When You Can't Tell The Difference Between Science And Science Fiction

Illustration for article titled When You Cant Tell The Difference Between Science And Science Fiction

As more and more stuff from science fiction feels as though it's coming true, we run into more situations where straight-up descriptions of real discoveries feel science fictional. But it works the other way, too — some SF writers go out of their way to make their fiction feel like real science writing.


Top image: A For Andromeda by Fred Hoyle & John Elliott

The Guardian has a great feature about the crossover between science fiction and science, including projects that pair fiction writers with actual scientists (like Project Hieroglyph, which Annalee and I took part in) and fiction written by real-life science PhDs. Snuck into the piece by computer scientist Susan Stepney is this great bit:

Science writing isn't the same as fiction writing. Sometimes people who read popular science about scientific theories like loop quantum gravity say "it's like reading science fiction". But no, it isn't. Greg Egan's Schild's Ladder, with its characters, narrative logic, and dramatic tension, all in a setting where the science is crucial to the plot – that is what reading science fiction about loop quantum gravity is like. Yet it can occasionally be difficult to distinguish science fiction from reality. The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline by Isaac Asimov, about a compound that is so soluble it dissolves just before it enters water, is SF written in the style of a research paper. Minutes of the Labour Party Conference, 2016, a short story by Charles Stross, is written in the style of an official document of a meeting held under adverse circumstances. Some Limits to Global Ecophagy by Biovorous Nanoreplicators, with Public Policy Recommendations, by Robert A Freitas, is not SF (although sceptics of the field of nanotechnology might argue differently). I wouldn't want all my SF to be in this style, though.


There's also this gem:

Jack Cohen, a reproductive biologist, has helped James White design his four-letter classification for alien species (we humans are DBDG), retconned Anne MacCaffrey's dragons for her, and designed the life cycle of the grendels in Niven, Pournelle and Barnes's series The Legacy of Heorot.

The whole article, though, is just a goldmine of great stories and fascinating insights into the crossover between SF and science. [Guardian]

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What irritates me is that people keep complaining about the wrong things that are missing from the futures they were promised. It's not:

  • Where's my jetpack?
  • Where's my hoverboard?
  • Where's my flying car?
  • Where's my meal in a pill?

Those things are silly ideas right at the start. Instead I would rather people complained about things we still don't have that, I think, we have a genuine need for—robot cars for example.

But as a huge hard SF fan—and I make no apologies for that—I love it when scientists take time out to correct the stuff they see in SF. I love it when writers, directors, artists, etc. take the time to really get the science right—it just makes it easier for me to accept all the other handwavium.