Idea Stories

When it comes to “idea” fiction, I think there are three main types of stories:

1. Twist Idea Stories. These have a single idea, which may or may not be hinted at during the story. It’s finally revealed on the last page or so, making for a twist ending. (E.g. many classic sci-fi short stories, from authors such as Asimov and Clarke.)
2. Big Idea Stories. These take a single big idea, or at most a couple of them, and spend the whole story examining the consequences of that from every possible angle. (E.g. “what if a virus made everyone infertile”, “what if you could statistically predict future history”, “what if you could make people immortal”.)
3. Idea Barrage Stories. These are full of small, interesting ideas, and the stories just keep throwing more and more ideas at the reader on every damn page. (E.g. some of Greg Egan’s works.)

And of course there can be intermediate variants of these, and there are novels which are arguably both Big Idea Stories and Idea Barrage Stories, in that exploring the single big idea spawns off smaller ideas which are its logical consequences. If we gave somebody living in 1950 the history of the years 1980-2012, they might think of it as a sci-fi story that started exploring the Big Idea of “what if there was this network of computers that spanned the world and which everyone could use” and then turned to an Idea Barrage with all the e-mails, instant messengers, YouTubes, 4chans, Facebooks, BitCoins, and so forth.

I like all three, though I note that it’s often hard to pull off a Big Idea Story well – often the author doesn’t actually manage to spend very much time examining the idea itself, and it gets relegated to be just a backdrop in an otherwise ordinary story. Which isn’t to say that it couldn’t be a good story nevertheless, it just isn’t a good Idea Story. But I just love a well-written Twist Idea or Idea Barrage Story.

What are your tastes?

(Cross-posted: Facebook, Google Plus.)

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