1. A J Phillips
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    A J Phillips Active Member

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    How do you research for Sci-Fi?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by A J Phillips, Jul 10, 2015.

    I am working on my first novel, a sweeping sci-fi epic. Sci-fi eggheads are, to me, among the most intimidating of audiences to write for, as you will be reprimanded at the first sign of faltering authenticity. I want to create some original concepts for a future mega-city on Mars, but how do you go about researching things that haven't happened? Things such as the terra-forming of Mars. Things spanning both ends of the technology spectrum from communication, medicine, language and every day life 1000 years in the future all the way to future weapons and military, transportation, alien races, a new take on how faster than light travel is achieved, you name it. Things still shrouded in the cloak of theory and ambiguity. All in all my question is, how do you get the most out of research for science fiction, while staying true to the genre and not angering any fellow nerds?
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Google is your friend.
    Terraforming Mars
     
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  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Read nonfiction books on the subjects. Get ideas from the books. Follow up your ideas with more research. You can do the bulk of this research online ...the resources are massive. Just make sure the online sites you visit are reputable. Ask people who know the relevant stuff, like physics majors, etc. Find out the realities of terra-forming. Etc.

    There is no quick way to do this. You'll need to be prepared to dig, and dig hard. If you're concerned about authenticity as you write, see what you can do to create a group of people who are willing to advise you where you might be going wrong. You can punt your basic ideas to these people, and get their advice about how feasible it would be, and where you might go wrong.

    There are excellent how-to books out there concerned with writing Science Fiction. I believe Ben Bova wrote quite a few of them, specifically for writers, telling of the pitfalls and possibilities of certain scenarios. Of course science has moved on a bit since he wrote these, but they're a good start. Here's a link to three of them available via Amazon in the UK. The American site probably has them as well. I've read them, and they're very helpful when it comes to avoiding impossible story scenarios :



    There isn't any way to get this information from our forum, except in little snippets. You need to be willing to do a lot of work, especially if you're not particularly a scientist yourself. However, the results will be fantastic if you get it right. There is always interest in 'what's out there' and many writers who are not scientists have written about it, very convincingly. Good luck and have fun!
     
  4. A J Phillips
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    A J Phillips Active Member

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    Very helpful, but now I am a little terrified that this undertaking may be too much for me to handle! But thank you so much, this is a very good platform for me to launch from.
     
  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'd say to start with one of those books I quoted ...whichever one has the most interest for you. There's Worldbuilding, Aliens and Travel. They're all good. I'd get all three of them, if I were you. They're fun to read, and will do a lot to get your thinking going in the right direction.

    Then start thinking up your story. Get as much of it thought up ...maybe not character development and all that, but the mechanics of what you want to do. Then run it past somebody who knows their stuff ...find them online, or ask around your friends, family, school, colleges, wherever. Just run the basics past people and ask them to point out anything you've suggested that won't work.

    There is a Sci-Fi Writers of America group. While I think you need to actually BE a sci fi writer to join, there may well be links.

    Once you're assured that you're on the right track, and that you're not planning something completely impossible, then you can start writing and researching as you go, on a need to know basis.

    I think, like any other task, this is very do-able if you break it down into little bits, and don't try to do too much too soon.
     
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  6. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Research the science - but the other thing to figure out is what kind of sci-fi you're writing.

    If you're writing "Hard SF" - then yeah - your science needs to be copiously researched and include only minute amounts of handwavium to cover slips.

    If you're writing Space Opera - the handwavium can flow like a river to cover a multitude of scientific sins...because, at it's heart, Space Opera is more about adventure than science. For instance - do you realize that nobody in Star Trek ever explains how an "inertial dampener" works, despite this device being referenced as failing every time the ship gets hit with a phaser blast? The reason for this is simple. Nobody knows how an intertial dampener works. It's existence is simply referenced to explain away that fact that the law of inertia does not operate inside the ship...because if it did, the whole crew would fly against the back wall and die when they jump to warp speed. The inertial dampener references are authorial slight of hand, a wink and a nod to the fact that nothing on the ship makes physical-science sense. Also, there is no such thing as dilithium.

    People who write Space Opera sometimes get nailed to the wall by people who prefer Hard SF, or specifically people who read Hard SF and know science but aren't familiar with the different tropes of sci-fi subgenres. Such people often refer to things like Star Wars and Star Trek as "bad science fiction", because "good science fiction" to them is the more copiously researched Hard SF sub-genre. In reality, Star Trek never tried to be Hard SF. It's a textbook exemplar of the Space Opera genre, and by those standards it's pretty darn good.

