View Full Version : How Scientific Is Your Science Fiction?
August 10th, 2007, 10:41 PM
Becaue Bethelamon had a good idea with his fantasy thread, I thought I'd pose a similar question for the SF crowd.
So - how much science do you put into your work? Readers of SF are often quite intelligent, especially these days where they can look up just about anything without having to leave the comfort of their office chair. Do you agonize of the little details about the biological implications of a fictional planet with only 0.95g? Or do you wing it and add in the details later if anyone calls you on it?
August 10th, 2007, 11:14 PM
I couldn't resist answering this question.
'The 13th Day of Christmas' is a novel about a first mission to Mars. I used research obtained from some fine folks down at JPL. Main character 'Anna Johnson' was based on real-life Canadian Chief Astronaut Julie Payette. She received a copy in hardback, and then other copies ended up in the John H Chapman Space Centre library. Before I wrote the book, I also downloaded more than 200 pages of Mars mission material obtained from NASA and went with 'DRM 13.0' as the mission plan used in the book. Science and research are very important to me. Once I get that, then I go for the drama.
If you don't do this...you start getting letters pointing out the obvious science flaws, which is embarrassing. :cool:
August 11th, 2007, 09:12 AM
When I can do it, I try to make it as scientific as possible. I'm having problems with my latest project where I'm trying to create two extraterrestrial species. We don't know much about what life elsewhere might be like, and it must be mostly speculation. However, I'm trying to make sure that the features and properties of these species make sense. I'm trying to make sure I know roughly how certain features evolved, and so on. Still, speculation.
When it comes to the rest, I'm trying to read up on all kinds of things, like the various worlds in our solar system where the story will take place, and propulsion, and possible future technologies... What will it be like to live on the Moon, what are the difficulties, the benefits, etc. Same with Mars and other worlds. Titan is a bit more difficult since we don't know as much about it. But, I try to find as much info as possible over at NASA and ESA, and many other space related sites. As for details, I've been reading transcripts of communication between ground control and the spacecraft, just to get that somewhat realistic...
August 11th, 2007, 09:35 AM
Sounds a bit like the extras on the dvd of Apollo 13. That stuff is amazing, all the interviews with the real astronauts and their families, and the ground crew.
Gravity. I'm obsessed with getting the gravity right, and getting things logical and realistic. I mean, tech is expensive, so even tho I have high tech stuff in my stories, not everyone can afford it. There's always lots of poor people making do in my stories. And dirt and grunge. I like dirt, grunge and poverty. Life always has lots of dirt, grunge and poverty. In the past, now and in the future.
I don't write long explanations about propulsion systems but I will write about things that affect the characters like ice on the fuel cells or the way the sunlight reflects off the many panels of the cooling system etc. Enough for people with any idea of futuristic propulsion systems or hull design to know which direction my tech might be going, and enough not to bore the people who don't care. It'd probably date a story if I committed too far into one kind of technology... altho the old Tachyons are standing the test of time. I got sad when the spinny thing on the Enterprise stopped spinning tho... especially given the very obvious gravity!
August 11th, 2007, 09:57 PM
I use a fair amount of real science in my stuff, mostly because I'm well read in science. (I would suggest anything my Freeman Dyson BTW) But I won't limit the story with what I know. I also know technology is not concrete, things are changing all the time. Stuff they said would take a decade two years ago are happening now. Humankind has an amazing talent for finding ways around barriers.
That being said, I leave most of my technical notes in the notebook. Stories are about persons. I've seen authors spend pages upon pages explaining how their technology works, and the advantages and pitfalls of it. If a romantic novelist spent that much time explaining how a modern car works, the poor girl driving it would end up as an old maid.
August 12th, 2007, 02:39 AM
I agree that a novel can be killed by packing in too much technical detail - it slows the pace and turns it into more of a textbook. But it can also be killed by using sloppy science or being too vague over a technical point of vital importance to the plot. How much science to put in is a judgment call and will very much depend on the story. But one thing is for sure - whatever you do put in, make sure it's accurate (or, if it's currently impossible, make it sound realistic).
Incidentally, that applies to technical details in all kinds of fiction, not just SF. I once read a novel which including some scenes with people in the British Army. Now I've never been in the army and I'm not an expert on it, but I knew enough to recognise that the author had got it wrong. And when that happens, the story loses credibility. So do your research!
My first novel, The Foresight War, is about an alternate WW2 and I spent a huge amount of time researching people, places and events, because I knew that the WW2 buffs would tear the book to pieces if I got something wrong. That was rather exceptional, though (and not an exercise I'd care to repeat - too much hard work!).
August 12th, 2007, 03:34 AM
I read a future techno thriller which kept confusing virus and bacteria. D'oh. AND they'd sent it to a SF mag for review... nup, might get away with it with the thriller crowd but the SF readers are gonna be wondering who let the author get away with not knowing the difference. :mad:
It was someone older and multipublished and very well known... I had to give him a bad review in defence of intelligent readers with a passing knowledge of science. I hate doing bad reviews and will normally send the book back to the mag but then he kept going on about the female sidekick using her boobs to distract the bad guys so I figured he deserved it. :D
August 13th, 2007, 12:06 PM
Too much science bores me.
I love science, don't get me wrong. But I hate it clogging up my fiction. I love stories about people. Everything else is just stage dressing.
Given, sometimes it can be an impressive stage. Matthew Stover's Heroes Die setting for instance. But the setting doesn't outshine the characters, which is very important.
Firefly is a good example for the kind of things I go for in my stories. It's got a good world there, and it's capable of great depth, but we don't go on and on and on hearing about it, the focus is the characters.
That said, as a writer, you should always get your facts straight. For instance, I'm writing a post-apocalypse story that takes place 50 years after nuclear bombs wipe out the planet. My story isn't really about nuclear bombs though, and not one is seen in the book itself. But I still did my research, learning as much as I can about nuclear radiation and the effects of fallout and basically anything I can soak up. Not because I intend to go into great detail, but so that when I mention something in passing, I won't sound like an idiot.
I think the best science fiction follows this principle. Even when it comes to stories that focus on speculative technology or aliens and stuff. As a writer, you need to know everything there is to know about the subject you're writing about, but don't lecture your readers.
August 13th, 2007, 05:48 PM
I don't know if it's possible to know everything there is to know about any given subject. Do the research and use the information when it helps move the story ahead. The story is not about the science.
But I like your principle: Don't sound like an idiot. That one can be adapted to many many situations.
August 13th, 2007, 09:08 PM
I like Shane's principle, too. Do your research, but don't write a frickin' dissertation. Only bring in the facts you need to move the story along.
I'm the type who favors "soft" SF. I don't want to get bogged down with the technical details and if my charas aren't particularly involved in that arena, there isn't much call for it in the story. Let's just hope I never do something on the level of confusing viruses and bacteria. >_<
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