Writing Science I Don’t Know

ScientistThe last week of editing has been as though I’m trudging backwards up a muddy hill with birds pooing on the back of my neck. How about you? Aside from being sick, I’m really hoping that the science I’m using in my book can stand on its own two feet. If it can’t, no amount of plot and description work can save it.

Saturday, with the house to myself, for fun, I finished the chapter I had been struggling with all week. Maybe it was the silent atmosphere, or the Dr. Pepper float. Maybe it had something to do with seeing some friends on Facebook bragging about making progress in their epic fantasies. (Props to Patrick Hester and B.T. Schmidt). It probably also had something to do with editing my recent podcast with Ramez Naam. His SF Thriller, NEXUS, was the perfect book for me to pick up as a writer wanting to study nanotechnology, scientific telepathy, mind mapping, etc, without having to read a stuffy nonfiction book. (He’s written a nonfiction book, MORE THAN HUMAN, that is actually very easy to read.) There are some giveaways for these two books over at my podcast post if you’d like to check it out.

As I bring my podcast, AudioTim, back for Season Two, one of my premises is that this show will serve me as a writer. I don’t care about download numbers anymore, and I won’t be a slave to other people’s deadlines. By that, I mean, I won’t interview someone just because they have a  book tour or upcoming release. I will only interview people about books that I’ve read and am excited about. I mostly read books based on what I want to learn in my writing, and while NEXUS was an entertaining read, it also taught me a ton on science I’m using in my book. On top of that, I got to interview the author and ask him more about the technology involved in his book. (Btw, he wrote a guest post on SF Signal, “The Science Behind Nexus,” which is fascinating. I asked him about it in the interview.)

nexus-75-dpi-197x300At the 12’55” mark, Ramez said that there is basically two technological/scientific conceits that he is positing in his book:

1. You don’t have to have surgery. You can swallow these nanostructures. They are small enough to get past the blood brain barrier into your brain and they’ll self assemble into these things to latch onto your neurons.

2. Once there, they can broadcast strong enough that someone feet away from you could pick up the signal.

This is, (more or less), how he explains having a computer program in your head that allows you to communicate with others “telepathically,” as well as execute a program that enables you to fight like Bruce Lee.

I then ask him questions about this technology, more or less for my own interests, and voila, basic truths allow me to guide my research and create plot points that support knowing at least a little about the technology I’m using. I don’t need to get into too much detail, I just need to know that these basic conceits are plausible, regardless of how difficult.

If you are struggling with scientific ideas in your book, maybe you need to find basic facts in an article or book that support the basis of your idea. You can stretch the truth from there to fit your story, within reason.

more-than-human-cover-smaller-197x300In my book, telepathy is a large part of the conflict within the plot, and since I’m not writing a Fantasy, I need to know how to stop it, and make characters on both sides of the battle react according to what they know about it as well. Ramez mentions some ways to stop it: lead walls, Faraday cages, distance, other machines using same frequency, etc. Now, I have tools in my plot and conflict belt to use in order to disrupt the signal. I’m very excited to implement them into the story.

I’m also reading more on the internet now that I know these terms, and participating on Reddit and forums like SFF World in conjunction with promoting this podcast. I’m confident moving forward that I’ll find the information I need, and am glad that this is not a contracted book so that I can take as much time as I need to make it work.

I’m also wondering why I didn’t choose Fantasy, but that’s a dilemma for another time. I’m already committed to making this work, and I will. When I’m done, then maybe I’ll write another Fantasy novel, one I don’t trunk.

What kind of science are you using in your book that is giving you headaches?


About Timothy C. Ward

Timothy C. Ward is a Hugo nominated producer for Adventures in SciFi Publishing, who has been lost, broke and surfed with sharks on the other side of the world. He now dreams of greater adventures from his keyboard in Des Moines, Iowa. This summer he released two novels: his second Sand Divers book, Scavenger: A.I., where two parents use an ancient technology to fight a reproducing A.I. while trying to resurrect their deceased infant; and Godsknife: Revolt, an apocalyptic battle for godhood in the rift between Iowa and the Abyss.

8 comments on “Writing Science I Don’t Know

  1. I wrote a science fiction novella last fall that dealt with a “multi-verse” and traveling between the parallel worlds it created. Boy, was that a headache. I’d like to go back and rework that novella someday, but now I realize just how silly I was to mess with quantum physics and other stuff that is way over my head. I need to stick to writing fantasy for my brain’s sake. 🙂

    • There is the temptation to go Fantasy for that reason, but I’m just too interested in technology to not write scifi. Even my first novel had a mix of magical scepters and genetic manipulation. I think I’m just going to have to work harder to read more nonfiction. I hope to get a tablet for Christmas, and that will make internet reading easier.

  2. I’ve had similar fun recently. In Alpha Revelation I touch on time travel, but I wanted to find a way to overcome the paradox of having cause-and-effect messed up by a jump backwards (similar to when John Connor sends his pal back, which leads to John’s birth). The solution isn’t convoluted but I gave myself brain-ache trying to explain it in a natural way. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it I may have to go back and revisit that one…. 🙂

  3. I had a character once who was an android who could temporarily turn himself into a syrupy liquid of nano-structure. Figuring out the logistics of that was indeed headache-inducing. (Did his bones liquify, too? How did his brain maintain its integrity? etc.) Finally I went with the Anime Rule of Cool: If it’s Cool, It Works.

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