Posit your Sorceries, Oh Human, and Unfurl Thy Universe
Posted by aahabershaw
I came across a post on the Facebook Page of Stupefying Stories the other day that got me thinking. The editor, Bruce Bethke, made the following statement:
Why it’s so hard to sell me computer-related SF:We see a lot of stories that revolve around human/computer|AI interactions and that seem to have fallen out of time warps from the early 1950s, or else about “the Net” that seem to have fallen through similar time warps from the 1980s.My old college roommate went on to do post-doc work in A.I. and his subroutines are now on the surface of Mars inside Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity. Meanwhile, the linked article is the sort of thing I deal with every day in my day job.If you want to sell me a computer-related SF story, forget Clarke’s computers and Asimov’s robots, try to become conversant enough with the current state of the art to write something at least slightly ahead of it, and for Deep Thought’s sake, no more rewrites of Kurt Vonnegut’s “EPICAC.”
Mr. Bethke makes an important point. Science Fiction is a moving genre, ever-changing. As technology marches ‘forward’ (though we must be careful in discussions of technological development as linear), the fiction that explores the reaches of our scientific potentials must keep pace. This is something of a challenge, as you might imagine, particularly if you are not a scientist or engineer by trade (such as I am not). I, personally, have the advantage of a robust liberal arts education, and thus am conversant (though not necessarily fluent) in most fields. Still, research and legwork must be done to achieve technical authenticity in works of science fiction.
Well, I’m going to put forward a ‘yes and no’ answer here. In the first case, if you want to write any kind of fiction and do it well, you need to read widely in your genre (and beyond) to see what has been done and be able to take it a new direction. That’s fairly obvious and not really under discussion here. Let’s focus, instead, on the idea of technical authenticity within the context of science fiction.
There is a danger in reading and evaluating scifi where you wind up saying to yourself ‘that’s totally unrealistic’ and it knocks you out of the story. The more you know about a topic, the more particular you become in an area of scientific and engineering lore, the smaller and smaller the scope of the science fiction you will tolerate becomes. What ‘can be done’ in science becomes the shackles which bind your own writing. Science fiction, though, exists in the peculiar position of needing to look past the ‘write what you know’ thing and voyage into the totally unknown. Granted, science is our only guideline in those wide, unexplored places, but we cannot let known science (or even theoretical science) wholly dictate our dreams. There is a point where ignoring or bending the rules becomes ridiculous, but there’s a lot of leeway before that happens.