Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of the accuracy of science-fiction is brought to you by science-fiction / fantasy author Paul Lell.
Science Fiction? Or Science Fact?
Another question I get asked a lot at conventions is something like, “How do you come up with the technology and gadgets in your books?”
Well, I read a lot, and I watch a few different programs on the science channel, and the learning channel that focus on physics, science, technology, and even philosophy. It’s pretty easy to just say, “Riana whipped out her super-duper-quantum-computing-mega-plasma-carbine” (okay, maybe not so easy, but I think you can divine my meaning here). But the thing to remember here is that even in science fiction (or maybe ~especially~ in science fiction) it is important to properly handle the suspension of the reader’s disbelief. If I can craft a world where the majority of the science is at the very least plausible, then it becomes much easier for me to pull off one major implausibility, like living beings in sub-space populating a virtual reality video game world.
How do I make my technology seem more plausible? Well, I stay abreast of what is going on in technology right now, and I read and listen to experts talk about what technology is going to look like in the next ten to fifty years. Knowing things like that, combined with an understanding of Moore’s law and some basics of human psychology allows me to sprinkle in a little bit of imagination and come up with some technology that is believable, and comprehensible to the reader.
To be fair, I think that last bit, comprehensible to the reader, is pretty significant. To make the story work right, these things need to be advanced, and they need to be amazing, but people still need to sort of ‘get’ them, at least on a basic level. It’s pretty easy for a writer who understands quantum computers to offer up fifty pages of exposition on how they function and what their benefits are, but what reader wants to sit through that? Is quantum computing the future of computers? Possibly, but most folks won’t care, unless the quantum computer is the focus of the story.
The simple idea is to take something we already know about, say genetic engineering, which today is done mostly by selective breeding, but we are beginning to understand that a more direct control may be available to us. Then we look at what science is telling us may be possible in fifty or so years. Things like regrowing severed limbs, or ‘printing’ replacement organs. Then we take a little bit of a leap and say, in another three hundred years, it’s very possible that we could load a model of our DNA into a computer, tweak it to produce whatever end result we want by use of a simple graphical user interface, then step into a machine and have it replicate those changes through every strand of DNA in our bodies.Similarly, it doesn’t really matter what kinds of engines my spaceships use, even though I know. What matters is that their use is understandable, and any technical details I use are adding to the story, not filling in space. It’s easier to say that a trip from Earth to Mars averaged about two weeks, which was a significant improvement over the six months it took in the early 21st century. I can even mention the technology and say the plasma drives on the Kestrel made the sleek new shuttle nearly twice as fast as the ion drives on most other private vessels. But I don’t necessarily need to go into details on how or why that might be.
Nascent science that is on everyone’s minds, being pushed out to the extremes of believability, but left sitting right there on the edge where folks can still see it from where they’re standing now.
I love technology. Thank you, Paul!
Paul Lell is a Science Fiction writer and publisher, best known for his series, ‘The Keys of Kalijor’ which can be found on all major eReaders and at all major online booksellers.
You can read more about Paul Lell, his books, and his crazy life, at www.Kalijor.com.
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