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A note on terminology

It strikes me that in my last post, that I was somewhat non-specific in my use of synthesis. It could be that I’m missing out, with regards to knowledge of the critical literature, so I wanted to define my terms.

When I call an author an synthesist, I’m mostly referring to what I call their primary mode of extrapolation. By primary, I mean the techniques that any one author generally uses to drive the ideas behind their stories. I’d say that there are at least three broad categories here, and I’ll attempt to name them, offer a brief definition, and provide some examples.

  1. Compositive Sythesists: This is a category into which I slot Tidhar, Liz Williams, Wolfe, Delaney, Swanwick, etc. Very few of the ideas are new, and occasionally things that would otherwise flow naturally from the world building are missed. Rather they’re used with varying degrees of skill to evoke the settings and preconditions for their character’s stories to naturally unfold. Interestingly, I find that thsi category contains both some of the best and some of the worst SF disproportionately, going from the bottom, where the paint by numbers crowd operates, to the top, where some of the best artists of the genre pick and chose just the right elements out of the existing prop box to set the drama of their characters and plots off to greatest effect. There are some people in the middle, but they seem to be thinner on the ground than in my other (self-defined) categories.

  2. Conjunctive (or Inventive) Sythesists: These are authors who’re largely working out of the box of standard props and tropes, but they’re interested enough in the ideas that they’re working with that they generally consider it incumbent upon them to come up with some fascinating and novel ideas and creations that shake out naturally from the quriks of their worldbuilding and how they’re throwing their ideas together. I’d put Stross, Tricia Sullivan, Justina Robson, Bruce Sterling, and Richard Morgan here, amongst others.

  3. Subject Experts: These are your scientist-authors and your lay experts, who take their deep knowledge and research and use it to inform either their story ideas or their worldbuilding. They also draw from the common pool, but their unique bodies of knowledge lead to both insights and lacunae that other writers with a different speculative-extrapolative approach wouldn’t have come across. I’d include Benford, Kim Stanley Robinson, Nancy Kress, Vernor Vinge, and a number of others here.

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