Saturday 27 July 2013

How Much Science Should There Be In Science Fiction?

Last weekend I posted about what attracted me to reading and writing science fiction stories. If you haven't read it then you can check it out here. I received a comment that I hadn't mentioned science in my post. My initial reaction is that the science is implicit, in the same way as the word fiction, I didn't talk about that either.

Upon reflection I think that it is an interesting point, primarily because it illustrates the changing tastes and acceptance of science fiction over the years. If we take the literal meaning of the term 'science fiction' it is stories about science. That covers a very broad range of subjects (which isn't unreasonable as most definitions of what is a science fiction story come to the same conclusion), for example many crime novels contain more than a little science, does that make them science fiction stories?

For the most part probably not, in this case the setting and the application of the science determine that it wouldn't be a sci-fi story. If the story was set in the future, or used techniques beyond our current understanding then that puts it into the science fiction camp.

I'll come back to setting shortly, but the understanding is a key factor. The science in science fiction isn't merely following the established consensus of the workings of the universe, but exploring new concepts or novel applications of that understanding. There is a sub-genre of science fiction, known as hard science fiction, in general this refers to accurate the science is represented in the story. That's fine, but in the current time, the definition of science fiction has become much broader.

If you ask many people what they consider their favourite science fiction they will often respond with Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica or one of many other popular books, TV shows and films. For many of these works the veracity of the science is a minor component, in some cases completely absent. For these it is the setting or the situation that puts it in the science fiction genre.

With my own writing I try to make the events plausible, although that plausability is relative to the domain in which the event occurs. Sun Dragon is very much set in the physical world as we understand it. I've played with some concepts, but it's all based on established research. For Faust 2.0 I've looked into the possibilities of what could happen with artificial intelligence (or more accurately sentience) in the near future.

In both cases the science helps provide authenticity for the story. It provides hooks that readers can connect their understanding with. However science in itself isn't the story, can you have science fiction without the science? Absolutely. Is it as good? Well that depends, a good story is still a good story whther it is scientifically accurate or not. Science won't save a bad story, but depending on the story, it can make a good one stronger.


  1. In my SF novels, high-tech gimmickry always comes to me - or my heroes. If there are space ships, they're always dirty with things falling off and crewed by total dimwits. It's the only kind I like.