. There are some things, obviously, and you can always learn something from reading new material, but a lot of it is very familiar.

While the book does purport to being a guide specifically for writers, I think it is just as useful for wannabe critics who are new to the field. It is a much easier, and shorter, read that the Science Fiction Encyclopaedia. It also allows you to bone up on “the Classics” without having to read them all. This book does what it says on the tin, and it does it with style and humour. You shouldn’t ask for much more from an introductory volume.

Oh, and if you’ve read the review of the Jack Dann book on Alternate History elsewhere in this issue, I note that Angus and Nolan end their introduction with the following sentence:

“Just remember, there are no rules.”


book cover
Title: Spec Fic for Newbies
By: Tiffani Angus & Val Nolan
Publisher: Luna Press Publishing
Purchase links:
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Amazon US
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