Assignment: post your thoughts on the world or an artifact from your chosen “Women Destroy Science Fiction!” reading.
A Sci-fi World of Realism? The Storytelling and World Building of “#TrainFightTuesday” by Vanessa Torline
I am always interested in ways to construct a sci-fi scenario which is bizarre but at the same time evokes sympathetic feeling among readers by incorporating what is already happening in everyday life into the world building. One of the techniques that I rarely think of is an alternative format of storytelling. When I opened the Woman Destroy Science Fiction! and browsed the collection of stories at the table of contents, the title of #TrainFightTuesday instantly caught me with its format common to online social medias rather than to novels.
The content of the story is shown as an online discussion board with conversations happen on the timeline with threads between multiple users which is identical to what we can see on most digital forums of today. At the first glance I almost thought that I accidentally clicked into the comment and discussion panel of the story, until I found that the poster of the thread was describing an ongoing fight between people with superpower which he witnessed on his train ride.
Although the imaginative superpowers such as magnetic field and high-speed flying indicate that this is a fictional world, the storytelling format substitutes me into the mood of swiping through a social media platform. In reality, as this form of online conversation does not reveal much details of the context other than what directly told by posters, it creates a sense of distance and blurs the credibility of what the posters describe. On the other hand, when this sense of distance and absence of context details is implanted into a fictional world, it delivers an illusion of ‘this could be something happening at somewhere in this world’.
Another technique that Torline might intentionally used is to insert conversations that are unrelated to the main topic (the train fight), which imitates well how a real online discussion works. Details such as a user jumps into the thread with a random question and a user being blocked by inappropriate inputs resembles what most internet users have experienced.
After reading the story (thread), I started to wonder what is the core message Torline wants to deliver by constructing this sci-fi scenario. In contrast to the detailed imitation of the online thread, the sci-fi elements such as the superpower and fight seems to fall out of focus and work merely as a background of to attract reader in reading the thread. They can be replaced by a fist-to-fist fight between drunk men on the commuter train without changing the core of the story. If a sci-fi world has to be constructed based on technological progress, then the essential technology of this world is not superpower but social media which we already have in the real life. Although the topic of conversation in the story is purely fictional with bizarre elements, Torline build a world of realism by accurately depicting the social and economic paradigms brought by social medias such as pervasive implantation of advertisements triggered by keywords and instant social networks with interactions happen at any time. In addition, it also reveals details of contemporary life such as long-distance commuting under suburbanization from the conversation. In essence, a story in a sci-fi world does not have to focus on ‘problems of future’. It can rather utilize the world as an attractive background for a theme in the real world.