View Full Version : SF writers: where do you get your science?

07-27-2005, 03:08 AM
I recently re-subscribed to Science News (the weekly news magazine), which I used to love because it seemed to be more up on current scientific study and findings than montly mags.

Does anyone else who writes science fiction have other sources to share for the science you base your stories on?

07-27-2005, 03:24 AM
Discover Magazine, books by Jared Diamond, and various news articles linked to on slashdot.

07-27-2005, 04:58 AM
The most useful reference book I've ever had is The Science In Science Fiction which dissects in sometimes painful detail where many s.f. writers get it wrong.

This one book pretty much wrecks the contention that the differences between s.f. and fantasy are negligble.

07-27-2005, 10:33 AM
I love Science News (also available online (http://www.sciencenews.org/)), and have been a subscriber for more than a decade. I also take Scientific American and read every science article in the newspaper and other periodicals.

I attend any science lecture I can make it to (even attended a lecture by Stephen Hawking, once). I buy books on science that I can barely understand, mainly because I go nuts over things scientific. I make my spouse crazy by tuning the TV to the NASA channel and leaving it there. (If you haven't watched the NASA channel, you're missing out on one of life's great pleasures.)

I retook college physics and chemistry courses till my math skills caused me to drop so far behind it wasn't fun anymore. But I did make friends with the professors, well enough that they put up with an occasional call asking about the quickest orbit to Mars and what fuel requirements are necessary. For one WIP, my friend the physicist suggested I invent some fuel made of aluminum (it releases immense energy when oxidized in the right environment) and came up with Poly-aluminum nitrate. I passed that one by the chemist and got a smile and a nod, and the comment, "It should work." Now all I need to find is a lunar geologist to help me find a source of aluminum on the moon.

07-27-2005, 06:08 PM
How cool Pthom! A while back, I took a course in anthropological genetics which turned me on to the idea of genetic manipulation of ancient DNA. Currently I'm trying to build a story on that, but I don't know anyone in those fields so I have to read, read, read. I didn't think to look for lectures and classes to attend. What a grand idea!

07-27-2005, 10:37 PM
hey, PT, my cousin is a geologist for NASA. no, seriously, she is. i want to say she did some work on the mars thing several years back. does lectures all over the world, that kind of thing.

i've never been a big science-oriented type of person, so i'm definitely not a hard science writer. whatever theory i could come up with would be pretty easily beaten. that's not to say i don't research at all, but there is no degree in quantum physics looming in my future. chemistry, astrogeography, mathematics... not my thing, but i do pick up reference books when i go to the book fairs if they're laying around. i don't know how many 'how things work'-type books i've got. there's usually a scientific basis for the things i do, just not described down to minute detail.

i find some scientific mags interesting, just not so much to get a subscription. you'll see me flipping through 'the skeptical inquirer' before 'science today.' :) when i do research on the net for anything, i make sure it's from a reputable source, not just the word of what someone says on a MB or from a site that has the slightest hint of having an agenda (i tend to be wary of a lot of 'institutes' which seem to only exist online, lol). you otherwise probably won't see me doing stories about nanobots without having a basic understanding of how they work. nothing kills a story faster for me than technology that even *i* can debunk, meaning there is no real technology there, lol.

07-28-2005, 12:28 AM
I could never write hard SF. I'm not technical enough, and neither do I have a science-related degree in my future. I've always been interested in science, though, and I find pleasure in reading Science News and Discover and so forth. But even soft SF needs to have plausible science underneath, even if the science is never explored in the story. If a story takes place on a planet without a nearby star, some of us need to know how life there is possible before we could suspend disbelief for the sake of the story. For my ancient DNA story, I won't pretend to know all about genetics, but if I know enough to lay a plausible foundation, I stand a better chance of success with it than if the underlying science is utterly ridiculous to someone even remotely in-the-know.

The same is true of fantasy based on a land similar to ancient England, Rome, China, etc. The writer need not be an expert, but he has to do some research to lay a plausible foundation for the technology, dress, language, diet, etc.

07-28-2005, 05:21 AM
Can anyone tell, from my scattered posts today, that I really don't want to focus on my writing?

