Saturday, October 8, 2011

2md Day of Twisted: Guest Post by Phoenix Sullivan

Today's featured author is Phoenix Sullivan, author of Sector C.  Enjoy!

Weaving Science Into Fiction
We’ve all been there, reading happily along, then bam! -- three pages of exposition on the science in a science fiction story. It’s a tough balance for both reader and author. As a reader, I want to believe the author knows enough about the underlying science to be confident in their execution. As an author, it’s in my best interest to not bore my readers.
Now, I love authors like Michael Crichton as much as the next reader, but he did have a habit of stopping the action to explain things – perhaps a bit too frequently and sometimes in excruciating, chart-popping detail. Raise your hand if you ever found yourself skimming his – or another writer’s – meticulously crafted assurances that the science presented is plausible.
It’s hard not to get excited about your own ideas, of course. To leave 80% of your research off the page and only allow it to inform your characters’ actions? To trust readers to pick up on the basic premises without spoon feeding the information to them? Preposterous!
Carving out which 20% to include is akin to surgically removing a tumor. While you obviously don’t want to leave any suspicious cells behind, you don’t want to take out more healthy tissue than you have to either.
So what tricks do authors employ to decide what gets left on the hard drive?
  • Timing – being able to manipulate the pacing enough to know when to insert the science-y bits.
  • Compassion – the empathetic author’s gut guides them in not overwhelming the reader with too much detail.
  • Fortitude – authors are often tempted to throw in a bit of scientific jargon to be more convincing. Then, once they succumb to that temptation, they fear the average reader might not catch on; so on top of using the terms, they explain them too. An author who can just say no is a reader’s best friend.

Counter-intuitively, I think near-future SF is far more difficult to insert the science into than alternate-world or far-future stories. It’s often easier to see long-term trends (or to make up alternate ones) than to predict near-term ones. Not to mention that the real science catches up so fast – and often in ways not imagined just a handful of years before. The near-future writer takes a bigger gamble, which may also be why near-future authors are so much more determined to ensure the reader buys into the possibility of the science. It has to hold up even as the years slip by or it quickly becomes dated.
With memories of my own eyes glazing over to prompt me, I worked hard to achieve a good balance between too much and not enough explanation in my near-future, medical thriller, SECTOR C.
And since it takes place only a dozen years in the future, I’ll know soon enough if I got the science even close. As it is, earlier this year, not long after I finished the first draft, a team of Japanese geneticists announced they were maybe 4 years out from cloning a wooly mammoth. I sure hope they do it because that fits the timeline of SECTOR C’s science perfectly. What’s sweeter than when the science in SF novels manifests in the real world?
Except maybe for that pesky species-jumping pandemic in SECTOR C that’s unleashed by that same science. I am a bit ambivalent about seeing that pan out.

SECTOR C: “Contagion” meets the science of “Jurassic Park”
Available at:
Amazon US:
Amazon UK:

1 comment:

  1. Well put! This is what's so awesome about true SciFi. It does come true!