Why I need them and how I get them
science fiction n. Abbr. sf, SF A literary or cinematic genre in which fantasy, typically based on speculative scientific discoveries or developments, environmental changes, space travel, or life on other planets, forms part of the plot or background.
spec·u·la·tive (spµk“y…-l…-t¹v, -l³”-) adj. 1. Of, characterized by, or based upon contemplative speculation. See Synonyms at theoretical.
fan·ta·sy (f²n“t…-s¶, -z¶) n., pl. fan·ta·sies. 1. The creative imagination; unrestrained fancy. See Synonyms at imagination.
(As defined by The American Heritage Dictionary)
To abbreviate the definition of scifi: Fantasy that has to follow rules. I write in the science fiction genre (for the most part; there are of course, other genres involved). Unfortunately, I’m not a physicist or any other type of scientist, and while I don’t feel the need to keep every last thing ‘realistic’ for the most part, there is that pesky word ‘science’ in the genre.
In my writing, there is a need for knowing the science behind a lot of things, and I’ll give a few examples in a moment. Now, just because I need to know how the science works doesn’t mean the reader does. Info dumps are not cool. However, they can be hinted at or worked into the plot if necessary. Why do I need to know if the reader doesn’t? If I didn’t know how and why these things operated, I’d have serious problems. In science fiction, I get to create rules for my tech. These techs need to follow these rules (barring an area in which it is specifically stated that the physics go crazy in, etc). I can’t write several scenes in which a messenger starship’s weapons has no effect against a starcruiser then turn around and write another scene in which it blows up a starcruiser. I’d be cheating the reader. The reader has gotten to know that ship and its men then suddenly doesn’t know it anymore. There would have to be an extremely good exception for the above scenario to happen, and to know that, I’d have to know the rules. That way I could share a little of it with the reader by dropping a few morsels throughout of how the weapons work and how a starcruiser’s shields are its only real protection; when they’re gone its defenseless.
As you probably guessed, I write with an outer space setting in a future in which humans have colonized several star systems. Some of the major things I absolutely need to have working knowledge of are space travel, starships, weaponry, weapon defense systems, military chain of command, politics, and planetary environmental control systems.
So where do I go to get all this information? After all, most of it needs to based off of actual science.
I go several places actually. Pretty much anywhere I can find. I’ve seen yahoo news articles, read paragraphs in books that have sent my imagination flying, read science articles I’ve stumbled upon online, and probably the most used resource is actually a forum specifically for Christian scifi writers. Some of the people on there are very knowledgeable in certain areas, and not only have I picked up a few things (with modifications, of course), but I’ve really solidified the tech I do have by bouncing it off them. Sadly I haven’t been on it in some time. The final source I use is other scifi books with well-explained passages.
In actuality, doing all that research is rather fun. I love learning about probably ways of doing new things and old things better, and how things work. I do need to confess though that not all my scifi techs/ideas have an actual scientific theory/hypothesis/discovery linked to it. Some things I just created and then created the science behind them to make it seem realistic. And those are probably some of the most fun aspects of writing scifi.