Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

Words of Wonder: 
A Review of David Gerrold’s 
Worlds of Wonder

By Peggy Kurilla

Ó2002, Peggy Kurilla


Plenty of books purport to teach writing.  Only a few are actually written by professional novelists, and fewer still are written by Hugo and Nebula Award-winning speculative fiction authors.  Worlds of Wonder by David Gerrold (Writer’s Digest Books, 2001, ISBN 1/58297-007-6) falls into this last category.

I’ve been familiar with Gerrold’s writing since I was a kid watching Star Trek reruns: he wrote the ever-popular “The Trouble with Tribbles.”  In my teens, I discovered his novel When HARLIE Was One, and I’ve been an on-again, off-again fan of his work since.  So when I saw that he had written a book about writing science fiction and fantasy, I handed over $14.99 (plus tax) and settled in for a good long read.

The best advice I have for those who pick up this book is don’t drink while reading it.  Gerrold’s irreverent humor runs throughout the pages, and more than once I laughed out loud while reading it.

Worlds of Wonder concentrates on writing, leaving aside the business of finding an agent and/or getting published.  This allows plenty of room for some specific chapters that ordinary writing books don’t contain.  The best example of this is the chapter, “To Be or Naught to Be,” which contains a discussion of E-prime.  I was surprised to learn that E-prime is a version of the English language in which the verb to be is non-existent.  Gerrold wrote the entire chapter in E-prime as an illustrative example of the power of English when the wimpy to be is removed.  (I have not yet attempted such a thing, as you can see from the previous sentence.)

Another chapter covers using metric prose—prose that has the same types of rhythm as poetry.  Gerrold suggests using it to emphasize certain passages—without overtly emphasizing them.  He includes these chapters, he says, as examples of how to break out of the writing ruts that we all fall into sometimes.  Whenever he has tried something new, he says, he’s noticed a significant improvement in his writing.

Ever mindful of the differences between science fiction and fantasy, Gerrold delves into both genres deeply enough to give the reader (and future writer) a sense of what each entails.  He doesn’t just discuss world building; he discusses world building for the science fiction writer as well as building fantasy worlds.  Other topics covered specifically are the hero, building aliens, believability and bolognium, character transformation, theme, and style.  He also devotes an entire chapter to punch lines—not necessarily as the conclusion to a joke, although that is his emphasis.

Unlike most writers writing about writing, Gerrold does not fear to address sex scenes and love scenes—and, yes, they are different things.  Citing examples from his own work, he demonstrates that sex scenes are about more than sex, and love scenes don’t have to be about sex.  And he does it in language no worse than PG-13, so the book is appropriate for younger writers.

Perhaps what is most refreshing about this book is its laid back, relaxed approach to writing.  “Your first million words are for practice.  They don’t count.  Remember that.”  Since a million words is, by his estimation, roughly equal to ten novels, there is plenty of time to learn the art and craft of writing.

Besides being packed with useful information, Worlds of Wonder is a pleasure to read.  Each chapter is headed by a pithy summation of its contents, and more than one footnote adds a humorous annotation to the relatively dry topic he covers.

Gerrold ends his book with “Ten Pieces of Good Advice,” the last of which is worth repeating:  “Never eat anything larger than your lawyer.”

In short, even if you have no aspirations of ever writing—if all you want to do is enjoy reading speculative fiction—you will probably enjoy this look behind the scenes at one writer’s craft.  If you are an aspiring writer, there is a wealth of information waiting to be mined, and mined again—at least until you’ve completed your first million words.