Thursday, June 23, 2011

Putting the Science in Science Fiction: Part 2

[Just discovered my day for posting is June 28. So drop by then for the last in this series. And I apologize to Arlene Webb whose day this is. Scroll down and you will find an excellent, fun article by her on writing from different points of view.]

One of the interesting things about science fiction, especially near future science fiction, is how quickly it becomes fact. This is due in part to the awareness science fiction writers have of scientific developments before they are put to practical use or while they are still in the experimental stages.

Sometimes what you set in the future can appear before or shortly after you finish the book. This happened to me with Dark Side of the Moon. (By the way, this is on sale today for $1.99) I read about someone suggesting that publish-on-demand technology could be put into a compact machine and placed in airports or other public places as a book vending machine. At the time it was just in the thinking stage. So, I included the Bookvender 3000 in my story. By the time the book was published, the Espresso book vending machine had already made its appearance.

Was I prophetic? No. I was just reading the research and made a reasonable extrapolation. The same with the “comp-pads” in my story. I figured that smartphone technology and computers would eventually merge. So, I “created” the concept of a “comp-pad” a thin computer that could access the lunar equivalent of the internet, beam materials back and forth between individuals and act as a library for ebooks. Again, no prophecy involved, just watching trends and imagining where they might take us.

You can find tons of ideas for your stories by reading science blogs and journals. First, you can find ideas for technology to include in your stories. I read about NASA exploring the use of balloons  to loft satellites into the stratosphere where their rockets would fire. This would save tons of fuel. So, I used the idea for my transport system on Carolyn's first leg of her journey to the moon. Now, will something like that come about? I don't know. But I do know it was a more interesting way to get her off world than a traditional rocket, and it could be feasible someday.

You can also get ideas for entire stories from scientific reading or watching science based documentaries like Nova. For instance, maybe you see a scientist speculating about what the future would look like when the oil runs out. You could build a story in that kind of world. I read a philosophical debate between medical ethicists about whether or not clones had souls. That was the genesis of my story Parmenter's Wager.

So, where do you go for this type of information? We'll talk about that in our next installment. However, in the meantime here's a little “assignment” for you. (Hey, what good is a writers conference without an assignment or two.)

One of my favorite places for inspiration is The New Scientist, a publication out of the UK. They always seem to have interesting, cutting edge research that is written in an easy to understand manner. I've gotten a lot of ideas from their pages. The URL for their site is .

Here's your mission (should you choose to accept it). Go to the site and browse around. Read some of the articles and try to come up with three ideas you could use in a science fiction story or an idea or two for stories that came to mind while reading. They don't have to be good ideas. At this point you are just brainstorming. Feel free to share your ideas here.

1 comment:

Cellophane Queen said...

23 looks a lot like 28, so don't feel bad.

I'll be on pins-n-needles for the last part.