The Worlds Of Sci-Fo

(or “The Way I Write and Why” for heroic fighters of boredom)

by John Knapp II
author of
The Last Fairy Tale series
and The Emryss Chronicles


“What kind of stuff do you write?” you ask.

Sci-fo mainly,” I reply, “but also I…”

“Sci-fo?” you interrupt.  “What’s that?”

“Okay, since you asked, here goes.  Sci-fo—think of Chaucerian stories-within-stories and mingling science fiction with folktales in which the motifs and themes of classic—“

“Whoa!” you interrupt.  “Is this going to go on and on?”

“Yes,” I reply, “Can’t you handle it?  Don’t you want a real answer?”  I notice, but say nothing about your right forefinger tapping your chair.

“Uh…OK, I’ll do my best,” you reply.  “I can see you’re kinda deep into this, and maybe a little bit tender—“

“I am!” I snap back, accepting my turn to interrupt.  “I’ll start again, so listen up!  Sci-fo is a genre of fiction with faint echoes of Chaucerian style of ’stories within stories.’  In sci-fo the motifs and themes of classic western folklore, or fairy tales, are blended and intermingled with and linked to modern realistic stories that appeal to a wide age span—children (6th grade and up), adolescents, and adults individually and—”

I stop because now both your right forefinger and right foot are tapping.  I raise an eyebrow and you stop.

I continue.

“Don’t you see how vulnerable I now am?  I’ve said these stories would appeal to children, adolescents, and adults.  That’s the kiss of death!  All three groups will now race for the exits, but for different reasons!  I’m losing momentum!  Look, hang in there!  I’ll even back up and put some key words in italics and boldface.  And be a bit frisky with them.  Have you ever heard an ‘italic’?”

You give me a puzzled look.

“Now I said these stories would appeal to these three age groups individually, but they also appeal to groups mixed together—where people can resist tapping their fingers and feet!”

“But what about sex?” you ask.

“Sci-fo does not shy away from intimacy—note the italics here!”

“Intimacy?” you interrupt again.

“Yes, intimacy.  Of course you realize there are three kinds of intimacy: physical, mental, and spiritual.”

“Whatever is the difference between ‘mental’ and ‘spiritual’? you ask.

“OK, now that’s the last question I’ll take!” I declare.  “Interesting you didn’t ask about the first of those three…  Mental intimacy—note the italics—is when the minds of two perceptive people share something involving feelings as well as facts.   For example—and I’m thinking as I speak—a nurse and a surgeon bond together as the nurse hands the surgeon scalpel, forceps, clamps, in a clean and timely way, because the nurse can and wants to anticipate, in a timely way, each of the surgeon’s moves, with the result that the surgeon can relax about tools and the patient is properly mended and spared serious injury.  The doctor and nurse come to especially value each other.  And each wants to work with the other again.  (And if you’re fantasizing romance here between a beautiful, caring nurse and a lightly bearded, skillful doctor, look closely at my words. I haven’t gendered them!  Both nurses and doctors today can be male or female.  Here romance is not the issue… probably.)

“Consider now a ten-year-old boy, who stops playing with his friends to steer his young sister away from the deep part of the pool but, more than that, he stays in the shallow end to sit with her and explain the danger.  They break the rules on how kids of their age are supposed to act.  She splashes him, he laughs, and she obeys.  Both smile.  Their minds connect.  Each can speak to the other without words.

“Often spiritual intimacy is not far from that.  But it enriches life in ways often hard to explain.  It, too, involves closeness to someone, or something concrete or abstract in this world—a special person we love, perhaps even the words of a sung hymn, or even the smell of lemon pop in a country store; or perhaps it is closeness to someone we believe to be above, within, before and after our own planet—or off in space enveloping an unknown world such as Emryss—and with or before whom we want to unwind as a perfumed onion, turn by turn our protecting layers of self, all the way down to the small pungent core.

“Of course, it’s more than all that (please note the italics), but that will do…

“Now as to taste:  No story happily pulls everyone in.   Unless, perhaps, it’s useful to drug masses of the very weary into a much-needed slumber!  Everyone loves some stories, hates others, and is bored by still others—even good stories.  It’s pointless here to try to say why.  We differ in how we think, in what we do, and what we expect, with each real day mixed with opportunity and danger.   A good story sometimes may seem troubling.  One person may love it, and to another on a different road, it may jar, frighten, or even offend.  The speeding ambulance that rushes you with your broken leg to the hospital may wreck and kill you.  Yet you take that chance.  We risk keeping fast-moving ambulances nearby.  And sharing good stories.  It’s dangerous to read, though more dangerous not to—usually.