About the science - I tend to haunt the library. I look at new books in, and have a few favourite dewey numbers that I check up on. I like readable books by experts in the subject. Magazine articles are fine, but they're kind of blink and you miss it. Good science books, on the other hand, take the time to take you by the hand and lead you through the puzzle.

Also, I try not to get too hung up on the science, in the sense of letting it limit imagination. Boy, I sound pretentious.

Gotta go,


08-03-2005, 12:36 PM
I'm working on my Geology degree right now. Since I intend for the bulk of my hard SF to center around paleontology, I think I'm taking the right path. I always wanted to be a paleontologist, being a writer came later. Too bad I don't have a lucrative future to look forward to.

08-03-2005, 07:01 PM
If you can find a copy, 1001 things everyone should know about science. Some of it is out dated but I makes a good spring board for any area of science.

08-04-2005, 04:32 AM
I get a lot of my ideas from Aviation Week & Space Technology, and occasionally mags like Popular Science or Discovery. Any of them might have some little bit about some project, like a mag-lev gun, or problems with the ion drive on DS1, or some technology someone has gotten a patent for, and I just extrapolate the idea into what it might be like in practice in 100 years or so.

08-04-2005, 04:34 PM
I get a lot of my ideas from Aviation Week & Space Technology, and occasionally mags like Popular Science or Discovery. Any of them might have some little bit about some project, like a mag-lev gun, or problems with the ion drive on DS1, or some technology someone has gotten a patent for, and I just extrapolate the idea into what it might be like in practice in 100 years or so.

That's exactly what science-fiction writing is all about...by taking that approach, you're way ahead of the game.

08-05-2005, 11:32 AM
I find the science fairly easy to acquire from many sources. Everything from science magazines to textbooks are easy to get, and I live on the NASA and JPL websites. The math is something else again. To fully understand most hard sciences, you really need a fairly high level of math skill, and I find this comes much tougher.

08-05-2005, 12:18 PM
For paleontology I've hit and used the Beringa site, (I think it's called), but all science related problems can be found on the internet, everywhere. I also belong to the Dinosaur Mailing List where thousands of scientists hang out.


08-05-2005, 01:54 PM
From all kinds of sources on the web, magazines and books. NASA, ESA, space.com, and similar, NewScientist, Scientific American, and lots of books on various subjects, both to get new ideas as well as understand how some ideas could work out, if at all.

08-05-2005, 08:12 PM
Books, magazines, some (but very little) from television, specific research on the Internet. I also read a lot of history, the better to project the history of the future.

Mike Coombes
08-16-2005, 04:42 AM
I try to avoid the inclusion of science when I write SF. I like my stories to be about people, not techy-stuff.

08-16-2005, 05:47 AM
I try to avoid the inclusion of science when I write SF. I like my stories to be about people, not techy-stuff.

Well, then you're not writing science-fiction, are you?

If you write a mystery story, do you avoid the inclusion of how the mystery was solved?

I don't think you understand the form.

08-16-2005, 06:37 AM
University libraries are a great place to do research. The university I'm attending has a whole aisle dedicated to journals of vertebrate paleontology! I'm going to be spending more hours than is probably healthy there this winter researching for my next novella.

08-17-2005, 07:13 PM
The Internet is the best place to get any news about the latest sciences. Just enter what particular topic your interested in Google and sift through the info - or go to sciencedaily.com.

When I write about scientific stuff, I want to make sure that it's plausible. Of course, having an engineering degree (as well as having worked in many scientific disciplines) helps.

That's my gripe about most of the movies and sci-fi fantasy books; things just "happen" for no reason. You can't buffalo physics or chemistry.

08-17-2005, 08:04 PM
Amen for NASA-JPL's website. Amen for Popular Science, (their articles usually refer to people whose research you can look up elsewhere). Amen for the newspaper (ditto). Amen for the gadget mags. (You can extrapolate from them.) And Amen for my good friend who has enough math and engineering background to say "J, you have lost your crazy mind if you think that this [gadget, ship, planet] is possible, much less probable. You need to change it like so. . ."

Amen to all of them because we all remember "Integral Trees", right?