06 October 2011


I've been an on-again, off-again reader of science fiction for half a century. Over time, I came to realize that the SF which most engaged me didn't necessarily feature unlikely technology or unrecognizable aliens 3000 years in the future. Rather, I am drawn to the power of the story, which revolves around complex, flawed characters I can care about, living lives and facing crises in settings where credible science (physics, evolution, psychology, cosmology) plays a central role in the movement of the narrative. "Credible science" is not limited to today's knowledge. It might feature elements which we don't grasp now, but to which we can see a reasonable bridge from today's tech. Near-light-speed travel in space, or time travel, or beings who've evolved through genetic mutation or genetic drift, for example. It's rather like someone from the 16th century writing a novel about today. All the details don't have to be perfectly foretold. But the changes must be understandable within the laws of physics, evolution, psychology, cosmology, etc.

With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that my favorite SF writers are themselves scientists (Gregory Benford, David Brin), or are intimately familiar with one or more fields in science (Arthur C. Clarke, Greg Bear). If you know the material, you have the tools with which to weave a decent story, provided you're also a decent storyteller, with an unfettered imagination and a gift for lateral thinking, sculpted and channeled by the writer's discipline into a tale with a message. Please note that many tools and technologies which were first envisioned by SF writers, have since become part of our daily lives.

"Good SF supplies a plausible, fully thought-out story of an alternative reality in which some sort of compelling innovation has taken place. A good SF universe has a coherence and internal logic that makes sense to scientists and engineers. Examples include Isaac Asimov's robots, Robert Heinlein's rocket ships, and William Gibson's cyberspace." That quote comes from a review of an essay by SF writer Neil Stephenson, who urges fiction writers to start collaborating with scientists in order to "move away from the idea that SF simply inspires new gadgets, and start thinking of SF as a narrative where science comes to have a larger meaning ~ a collective, human meaning beyond the lab."

You can read Stephenson's complete essay here. He propounds two theories for the relevance and utility of SF, and touches upon themes of "spanning the ages", "spaceborne civilizations", and "executing the big stuff". It's fun reading.

On a more visual note, the Triviagasm feature at the website io9 just ran a column which caught my eye ~ Greatest Random Out-of-Nowhere Deaths in Science Fiction and Fantasy, complete with an embedded film clip showing each one. I was particularly glad to see the surprise demise of Carolyn Fry in Pitch Black, and Wash in Serenity, make the list. Each was an intense story, and there was a genuine "Oh no, this can't be happening" when those characters bit the big one. The Warrior Woman in Road Warrior and Tasha Yar in Star Trek: The Next Generation were also "didn't see that coming" losses of sympathetic characters. Sigh.


  1. Hi, I discovered your beautiful blog recently.I'm French. Like you, I'm passionate by Sci-fi. Would you allow me to use the drawing which appears on your post of 6th of october 2011 ? Who's the author ? Is it copyright free ? Thanks so much for answering me. Roland (Dreamcatcher) rcomte1@free.fr

  2. Hi Roland,
    Thank you for your comments. Yes, by all means, please feel free to use any images on my blog. I obtain most of them through Google Images or Wikipedia, so I assume they are in the public domain. Peace,