The Spaces Between Stars: The secret connection between crime fiction and science fictionS

Acclaimed science fiction and comics writer Warren Ellis just signed a two-book deal with Mulholland Books to publish two novels, starting with The Gun Machine in 2012. To celebrate, he explains why science fiction and crime fiction are the same.

My name's Warren Ellis. I'm mostly a science fiction writer. I'm sometimes also a crime writer. These are essentially the same thing.

Let me try and explain that.

I don't think HG Wells and Raymond Chandler ever met. I don't know that they would have had a lot to say to each other if they did. Perhaps Wells might have gloweringly reprimanded Chandler for being mean about his friend AA Milne's detective novel. Or perhaps he might have asked for a go on Chandler's wife, I don't know. But I like to imagine that an interlocuter bringing them together – perhaps in 1940, Wells' twilight and Chandler's emergence – would have explained why they should talk.

Top image: Cité interdite by Birdyphage on Flickr.

It was HG Wells, in large part, who made science fiction into social fiction. You can trace back the roots of that movement to Mary Shelley and beyond, but it was Wells who both concretised it and gave it common currency. Science fiction is nominally about the novum, the new thing that disrupts the world of the story. But THE INVISIBLE MAN is not about an invisibility process, just as THE TIME MACHINE is not really about a time machine. The great Wells fireworks were novels about the human condition, the sociopolitical space and the way Wells saw life being lived.

The Spaces Between Stars: The secret connection between crime fiction and science fictionS

In crime fiction, of course, the story is nominally about the crime: the disruptive event introduced into the world of the story. But THE BIG SLEEP isn't about a murder, and FAREWELL MY LOVELY isn't about a missing person. Chandler's great leap – and of course there were antecedents and even peers, but it's Chandler who is indelible – was to make crime fiction fully an expression of social fiction.

These became the dual tracks upon which our mediation of the 20th Century ran. Science fiction and crime fiction contextualised, explored and reported on rapidly changing and expanding modern conditions. And they did it in ways that spoke to the felt experiences of our lives, to our hopes and our fears, in ways that other fictions, or even other reportage, couldn't approach. Science fiction and crime fiction explained to us where we really are, and where we might be going.

So when I write science fiction I'm a crime writer, and when I write crime fiction I'm an sf writer. I'm talking about our lives, and the way I see the world. I'm writing about the new thing, the disruptive event that enters that world, its repercussions and the attempts to deal with it. But I'm talking about where I think I am today, and what I think it looks like.

The Spaces Between Stars: The secret connection between crime fiction and science fiction

In GUN MACHINE, I'm writing about a disruptive event: a small sealed Manhattan apartment filled with hundreds of guns, each one used in a single unsolved homicide. But what I'm talking about is money, the acquisition of power, the deals we make in the name of security, the unique soul-killing exhaustion that comes of caring too much for too long, and the faces madness take in our lives.

Also quite a lot of people get shot.

I just have to trust that the good people at Mulholland Books will catch me when I get confused and give my New York City police detective rocket pants and a ray gun.

This post by Warren Ellis originally appeared at the Mulholland Books blog. Warren Ellis is the award-winning creator of graphic novels such as Transmetropolitan, Fell, Ministry of Space and Planetary, and the author of Crooked Little Vein. The film Red, based on his graphic novel, was released in October 2010. He has written a number of graphic novels under option for film and TV. He is personally adapting his series of Gravelbgraphic novels into a screenplay for Legendary Pictures. He lives in south-east England.