What are the best motives for writing speculative/science fiction?
If you think it’s to make money then you’re either deluded or already successful – though perhaps only enough that you can make the next mortgage payment. There’s usually better financial reward from writing fantasy, crime or anything that’s sold at an airport.
No, it should be for the love of the genre, right?
I think it’s important to explore a possible future without ignoring the present or the past; to show what can happen if things progress down a certain path. Or put another way: to describe a future not in isolation but at least have some resonance with today. For example, in a far future war my characters have to consider whether it is worth working with an old and deadly adversary in order to defeat something even worse. Being so far in the future there doesn’t have to be an obvious link to the present; it shouldn’t matter for the reader to see any specific connection to current events.
There is a space for alternate history/timelines, but I tend to avoid those, as counterfactuals are inherently problematic. In my case, bringing aliens into the mix can give a different perspective on universal themes; not sharing the same history they are unlikely to react as we would. I mean, how much of current strategic thinking is influenced by success or failures of the recent past? More to the point, what ultimately is sanctioned by politicians in response to their electorate’s [presumed] memory and lack of historical knowledge?
Anyway, back to the main theme. How many writers can honestly say they have kept true to their vision and not been swayed by some new successful breakthrough?
It’s never a good idea to plan your book according to some formula shown to bring financial success. I’d generally avoid anything where the author is described as the new [insert best selling name]. It might not be that they planned to emulate any particular author and just happened to be inspired by them – which is perfectly fine, if they can bring something fresh to the genre.
Publishers often prefer books with the potential for sequels – it keeps the reader hooked for the next one, guaranteeing further sales (in theory). Not so bad if the reader knows in advance that they’re buying the first in a series, and better if they know how many there will be. What can be irritating is when one book ends on a cliff hanger and you have to wait six months or more for the next, which is often more expensive, since the first is designed to hook as many readers as possible. I prefer a novel that is self-contained and can be read as a stand-alone, even if it means a bit of exposition of the previous.
Having these ‘best’ motives may seem high-minded and over-ambitious. (A lack of ambition in my writing is not some something I could ever be accused of.) After all, there’s nothing wrong with providing some good old escapism and entertainment.