    One thing you should do if you're writing sci-fi is to look at your story and see if it fits into the established tropes of any of the major sub-genres. You only have to play by Hard SF rules if you're writing Hard SF. You have to play by different sets of rules if you're writing Space Opera, Military Sci-Fi, Near Future, Cyberpunk, or Steampunk (which is indeed classified under sci-fi, because the basis is to extrapolate tech development WITHOUT some major historical breakthrough). And insofar as there are "rules", really we're just talking about what readers expect. If it's Hard SF, the science has to work. If it's Military, well, the science can have some issues but the GUNS had better work right. Etc. I write Social Science Fiction (at least I think it's Social Sci-Fi) - which means I can hand-wave a bit with technology but I have to nail the politics, economics, history, culture, etc. I really could care less about explaining why the underground apartment complexes in my near-future don't flood - but I'm really worried that I haven't nailed down the value of the U.S. dollar and the rate of inflation, because it prevents me from accurately pricing products in a universe with an obvious inflation problem. Different tropes for different folks.

    But first and foremost - just write a good story.
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2015
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  7. A J Phillips
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    A J Phillips Active Member

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    The subject matter of my story definitely strays away from "Hard SF", but in my crafted future ripe with technological advances i want there to be concrete, tangible scientific backing to the concepts. I don't delve into specifics like bosons and fermions, but for the broader ideas i just want it to sound convincing, and not "he shot the laser gun and it went pew pew". I suppose i fit more into the Star Trekky, Space Opera sub-genre, as there are these grand ideas I have that if not explained can only be discerned as magic. I simply want give more detail to futuristic concepts without the slogging, mind-numbing description involved in Hard SF.
     
  8. aguywhotypes
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    aguywhotypes Active Member

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    Play tabletop role-playing games. Mongoose Traveller, Marc Miller's new T5 (get the PDF only) and others.
     
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  9. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    In a lot of these cases, you essentially have to make up your own research. Get a grounding in the basic concepts - you have a terraformed Mars, so you're going to want to explain that a little. But alien races...well....have fun. Technologies like laser guns you should figure out roughly how you think they work and look - Star Trek actually made a semi-big deal about the difference between the laser-ish pistol weapons used by the Federation (which were phasers) and the Romulans (who used disruptors). But I'm not sure if anyone actually knows how either a phaser or a disruptor work (or at least whoever wrote the first episode mentioning a phaser probably didn't), let alone the differences between these two technologies....but we know they use different technologies to produce the same result. You'll probably want to know what your laser-weapons are called, how they look and feel, and the terminologies used to describe them. There's no functional difference between, "the shot the laser gun and it went pew pew," and "the modulator screeched as is discharged a plasma bolt." Both are meaningless mumbo jumbo that have no basis in science. The second one just uses in-world jargon sound more authoritative, when in fact you have no clue how the hell this thing works.

    The other thing is when you violate major physical principles, you're probably going to at least find a hand-wavy way of dismissing stuff. Star Trek does this by referencing impossible technology like inertial dampers. Star Wars uses The Force to do a lot of things that shouldn't happen. Explain a few of the big things, hand-wave the little ones.
     
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  10. A J Phillips
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    A J Phillips Active Member

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    Excellent advice. Thank you kind sir, you know your stuff :D
     
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  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    You could take a look at Kim Stanley Robinson's books Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars to see how one author approached the terraforming.
     
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  12. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I read - or used to - a lot of magazines like Scientific American and Discover and Air & Space. Usually I'd go through them picking out the stuff I was interested in, then back through reading the rest. My grandpa used to have subscriptions to a bunch of those types of things and I'd read'em at his house, but he doesn't get them anymore. Still, would recommend going to a library and checking some out!

    I'm also lucky enough to have a brother who's a bigger science dork than me, so if you can find a friend like that where you can go "hey what do you think of laser swords?" and get into an in-depth conversation with them, highly recommended.

    You might check out yt channels like SciShow Space, PBS Spacetime, and others in that vein.
     
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  13. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Write it from imagination. Only later, as objects and people take on shape, dip into 'the literature' and buff your prose.
     
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  14. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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  15. Sack-a-Doo!
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    First off, I don't want to give you the impression that I'm any kind of authority, but...

    I think the way I'd approach it would be to nail down the story first so I know where my scientific knowledge is lacking.
    I'd separate the science into foreground and background. This is like the difference between what a programmer needs to know to write software and what a user needs to know to use it. Foreground = explain it to a programmer, background = explain it to a user. If the plot includes the trial-n-error of fixing a terraforming machine (foreground) you might want to flesh out how those things work and come up with lots of accurate-sounding jargon. But if the matter transmitters used for shipping parts work flawlessly (background) just have the character put in the order and hit the button.
     
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