Writing any book is a long, arduous, difficult process. To paraphrase Wesley from The Princess Bride, “Writing is pain. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.” Okay… that may be a bit too drastic… after all, most of us would write whether or not we were getting paid for it. Hell, most of us do write without ever getting paid for it. So, it can’t be all that bad. But there is a special kind of pain associated with science fiction (or speculative fiction if you prefer) that I thought I’d ramble on a bit about here.
In short, it’s bloody hard to keep up with the actual “science” when it comes to writing science fiction.
One of the “big ideas” in Re-Coil is asking the question of what it would mean to society if we were immortal. Seems far-fetched and totally science-fiction-y, right? As the one writing it, you have to come up with your reason why, the “science” behind how immortality works in your particular world. That sort of thing is important for internal consistency in the manuscript, helping with the reader’s suspension of disbelief and all that technical jazz. Of course, back in 2018 (like 2 years ago!) scientists in Germany discovered a particular protein chain that (to really simplify for brevity) controls aging. We can’t really do anything about it yet, but with that one discovery, one aspect of science fiction starts to lose the “fiction” part pretty darn quick. And once something like that makes it into the public consciousness, some of the ideas around how immortality might become reality (the flavor of your fictional world) seem much more far-fetched.
Another example. A common trope in cyberpunk is the idea of remotely controlling drones (or even people) from thousands of miles away. We’ve all heard about drone strikes ad nauseum, but that’s a brute force approach to the concept. But just last year, Chinese scientists performed literal brain surgery on a patient 2,000 miles / 3200 kilometers away using 5G wireless technology and robots. I’m not sure I could have imagined a world where a surgeon can cut open your brain from several countries away using the same tech that’s powering your cell phone, but here we are.
So, what’s a burgeoning writer of all things science fiction to do when the world of science outpaces the world of fiction?
Fortunately, there are a few things to keep in mind. It’s always a good idea to do a little research on the key scientific bits in your sci-fi. You don’t have to be an expert but finding out what’s out there already can inform your story and even provide you with inspiration. Also, remember that the cutting edge of scientific thought takes a long, long time to become common knowledge in the public mind. So long as you’re not directly contradicting it, the easiest path is to just not worry too much about it. Some readers may roll their eyes at the “unrealistic” nature of your world, but hey, there’s also that whole “fiction” part of science fiction. Not everything hast to be totally realistic, and that’s a good thing. And finally, as with all good writing, the focus should be on the characters. All the sci-fi elements exist as a framework for the characters to begin with, and with a few very specific exceptions, the focus should always be on the characters themselves. Well-written, three dimensional characters will stand out and any mistakes you make on the science front will fade into the background.
If you want to see how well (or poorly) I lived up to my own advice, be sure to check out Re-Coil (releases March 3rd).