Why read science fiction?
I'm pretty picky about the books that I read anymore, so I don't just pick up anything in the science fiction/fantasy section of my local bookstore. Anything I read must have decent characterization, an engaging plot, good writing... but all those things are general and apply to the non-sci-fi works I read too. So what is it about science fiction that keeps me reading (and writing!) it?
I think it boils down to the world creation. Science fiction, regardless of how close to the present day it is, builds a new world for me to learn about, explore and become comfortable with. While the story has to have all the other elements of good writing to keep me involved, it also has to be set in a universe with some interesting differences that I want to learn about.
This is all becoming clear to me as I continue to wrestle with my novel and what I need to do to improve it. As I worked through the different characters, I found a few holes in the world that I thought I'd completed. The more I've pressed, the more places I found that I don't entirely understand and know about myself. Even if not all this information comes through in the text, it just isn't acceptable to have those sorts of gaps.
It also has a bearing on the plot of the story. As I'm looking at sections that just don't seem to be working, one thing that I've identified is that large tracts of it could happen entirely outside the imaginary world that I'm trying to build. Along with just having some broken pacing and unnecessary detail, the mundane nature of those sections is a huge problem. People will be reading this book to be transported to another place, to dig into a lush, rich world that's different from their own. Failing to capitalize on those differences is dragging me down.
It's interesting too, because these are all things that I "know." I've read a lot of sci-fi, read a lot of writing about sci-fi, read a lot about writing fiction, and I could spew off these sorts of rules in my sleep. But when it comes to the page, it isn't always clear while you're in the thick of things exactly what's going on, what wrong turns your taking. Now that I see it, though, it'll get fixed and, hopefully, won't happen as badly next time!