EXCERPT from "Description on the Edge: The Sublime in Science Fiction" by Albert Wendland in Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction
Description in science fiction does not describe as much as create. All description does this to a certain extent, encouraging--intentionally or not—a reader’s creative interaction that makes a place or object "one’s own." This identification with, participation in, and ownership of characters or settings is crucial for reader enjoyment, and for selling the book. "I felt I was there" and "It seemed so real" are phrases spoken by satisfied buyers. In mainstream prose, or in genres focused on contemporary settings, identification can happen easily because of the usual familiarity of place. But for SF’s unreal locations, unknown planets, interstellar vistas postulated from scientific parameters, or "worlds beyond space and time," reader participation can be more challenging. So the test of much SF description is not in the accuracy of reproduction, which often can’t be measured, but in how far the reader can be led to half create and then to enter imaginary realms.
Dr. Albert Wendland grew up in the Pittsburgh area, attending both Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. At CMU, he majored in physics with the intention of going on into astronomy and writing science fiction in his off-time. He soon pursued a Ph.D. in English literature instead and has been teaching at Seton Hill ever since. Al is now the director of the Writing Popular Fiction MFA Program. His publications range from magazine and journal articles to poetry and short stories, as well as the non-fiction book Science, Myth, and the Fictional Creation of Alien Worlds published by UMI Research Press. He currently has a Science Fiction novel he’s shopping around.