Where Science Fact Meets Science Fiction

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that the Silly Robot has a special place in his memory banks and emotion chip for the Hard Sci Fi genre. Authors such as Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and John Scalzi permeate the way I think about science fiction and how it is written.

Lately I have ben frequenting io9.com, reading all sorts of interesting articles about all sorts of interesting things. The thing I love about io9 is their blending of science articles with a genuine love for science fiction. They intertwine sci fi into most of their articles about science, and do so in very informative and entertaining ways. I have gleaned several ideas for stories on their site, and I hope they continue to churn out content for years to come.

Creating Hard Science Fiction

Hard science fiction is special to me because science is a major part of the storyline. I have a degree in Agriculture, which basically means i have a degree in biology with a concentration on production, so being scientifically accurate is sort of ingrained into my being. I have scoured countless scientific journals for research facts, and doing so for fiction i write is commonplace. Weaving these facts into a work of fiction is accomplished in many different ways.

I love Arthur C. Clarke because of his use of science in his stories. They aren’t always the strongest plots, but the science is fascinating. I just have to keep reading and reading to find out what all of the gadgets do.

Heinlein tends to use science as a sociopolitical device in his stories. Artificial Intelligence running revolutions, exo suits driving a conquest, and Martian colonies causing a dramatic social revolution on Earth are a few ways he accomplishes this. Ideals are achieved through the use of technology and scientific proficiency.

Elements of Hard Science Fiction

HSF is usually associated with long paragraphs explaining tech and how it is used. John Scalzi has a fascinating few pages on his ‘skip’ drive in the novel Old Man’s War. And it actually adds a weird element to the story as he does it. It’s quite fascinating. And OMW is a really good book on top of it.

Most HSF stories take place in space, utilizing FTL propulsion and other theoretical technologies. The desire of the authors to stay scientifically relevant drives the universes their stories take place in. Some of them, Isaac Asimov comes to mind, even start a separate writing career in the non-fiction section of the bookstore. Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke were even brought into the newsroom for the Moon Landing in 1969. Science permeated these mens’ lives, driving them to write the fiction they are so renowned for.

How To Do It

So what if you just like writing about some guy who galavants around the galaxy with a laser gun saving pretty girls?

Then HSF probably isn’t for you.

But if you want to write it, remember a few of these things:

Science

It’s all based on a desire to stick to facts and accepted theories. Find a theme and go with it.

Speculation

Sticking to facts doesn’t mean you can’t draw conclusions based on them. Does your FTL drive move the ship or the space around it? How does time factor into your story? Are there sentient species on other planets? All of these, and more, can shape your story.

Silliness

Have fun. Reading some of the guys that are dead then switching to guys that came after them is sometimes disheartening. They think HSF means that everyone is totally and completely serious about everything and nobody laughs. Heinlein makes all sorts of jokes in his writing, and Arthur C. Clarke has an entire story about two British freight pilots sneaking the prince aboard their vessel without the captain finding out.

That’s why I like John Scalzi. He’s a throwback to those guys without being a copy. Go read his books.

To Infinity and Beyond

If you want to write HSF, become a researcher. A true student who learns and adapts. Have fun in the facts. And most of all, write good stories.

A Silly Robots Guide to Writing Sci Fi (Part 1): Research

Note: This is from a guest post on writehacked.com, you can see the original post here.

Over at sillyrobots.wordpress.com we have a saying:

Well not really, but I like to think we do…or something like that.

Anyway…I’m a writer like most of you. I write mostly science fiction short stories, but I have written a crappy novel as well. It’s fun, but also a lot of work. There’s the planning and the writing and the editing and all that stuff.

But before all of that is my favorite part:

Research!
And everybody said, “UGH!”
How can research be fun?!
I’m so glad you asked.
When I was in college, I spent several afternoons in a lab watching particles settle, measuring differences in mass after reactions, and reading journal articles detailing what other people had discovered.

But now I write Sci Fi so I don’t do that anymore. What I do…do…is read and watch a LOT of Science Fiction. I had a pretty good head start on this research thing, due to my avid fanboy status for most of my life, but jumping in is not that hard.

1. Watching Sci Fi

This may sound silly, but if you can’t visualize anything fantastical how will it get to the paper? Watching Science Fiction is a good way to see things, and understand how to describe your own ideas.

Let’s start with Battlestar Galactica. There are Vipers, Battlestars, Basestars, and Raiders just to name a few space vehicles. All of them do different things and have a different look. They draw on strengths of their operators, and strike different emotions into all who survey them.

If you have a universe whose inhabitants are at war and reliant on spacecraft, Galactica is a great place to get a feel for different vehicles.

Or maybe you need to understand how an ensemble cast will interact on a ship for long periods of time. Star Trek, Firefly, and again Battlestar Galactica could be helpful. (I swear I’m not a Galactica fan boy, it just keeps coming up.)

What about individual characters in Sci Fi? The Movie “Moon” starring Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey (and pretty much only Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey) is a great example of individual problems in a Science Fiction setting. Likewise, “Equilibrium” starring Christian Bale examines an individual crisis in the midst of dystopian bliss.

All of these things can translate into your brain and thus into your story. But it may take several hours of watching fantastic television. Such a task. Sigh.

2. Reading Sci Fi

No brainer for authors right?

What you read in the genre will define your voice in the genre. I tend to move my stories along with dialogue. Much like the giant box of comic books in my house. John Scalzi gives credit to Robert Heinlein for his writing style in the credits of his book ‘Old Man’s War’.

So who is your hero? Or heroes? Heroines?

You won’t know until you read.

Reading authors in other genres helps too; I’m sure Jules Verne had little to go on in the way of Sci Fi when he was writing. I enjoyed Nick’s novel, which is one of a few thrillers I’ve read in the past year, and I read several other non-fiction books as well.

Comic books are also an unsung resource for Sci Fi research. Many of the writers have written longer forms of fiction, and their voice comes through in both mediums. Joss Whedon is a writer who is very good at moving in between several forms of writing and keeping a similar voice.
Just remember that the more you read, the more you realize how others write. That will lead you down a path to finding your own voice.

3. Actual Scientific Research

Ok so I lied.

I do sometimes do actual scientific research. I try to read everything I can about robotics, flight, stealth technology, and other sciency wiencey things. I recently read an article about storing information within DNA. When I was in college I wrote several papers on urban agriculture, giving me a good idea of how people would garden on a space ship. I also enjoy watching NOVA and other science information programs like it.

Well there you have it. Just a few things that I do when researching for writing Sci Fi. Try them out and see if you get any results. I’ll be honest, step 1 is my favorite. My week consists of many hours of ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ right now. I read a quote one time (and I can’t find it again!) that said something to the effect of “…if you cut a science fiction fan you will find a science fiction writer…” I hold that to be true. I have never met someone who was a fan that did not have at least one idea for a story. So if I’m a huge fan, maybe I’ll have lots of ideas for stories.

And maybe you will too.

“Science fiction is the most important literature in the history of the world, because it’s the history of ideas, the history of our civilization birthing itself. …Science fiction is central to everything we’ve ever done, and people who make fun of science fiction writers don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Ray Bradbury