07 June, 2011

Dojo Summer Sessions: It Was Never About...

I spend a lot of time worrying about making things as realistic and accurate as possible.  Tear my hair out about the science I don't know and the science that directly contradicts the direction the story wants to go.

So it's a bit of a relief to read something like this:
It was never about how accurate the science was in science fiction.

It’s about the wonder and excitement of the unknown. It’s about the attitude of characters like Spock and Data, how they attacked problems head on and came up with creative solutions. It’s even about building a interdimensional portal in your basement. That’s what inspired me to want to become a scientist. And maybe this means we’ll never have warp drive or transporters like they have on the Enterprise. But we’ll create something better.
And no, that's not a writer apologizing for being a complete ignoramus who just can't be bothered to get the science right.  It's written by a scientist in a post entitled "How Science Fiction Made Me Want to Be a Scientist."

So how did a lot of dreadfully inaccurate science lead a kid to grow up to be a really real scientist?

Because science fiction isn't just about science.  It's about possibilities, no matter how far-fetched.  It's about characters using the science of their story worlds (even the science the writers just made up on the spot) to discover, to overcome, to do really awesome shit.  Science fiction doesn't need 100% accurate science to work.  It needs internal consistency, and an enormous sense of wonder, and strange new worlds (or strange this world, for that matter).  It's about asking "what if?" and spinning out the implications.  It's not afraid to hit the really hard issues head-on.  Creatively, even.  It's about doing impossible things.

And it's about people.  At core, they're what matter.  You can have the most deplorable sciency-sounding sillyness going on, and it won't matter as long as the people in the story are interesting and facing attention-grabbing situations.

Science is gorgeous, and I want to get as much as possible right.  A lot of science is far more fascinating than anything my imagination can dream up.  But I can't know everything.  I can't be an expert in every discipline.  There will be times when I'll have to fudge it or fake it.  There will be times when I'll have to say, "Look, that sort of thing doesn't happen in our universe, but it happens in theirs, m'kay?"  Times when I'll have to say, "It's only a story, and you should really just relax."  Times when I'll have to quote that essential line above: "It was never about how accurate the science was in science fiction."

All I have to do is write a ripping good tale with enough science to make it all work.  Just enough science to spark imagination, and get people exploring on their own, and make them wonder, and make them want to know, and inspire them, and fire them up and fire them off to a life they otherwise wouldn't have had.  Not all of my readers will become scientists, but I hope most of them will put the books down with a greater appreciation for it.  I hope they come away seeing the world through new eyes.  I hope at least a few, possibly many, wonder "What if...?" and go on to make advances in science that wouldn't have otherwise have happened, all because they wanted to find out what would happen if they tried to make my made-up science work in the real world.  I hope I inspire some folks to careers in science that have nothing to do with anything in my books, except for the fact they fell in love with science there.

No, it doesn't have to be accurate, not completely.  It just has to tell a ripping good tale.

And a good thing, too, because otherwise it would be impossible to write this stuff in the course of one human lifetime...


Anonymous said...


Chris Rhetts said...

Sense of wonder - that is, the ability to look up at the stars at night and be overcome by a burning desire to know what is there - is just about the entire attraction of science fiction.

It reminds me of a few lines from Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem, "Renascence":

The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky, --
No higher than the soul is high...

Ole Phat Stu said...

Good SFD may not need any science at all, Dana. Example? Arthur C.Clarke's 'The 9 billion names of God' :-)

Ann said...

Science changes all the time, nothing is set in stone. That's what makes it all so interesting - to look at old things with new ideas and come up with a different perspective. As long as what you present is consistent with your story that's all that matters.