Most of what I write is speculative fiction set in an Earth-like world, which means I can largely rely on what I know of how the world works and tweak it based upon my magic system. Easy peasy.
But I decided to write a story for a near-future science fiction contest. Set on Mars. And for the story I needed to understand how an object would behave in freefall on Mars. Turns out, not such an easy answer to find. I found all sorts of facts about atmospheric density and gravity and terminal velocity. But I still wasn’t sure at the end of the day whether what I thought I’d figured out from those numbers is really true.
And I know for a fact that people reading that story will know. Because they are scientist types. Me, the last time I cracked open a physics textbook was about eighteen years ago. So, odds that I got it right? About ten percent.
And, yes, I could’ve sought out an expert, but I didn’t have the time to do so and enter the contest. (Bad author!) I probably still will if the story loses this contest. (If it wins, then I’ve gotta assume I was actually right about my conclusions…) Because I like the core idea of the story and it really doesn’t matter for the core idea what the actual answer is.
But this did remind me of why I shouldn’t write sci-fi. At least not the type that is near enough to the future to rely on actual known facts.
(Oh, and I’m off adventuring for a bit. No computer for the next five days. I may go through withdrawal and have to track down an Internet cafe, but hopefully I survive with just my phone. Sad, really, how dependent I am. First time I went to Europe when I was 20 there were no Internet cafes and my friend and I kept in touch with the folks back home using a calling card and a payphone every few days. How quickly times have changed! And perhaps not for the better…)
Science fiction research is tough. One of the projects sitting on my back burner right now is sci fi, and I’m putting it off just for that reason.
Yeah, if this hadn’t had a deadline, I may have never felt confident enough in the science to submit the story.
All the advice I have seen on researching is to do a little then pick a vaguely plausible answer because:
(1) Even if a perfect answer exists the effort to find and comprehend the answer if you are unfamiliar with the area will take up time that could be spent on creativity;
(2) For every person who dislikes a story because an obscure detail does not match their expectations there are many who dislike a story because it reads more like a textbook than a ripping yarn.
I can see it would be a more difficult choice where the target readers are scientists; however they might not care if the science is not perfect if the plot is good. I certainly do not care that books and films about English lawyers are rarely similar to my experiences of appearing in court.
Good advice, too. I think the problem I had with this one is I knew enough about the other side of the story that the science answers changed what I wrote. (I know, that doesn’t make much sense…)
Usually, I write about people and where things are happening are secondary to what’s happening between the individuals, so I can gloss over the science side of it. (Or perhaps not and I just don’t know that yet.) But with this story it was about doing something on another planet, so relied very heavily on how those things might actually work.
Well, we’ll see if they like it, right? Perhaps I’m worrying for nothing.
BTW – you may have already seen it, but Tor UK is now open to unagented or direct submissions. Not sure if that’s of any interest to you, but thought I’d pass it along.
Thank you. I had missed Tor opening their books.
All I need to do now is turn my latest attempt at a novel into something worth submitting. Fortunately editing is easy, right? 🙂
Exactly! Should take a day or two at most. Haha.