“Sci-fo stories deal with real problems:  There are quests and conflicts, and battles that go beyond diplomacy to combat—to success as well as failure, injury and death.  There are moments of dread, horror, and great sorrow.  And moral choices of every kind.  For example, in my sci-fo story “The Fourth Prince” a mysterous adopted young prince and a young princess by birth are tricked into a marriage with ‘vows exchanged before God’ that neither is ready for, but according to ‘those that know’ their union can save a badly fractured kingdom.  What should they do?

“Once again consider the Chaucerian structure, if we dare call it that.  Consider a sandwich.  Between slices cut from the same loaf are the inner ingredients, in this case several stories, complete in themselves—which easily adapt into public readings—tales linked by quests, treasure, genealogy lists, and heritage.  And with these stories comes the strong suggestion that some folk-sounding stories actually took place !   Even more, they are also caught in the web of a modern framework story that comes before and after them, and, yes, sometimes even in between them!  (To visualize this, stand your well-made sandwich on its edge.)

“That, if you will, is sci-fo.

“But there’s more, something unique:  A reoccurring theme in the framework story is that one of its main characters might be blood-related—with accompanying modern opportunities and responsibilities—to characters in the fairy tales.

“As to the time and place of these framework stories, there three choices: They may be (1) futuristic, (2) presentistic, or (3) yesteristic.  (Watch your outdated spellchecker spring to life!)  In the first, the setting is in the (usually undated) future in a recognizable or carefully described fictional place.  In my Emryss Chronicles, for example, the framework location of Earth Is Not Alone (the first volume) set in fictional ‘Big Bend’ which strongly resembles the Montrose-New Milford-Halstead area of Pennsylvania.  The time is a ‘few years’ from now after a mysterious worldwide tragedy has destroyed everything electronic, that is almost everything.

“In the presentistic framework the time is ‘now,’ and if dates were given, the story would quickly pass into the third category.  In the yesteristic framework the time is indirectly, or sometimes clearly, put in the past, as in my The Last Fairy Tale series which is set in ‘West Portmouth’ in upstate New York in 1991.  Why use the past?  Sometimes to connect with historic events, or to have a time with more opportunity for children and less security and regulation—and more risk.  In the past it was easier than now to ‘cut a deal’ with, say, the FBI.   (Don’t ask how I know this!)

“But there’s more going on inside the sandwich…

“While the characteristic motifs of classic folklore—such as the rights and responsibilities of royalty, dragons, magic weapons, witches, special powers and spells, the use of ‘3’s,’ the youngest or least likely son or daughter winning, quests with strings attached, etc.—are interwoven into the ‘inner’ stories, they are nonetheless energized by modern stylistic features as well.  Classic folk characters are flat, barely developed, often unnamed; here in sci-fo there is more development, more attention given to detail, more attention given to what the main character thinks.  However, though stylistically enriched, the old ‘form’ of the stories is honored, not parodied, laughed at, or turned on its ear.

“Spunky, spirited girls appear—as, by the way, they do in many old classics.  There are male, and sometimes female, warriors, knights and ladies, and scholars who are well regarded by the teller of the story.  When battles occur, the reader learns real strategies and many details about how castles are taken, dragons are slain, and enemies are conquered.  And there’s victory as well as injury and defeat.  Some old stories have withered away, but those that have survived often have unusual power.  For centuries they have looked squarely at mysterious unknowns, addressed many deep-felt needs, and have instructed moral choice.

“But enough of that!

“A final comment:

“One other feature of sci-fo is totally unique (as far as I can determine).  A key part of every framework sci-fo plot is that at least one main character has to dig into the actual folk stories themselves, and pick them apart for facts, details, and secrets to accomplish something terribly important in today’s world where that character lives.  

“Today’s world where we have sat, may sit, or are presently sitting hearing this.”

“How can that be done?” you ask.

“Well, you’ll just have to wake up, enter the stories, and see for yourself!”