Weird But True!

How much science should there be in Science Fiction?

While I was carrying out my research I would regale my mother with such truths as lichens are symbiotic, and purple plants grow better in the jungle where there is less light.

Now as I near publication of my first novel, and have turned my attention to book 2, I am again in the throes of scientific research. “Why?” you may ask. My answer is a question: How much science should there be in science fiction?

How much does a reader like? How much should be fact based but stretched? In my own opinion as not only a writer but also a reader of science fiction, we are limited by two things when it comes to how far you can go. The limit of our knowledge, and the limit of our imagination.

Before I started this article, I googled “How much science should there be in Science Fiction?”, and came up with an article from Gizmodo, which argued that there should be only as much as is needed… based on the iceberg theory – that readers don’t want to read a text book, but a novel. I tend to agree but for other reasons too.

My research today could be surpassed by the knowledge of tomorrow. By doing the research, and then using a little imagination, and provided the facts are consistent, then the science fiction book of today could be the future of tomorrow, rather than a laughter provoking embarrassment. Think of those stories of Mars by the late great scifi authors of the past, where the Martians swarmed out of the great canals.

So, is that not what those authors did? They took the knowledge that there is life on Earth, the knowledge of the great creases and crevices of Mars and applied imagination. Did they imagine big enough, or were they trapped by their own scientific backgrounds. As Asimov himself would say, he wasn’t a great futurist (I might beg to differ on his robot series).

My mother often says to me “An engineer is a scientist plus a fudge factor”, my father, an engineer would shake his head. I, also an engineer, would call it a safety factor, but the same thought applies to imagination. Take the ideas of the Mars canals, but multiply by imagination – set it in the future as some of the great modern sci-fi writers have done, a human race taking advantage of what might or might not be available on that puzzling planet. Better still, take what we see in our own solar system and translate it to a galaxy far away. Welcome to Larry Niven’s universe.

Of course I never take my own advice, and my story might still be an embarrassment, but I hope it wont go out of date any time soon. That said… science has a way of surprising you, and catching up in fits and starts. The story might still be an embarrassment but not because it is out of date I hope!

5 thoughts on “Weird But True!”

    1. There a quite a lot of things that can date a story quickly, for example, popular artists who don’t have longevity with a wide audience – you might get away with reference to the Beetles but not perhaps a one hit wonder. Similarly, referencing recent news, unless its big and will stick in peoples minds, you could reference COVID-19 for example, but you might not reference a particular criminal case unless it was international. You can invent reference points in Sci-Fi – I reference “the Great Fall” in Alien a la Carte, but its purely fictional. Less likely to date that way!

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