Journey to the Stars: Discoveries Shaping Sci-fi

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One of the joys of writing Science Fiction is how quickly tomorrow’s technology can surpass a writer’s imagination. Computers the size of your palm? Done. Glasses that help you see 3-D worlds? Done. Real Pokémon lurking in your backyard? Well, sort of. And 30 years ago, no one really expected those inventions to become reality in their lifetime.

So what does that mean for a science fiction writer? Should we all retreat to fantasy? No!

Fiction should transport a reader to whatever world the story is set in, but science fiction should cause a reader to enter a world of belief in things-that-could-be, and perhaps even inspire its readers to pursue science “in the real world.” Not necessarily as a career, but a way to make what seems complex and difficult fascinating.

A Wrinkle in Time was the first fiction book I read as a kid that interested me in science as something other than a boring class with lots of homework. Science was suddenly part of the great mystery and the search for truth – and I was hooked.

There are still staples in science fiction that haven’t been replicated in our world, but every day scientists and visionaries are coming closer and closer to making dreams into reality. A recent article about an EM (electromagnetic) drive derailed some of the science I’d planned on for my science fiction story, but instead of being frustrated, it was exhilarating to know that as I write, real science is testing things I only imagined. And beyond how the science works, the very fact that scientists are testing such things today will influence the story’s development. These kinds of discoveries and challenges are what make writing science fiction so fun.

The Martian is a great example of incorporating (a lot) of science into a story without dragging it down into details. Yet there were new discoveries about the geography of Mars soon after the book made it to film!

Any writer who wants to incorporate real science into their story needs to be careful. You don’t have to be a scientist to write science fiction – but you definitely need to keep real science in mind when crafting your story. Your readers are going to be your harshest critics, finding the weak points in your theories and inventions, poking holes in how your world functions.

Depending on what kind of writer you are, that challenge could be invigorating or demoralizing. Make sure you know what types of challenges motivate you before diving into a story that’s going to be unraveled by the facts of reality. But don’t let that discourage you! On the contrary, the fact that we are constantly inventing and making new discoveries just proves that you shouldn’t limit your imagination when it comes to writing science fiction.

What do you think of the challenges – good or bad – in writing science fiction? Let me know in the comments!

Katie, signing off

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