Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More on science and science fiction

So, in response to Steph's ScienceOnline09 post which I linked earlier and with some trepidation, my responses:

Questions for Science Fiction Writers

* Why are you writing science fiction in particular? What does the science add?

I actually write very little science fiction these days. I am much more an author of fantasy. This is despite the fact that I am an occasional science educator married to a physicist...or is it? I truly love science and I work to make sure all the non-supernatural stuff in my books is as accurate to the real world as it can possibly be. I read several science magazines on an ongoing basis and keep a close eye on the world of science. And that in combination with quirks from my own personality, is in large part, why I write mostly fantasy.

The interstices where a non-scientist can write scientifically accurate, broad-scope, science fiction have contracted enormously in the past twenty years.

Many of the areas that I find most interesting in terms of story have reached a point where I don't find much that is written in them genuinely scientifically plausible. I'm not at all sold on the singularity. I find the idea of faster than light travel ever more implausible. Ditto serious extra-solar system travel. I still like aliens, but I don't see us interacting with them anytime soon, not physically at least. I've never bought time travel as a science trope, though I love magical time travel. Psionics? Nope. Etc.

Now, many writers can and do write perfectly reasonable workarounds for these issues, and I still enjoy reading them, but my ability to suspend disbelief doesn't extend far enough to actually write them. Certainly not at novel length, which is what I prefer to write. I don't know that that will hold forever, and if I find a fabulous SF idea that I can really buy into, I might well write an SF novel.

Yet another group of writers have found things in SF that really interest them that are fully scientifically plausible but that don't really hit my sweet spots in terms of what I want to write, and I must note that the ones who are doing this often have extensive science backgrounds.

I love science. I love science fiction. But for me as a writer they are sadly not two great tastes that taste great together.

On the other hand, I can and do try to make my fantasy as rigorous as possible and I very much approach creating worlds and magic systems from the point of view of someone who wants an internally consistent and theoretically robust system. My studies and work in science and science education have made me a much better writer of fantasy.

* What is your relationship to science? Have you studied or worked in it, or do you just find it cool? Do you have a favorite field?

I married into the family. At this point in time my wife is the chair of a physics department. When we met, she was a senior in high school planning on becoming a physics professor and I was a theater major in college who had always had an interest in science. We are very close and in many ways I shadowed her through grad school, helping to write papers, design research studies, and work on curricula.

My involvement was strong enough that I developed a close friendship and intellectual bond with her adviser that led to my own work in science education, writing and editing various curriculum projects in physical science. I have a broad field interest in science though my work in science education is most deeply rooted in basic physical science.

* How important is it to you that the science be right? What kind of resources do you use for accuracy?

For my own science fiction work, paralyzingly so. For what I get out of others, not so much. When I need to check accuracy I tap the rather large academic network of scientists that I've developed through my wife and my own work in science education as well as various online resources and an extensive personal science library.

* Are there any specific science or science fiction blogs you would recommend to interested readers or writers

I don't know that I have recommendations. The vast majority of science and science fiction blogs that have found their way onto my list got picked up because I know and like the people writing them rather than because of content. I think all of them have great content as well, but it's nothing like an objective judgment. Thinking in terms of science and science fiction as a crossover point I will say that you could do worse than to read Jay Lake's blog. He does a great job of aggregating cool links from both fields among other things.


Peggy said...

The interstices where a non-scientist can write scientifically accurate, broad-scope, science fiction have contracted enormously in the past twenty years.

I think it's interesting you say this, because I don't see that being true. Maybe it's because biology is my thing, rather than physics. At least in the biosciences a lot of doors have opened in the past 20 years scientifically. But it's true that a lot of the standard SF tropes - time travel, psionics, FTL travel - often seem like little more than magic with a thin veneer of technology.

Thanks for adding to the discussion!

Kelly McCullough said...

Yeah, the bio stuff really isn't my thing as a writer. I find the science itself fascinating reading, but it doesn't trip my writing inspiration triggers in any meaningful way.