To every math or science teacher whoever caught me trying stories when I was supposed to be learning; please rest assured, I’m regretting it now. Every time I ever muttered the well-worn phrase I’m never going to need to know this, I’m kicking myself.
The fact is, I need a big book which tells you everything simply and clearly.
I’m currently writing a story about an asteroid hitting Earth (this is what I think about for fun) and while there are no end of articles telling me what will happen if we get hit, no one will tell me what comes after.
I feel like I’m in a battle of wits with my search engine.
Chrome: Look at all these scary pictures of asteroids!
Me: Wow those are scary. What happens after that?
Chrome: There will be massive amounts of thermal radiation, ejecta and probably tons of tsunamis!
Me: How does humanity survive that?
Chrome: Actually an asteroid that hits earth is called a meteorite.
Me: You were the one calling it an asteroid.
Chrome: It’s not my fault. Newspapers use because journalists think the word is sexier.
Me: Okay, I’ll try to use the word meteorite. But after the death and destruction, what comes next?
Chrome: … Do you want to rent Deep Impact?
Anyway, after much frustration, I did end up finding a site called Ask an Astronomer which runs out of Cornell University in America. Finally! A real answer to my question and put simply. I couldn’t have been happier until I wasted an hour’s writing time on their website ‘going down the rabbit hole’ as I call it. They’ve got sections on time, space and aliens.
But that doesn’t answer the question. How much fiction will we put up with our science? Why did series like Star Trek apparently predict technology which is now abundant, and Indiana Jones jumping into a fridge to escape a nuclear blast destroy the internet? I don’t want to be that author. The one who thinks science is secondary to drama. On the other hand, facts shouldn’t get in the way of a good story! What I’ve been told, and frankly what I cling to, is if a story is good enough, people will forgive a lot of liberties. But there’s a line.
I can just see that reader – embodied by my sister, the scientist of the family, saying “you know that’s not how a thematic reaction works?” I don’t even know if that’s the right or even an actual thing to be worried about.
I’m convinced there has to be a happy medium. How do you do give the reality enough credit before sliding off into fantasy? There has to be a balance, or else we’d have to believe that no politician watches The West Wing and no lawyer or policeman watches Law and Order.
Terry Pratchett created a whole new world and therefore a whole new science. And while each idea was logical and believable, it was all done from the initial understanding that this is a world on the back of a turtle flying through space.
Face it, right now, with the world how it is and no matter where you are on the political spectrum, life on the back of a disc on the back four elephants in the back of the turtle is likely a lot more appealing.
I’ve always been partial to stories set in the real world but which is slightly off. Hence my love of Steampunk and Urban Fantasy. These authors get a lot of leeways, asking the audience to come with them on the journey and if they ever ask why Victorian society has androids runs on steam, hey, fiction!
Haven’t taken up so much of your time, I’m sorry to say I don’t really have an answer. Research, I suppose. Until you’re confident to know what’s a liberty and what’s just jumping the shark.
In the meantime, I would really like someone to start working on that “An infinite guide of things authors need to know.” I’ll buy it.