Science Ideas

Writing science fiction is fun.  I know, I do it myself.  Having a degree in physics isn’t always a help, though, since the kind of stuff I wrote up in my thesis would take waaaay too much explication to put in a story.  It would be the mother of all expository lumps, and that would just be to explain why the photoelectric effect is wavelength-dependent.  (Just trust me on this, OK?)

So, you want to write sciency-type stuff in your story and you don’t have a science degree.  As I just showed, that can be an advantage–but you still have to find ideas somewhere.

Please, for the love of Ghu, don’t get your new cool science ideas from any publication that has classified ads or a byline involving the AP, Reuters, or BBC.  Bless their hearts, they try (sometimes) but they usually get it wrong or the editor hamfists the story to make it “fit”.  You need to go where the science geeks go to catch up on news, like PhysOrg.  Not only are these stories that usually haven’t hit the newswires yet (meaning you aren’t following an old trend) but the articles usually have links for more information *and* are written for non-specialists.  I would also avoid any site that mentions “chemtrails” if not IMMEDIATELY followed by the online equivalent of pointing and laughing.

Now, maybe you just need some background sciency-type stuff for your space opera.  That’s cool too.  For absolute beginners, I recommend the funny and painless Cartoon Guide to Physics.  (Warning!  Contains science puns.)  You can have a lot of fun if you understand basic momentum in a zero-gravity environment.  Beyond that it depends on what you want to do from there.  Something involving stars?  Learn about the star in our own backyard, the sun, in the history of the first solar astronomers.  Since it is written in terms of how *they* learned, it’s easy for non-specialists to learn it too.

So your space opera needs some technobabble about the New Space Drive that Empress Dooziflix is smuggling in her frilly undergarments (Yes, an entire space drive.  Don’t judge.  She’s big-boned!) You may want to read up on relativity as it is currently understood so you don’t use up the galaxy’s supply of handwavium.  (You do need to think of other sf writers, you know!)  I recommend the *highly* readable Kip Thorne and his Black Holes and Time Warps.  Sometimes you will need to toss out a rule for the demands of plot, but you should know *which* rules you are tossing.  Keeping some of the fun bits can cause handy plot issues and character dilemmas–if you keep relativistic time dilation in, for example, Empress Dooziflix might be late for her manicure (which starts a small war in the Oort sector).

Things that Make Me Grind My Teeth:

– Explosive decompression does not turn people into hamburger.  Dead, yes.  Bloody, most certainly.  But the body will be intact unless something solid goes through it.

– Humanoid Aliens:  Good grief, we have weirder critters right here on our own planet, and they evolved right next to us!  (Spiny echidna, anyone?  Manta ray?)  Ixnay on the green dancing girls.  And do I really have to explain why humans and aliens won’t be having sex with each other?

– Universal Translators: We don’t have a translator that works for the main languages on Earth–partly because of jolly idiomatic expressions, but also because some cultures don’t have WORDS for things other cultures find important.  Gaelic, for example, doesn’t have a word for “yes”.  You have to use an affirmative form of a verb to answer a question.  (“You see that?”  “I see.”)  English doesn’t have emphatic pronouns like Gaelic does.  (“Mise” = “ME!”)

-Alien Monocultures: We sure don’t have a monoculture on Earth, do we?  Look at it from *their* perspective.  They are bound to have different political parties, religious cults, fans of music groups, in-laws.  Or equivalent.

There’s more, but that’s another post…


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