One of my many web-comics on my reading list for a long time has been Dark Legacy – a crudely drawn, World of Warcraft based comic. The same artist also has a shorter series called the Stonemaker Argument. This one in particular prodded my head when I read it today, mostly regarding my NaNoWriMo writing.
Not only am I writing Science-Fiction, I’m trying to keep it somewhat accurate. I say somewhat because, well, I’m not an engineer (well, I’m a software engineer, but that doesn’t really involve much planetary settlement or space-borne scampery) so keeping it accurate gets quite challenging. I take my inspirations from the giants that went before me, the books I’ve read, the ideas contained within them, and attempt to tell a story more than anything. The details are left fuzzy intentionally, not out of some sense of being ‘wrong’ – It’s speculative fiction, people have written pages and pages hammering their favourite sci-fi technology into the physics that we know (Most of Star Trek, and all of Star Wars) – no, It’s not about being proven wrong, it’s more about trying not to be boring. There’s a limit to which readers will sit and read numbers and statistics and reams and reams of data.
It’s not just Sci-fi that has this problem either. Fantasy does too. There is inevitably a time when the backstory of a world must be exposed, or a journey must be undertaken. Political machinations, wars, old gods, evil demons and the likes, and there’s a horrible attraction to dumping it out in excrutiatingly minute detail. There’s only so much one can read about hobbits walking through fields.
Then there’s the flip side of the coin. Not being accurate enough. Leaving gaping holes in your story that are never filled, ruining the suspension if disbelief. So you have faster than light travel do you? Just how does that work? your readers will ask. And how can you do it without hearing the chants of ‘been done before’ or ‘too long, didn’t read’.
We’ll take the idea of FTL and run down a few ideas. There are, in my view, only three kinds of FTL
1) Instant. You are in one point, then you are in another. It’s instant. