As a reader of many blogs, one of the things I hate is having to go back and forth between blog posts containing multiple parts. Therefore, I’ve decided to post Part II of Mike Hays’s Putting the “Science” in Science Fiction here, with Part I at the bottom! You can scroll down to read the first part.
Please tweet your excitement about this post, and comment below to win: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green or INCARCERON by Catherine Fisher. Winner of the Part I for ACROSS THE UNIVERSE and A MILLION SUNS by Beth Revis giveaway? Drum roll please… ticklingthemuse! Please send your mailing address and what you won to jennifer(at)georgiamcbride(dot)com.
And now, Part II of Mike Hays’s Putting the “Science” in Science Fiction. Enjoy!
Karina Fabian’s Six Rules of Worldbuilding (The Science Version).
1. Let the story determine how much you world build.
Use as much science as you feel necessary to explain and support the foundation of believable science fiction story. Use enough science background to support the story, but not so much science that it becomes an information dump and a disruption which pulls the reader away from the story.
2. Keep an internal logic
The science needs to make sense within the context of the story world. It’s okay to present a world of mutant humanoids that rise to power out of an abandoned drought-ravaged African desert environment if it makes reasonable sense. Perhaps their race has evolved chloroplast-like mitochondria to allow the transformation of solar energy directly into ATP energy to fuel their cellular functioning. The mutant humanoids possess a hybrid plant/mammal physiology that allows them to survive the harsh conditions. The science explanation becomes plausible and logical for the race; we have established a basic fundamental to how the mutant race can logically thrive and prosper in a desert where available food is at a premium.
3. Know how things work together
Make the science an integral part of the story and intertwine within the story. It should complement the story, not stand out like a sore thumb. In one of my favorite books, JURASSIC PARK, Michael Crichton does an exceptional job weaving the DNA and cloning molecular biology into the storyline as the visitors take a tour of the laboratory and the park. The scientific details unfold to reveal not only the science, but also the scientific flaws ignored by the park’s scientists just as the organization of the park unravels into chaos. It all works so perfectly together.
But, in the movie version of JURASSIC PARK, the same scene becomes an information dump with the cartoon DNA strand presenting the background science in a short film while the visitors watch from an amusement park-type ride. The science is forced and does not fit in well at all (maybe that’s why the visitors are locked into their seats for the ride).
4. Stay true to your world–or make the world true to your characters and story
Stay true to your SCIENCE–or make the SCIENCE true to your characters and story. A beautiful idea. A tattoo-across-your-forearm kind of an idea.
5. Check facts
Be sure your science is solid, even if it is fictional science. Be sure it is plausible, believable and logical. No matter what, know the science you have created and be consistent with it throughout the entire story.
6. Show your world
In Steven Gould’s short story, BUGS IN THE ARROYO, an excerpt from his novel 7th SIGMA, the main character must save a girl trapped in a sweltering desert amidst a swarm of metal eating, self-replicating, water-hating nano-robotic bugs who have taken over the southwestern United States. Gould does an exceptional job of incorporating and showing believable fictional science in science fiction. The science makes sense and the technological changes the citizens make in order to survive follow right in step. Good stuff.
Take home message; keep the SCIENCE in science fiction. Use the six rules as a guide to incorporate the science seamlessly and balanced into the story. The science should complement the story, not overloaded the story to a point of distraction. The science shouldn’t appear from thin air as a ‘deus ex machina’ solution to the main problem. Science drives technology and technology drives change, so never forget the science as a vital tool in the science fiction genre, our wonderful “literature of change”.
—–END PART II—–
A guest blog post by Mike Hays
The science fiction genre is hard to define. With its wide variety of sub-genres, pinning down an all-encompassing descriptor for the science fiction often turns into a “we’ll know what it is when we see it” type of thing. One of the better definitions of science fiction I have come across describes science fiction as the “literature of change”. Science drives technology and technology drives change, therefore, the “literature of change” descriptor fits almost perfectly for science fiction.
No matter which sub-genre of science fiction, it is important to have a solid foundation in science. After all, it is SCIENCE fiction. This doesn’t mean the science has to be dry, concise and 100% factual, though. That’s more for hard science; the professional, peer-reviewed journal article publishing science. A scientific foundation in sci-fi simply means the science must be solid and logical. It can be based purely on fact or totally on fictionalized science, but the science must be grounded in the logic of the story and not MacGyver science.
MacGyver science? That is when the science solution appears out of thin air, like in the old television show, MacGyver. Every week, the protagonist in the show would do something like stopping the bad guy from blowing up a nuclear power plant (with 0:01 seconds left on the timer, mind you) by building an electronic manual self-destruct function override switch from a paper clip, an evergreen air freshener, duct tape, a flashlight and a bologna sandwich found in the glove box of the custodial service truck abandoned in the nuclear facility’s parking lot.
The point is, the science can be factual, it can be made up, or it can be magical. But, the science cannot be carried around in a fanny pack only to be used in times of greatest need or when no other solution is apparent. No ‘deus ex machina’ solutions, please.
Karina Fabian, author of MIND OVER MIND and the Dragon Eye, P.I. series, teaches two excellent workshops on worldbuilding, Worldbuilding 101 and Worldbuilding 201. They are good courses which help a writer plan out the fundamental workings of a story. The principles Karina presents for worldbuilding translate extremely well to the use of science in science fiction.
“Worldbuilding done right brings interest, gives context, presents an image, draws in readers, and gives your characters room to grow and limits within which to operate. Done well, you can make flight of fancy and twists in logic that people will believe and adore…Done poorly, however, it can throw your reader out of a story.”
The golden ticket of Karina’s workshops is the list of her six rules of worldbuilding, which also adapt well to the use of science in science fiction. If we can build a successful fiction world by following these principles, we can also follow them to create a successful science-grounded fiction world.
–End of Part I–
Tune in next time for more from Mike Hays. Until then, please comment below, and share your thoughts on science fiction and its many sub-genres. Feel free to plug your favorite novels, TV shows or films. Tweet a link to this post and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Beth Revis’s ACROSS THE UNIVERSE and A MILLION SUNS. Paste a copy of your tweet below to be entered into the contest!
Thanks for reading. Part II will be posted in February. Be sure to sign up for notifications of new blog posts.
About Mike Hays
Mike Hays is a husband, a father of three, a lifelong Kansan and works as a molecular microbiologist. His debut middle grade historical fiction book, THE YOUNGER DAYS, is signed for a February 2012 release from MuseItUp Publishing. He enjoys reading in the science fiction genre and making up science fiction, mostly in short story form. Besides writing, he has been a strength and conditioning coach, a football coach, and a baseball coach. He has published three non-fiction football coaching articles, co-authored several scientific papers and is the co-inventor on two US patents. His former players hardly believe he can read anything without the aid of pictures, let alone write anything sounding halfway sensible.