Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Science Fiction and Real Science by Jennifer R. Povey

Science Fiction and Real Science

I've talked to quite a few people who think you have to be a scientist to write really good science fiction. Well, some of the top science fiction writers have indeed been scientists. Isaac Asimov was a chemist. The amazing editor Stanley Schmidt holds a PhD in physics.

So, does this mean that you shouldn't try to write science fiction without at least one degree in a science, ideally two or three? Not at all. I only have one undergraduate degree, and it's in archaeology. It's not even a B.S. in's a B.A. What's the trick to writing science fiction without a PhD hanging on your wall? Here are some tips.

1. Develop an understanding of the basic laws of physics. You don't need to have a formal training in physics, but your readers will catch you if you say there's no gravity in space, have green stars (without a very good supertech or other explanation) or think you can fly through a black hole.

2. Read science articles. I don't mean you have to read peer-reviewed journals, but look for popular science articles written by people who know what they are doing. Analog Science Fiction & Fact magazine runs at least two science articles an issue, specifically written for science fiction readers and writers. And, while outdated, any article by Isaac Asimov is worth reading - the man had a true genius for explaining scientific concepts in a manner the rest of us can understand.

3. Know what's being worked on now. At the very least you should check a news aggregator with a science section regularly. I've also stumbled across some great stories by following the right people on social media. First of all, you can get great ideas this way. Second of all, it helps keep you from going off in the wrong direction and making predictions that are proved wrong within a year of releasing your story.

4. Only include the science your story actually needs. This is absolutely the most important. Yes, there are people who write rigorous science fiction in which the story serves the science - and those are the ones with the multiple degrees, or at least who have spent a lot of time studying science. Gene Roddenberry once pointed out when working on "Star Trek" that the cowboy in the western does not stop the action to explain how his revolver worked. (Sadly, once Roddenberry was out of the picture, later Trek series did exactly that on numerous occasions). As long as you don't make actual factual errors (one of my embarrassing ones was not researching what Olympus Mon looks like - I owe my editor for catching that) then it is absolutely fine to gloss over how something works, especially when dealing with technology that hasn't been invented yet.

Good science fiction does require an awareness of how the world works. But it certainly doesn't need an advanced degree. (And all writing requires research. Trust me on that).

Jennifer R Povey - Information and Self Promotion 

Humanity fired first

First Contact. With aliens so strange and predatory that humans could only react with revulsion and primal rage. And so, humanity fired first. Now, the ky'iin are raiding the solar system. The potential key to mankind's salvation? An unlikely pair of diplomats. One, a brilliant young linguist from Mars with a profound social disorder. Through her autism, she sees the beauty within the ky’iin. The other, a ky’iin negotiator who looks beyond humanity’s violent actions to the potential within. Can they serve as the bridge to unite the two species and stop the Contact War? Or will war-mongering saboteurs destroy them before they can act?


Jennifer R. Povey is in her late thirties, and lives in Northern Virginia with her husband. She writes a variety of speculative fiction, whilst following current affairs and occasionally indulging in horse riding and role playing games. She has sold fiction to a number of markets including Analog, Digital Science Fiction, and Cosmos. Her first novel, Transpecial, was published by Musa Publishing in April, 2013.

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