Science Fiction as Burlesque

I had a question from a friend who is a fan of Suvi, and it got me to thinking that other people probably had the same question/observation.

He was reading (re-reading, again) The Librarian, and the thing that jumped out at him was how much detail I left out of the middle, and how the end just kind of dangled instead of being a long, detailed, harrowing-of-the-shire kind of ending.

That was intentional, by the way.

This is important because roughly half the people who read Librarian love it and about half hate it. For those who don’t like it (and I have gotten a LOT of one-star reviews), the general comment is that I don’t go into another couple hundred pages about Doyle setting the forest on fire, or any possible wars with the locals, the whole barbarian-princess-seducing-the-Gods-to-bear-a-demigod/hero-son, etc. And then I have the audacity to talk about what Doyle and Piper will do when they get home, but not actually show all the details necessary to loft the library into orbit.

For my friend, that was what he liked about the story. He could play all sorts of “what if?” games with himself, letting his imagination run wild about the various aspects, and thinking about how things might have unfolded, or failed, or whatever, without me ever forcing him to have only one, canonical, solution. He got to think about those bronze-age barbarians in their little hill fort and wonder what they were like, or how they might have responded to the Gods themselves coming down and starting a new creation myth cycle.

For me, it sums up the best kinds of Science Fiction, the kind that has a strong element of burlesque to it.  For those of you who have never been to a burlesque show, you have a dancer up on stage, generally in some extremely suggestive costume that is well-matched to the music that will start up. (Generally, the dancers will be female, but not always. They will also come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, all the better to entertain you.)

As the music plays, the dancer will slowly move about, allowing the entire audience to get a good view (I’ll use her from here on in, but I’ve seen some really good male dancers as well) of her body, including her sides and back. I like backs.  I prefer a woman with good muscle tone in her back and bottom, and while most burlesque dancers tend to be a little more fleshy than I like, but they are almost always good dancers and emotive performers.

So as the song plays, she will slowly disrobe, one piece at a time: Gloves, shoes, stockings, outer top, skirt, etc. Generally, she will get down to a g-string and a brassiere. The last big reveal will generally involve her turning her back to the audience again, and unhooking the back while holding the front in place, playfully teasing the audience until she finally tosses the top to one side to reveal silver-dollar-sized (and frequently tasseled) “pasties” that cover up all color.  (It is a curious aspect of old laws in this country that made it illegal to display those parts specifically covered by the g-string, or the nipples.)

But at the end, you have been entertained. And yet, you have not seen “everything” she has to offer. She had shown you most of it, but left a good chunk (the most “exciting” parts, if you will) to the imagination. If she is a very good dancer (emotive in a charismatic way, establishing that perfect harmonic with the audience), they won’t care. And they can always imagine the rest, filling in the good parts.

Science fiction should aspire to that same level of artistic performance. Give them a good build-up. Tease them with ever-more-details and sensory inputs. Bring them right up to the edge before pushing them over. But never give away all the goods. Always hold something back from the show.

In The Librarian, we know what will happen, because Doyle has threatened it. But we don’t know exactly how it worked. Only that it did. We know that several months passed while they dig up the facility. We can imagine the problems they ran into, barely-past-space-flight-barbarians trying to understand a fusion reactor well enough to shut it down properly, dismantle it, and transport it home so they could suddenly bring their entire civilization up a level.

There were arguments, threats, pressure, despair, and victory. We know that Doyle and Piper managed it. But we don’t know how. We have to think about it. We have to put ourselves in that exact situation and ask, “How do I think Doyle would have done it? How would I have done it? Could I have succeeded?”

We know they succeeded, because the story Greater Than The Gods Intended takes place later, and contains interesting new technologies that make Doyle look like a wizard. Suvi helped design those systems. We know more about the universe because of Henri Baudin and Jessica Keller.

But I never show everything. There is always something held back, tastefully covered up at the end of the song, because I (at least I, the writer) want my audience to engage their own imagination and fill in some of those details in a way that makes them happy.

For those readers that just flat disliked the story, I’m sorry. It’s one that puts a smile on my face because it isn’t about fighting barbarians in the galactic hinterlands. It is about two people trying to overcome a lifetime of distrust about the other.

Doyle’s been attacked by rogue Sentience facilities. Suvi was trapped here by the fall of galactic civilization, and is afraid that she’s going to be dismantled and abandoned.

They must learn how to work with someone that might be the enemy, to accomplish something far greater than they dreamed might be possible. But the burlesque is what makes Librarian  work. I don’t want to go into several hundred pages of detail about how.

And hopefully, you are interested in letting your own flights of fancy roam.

shade and sweet water,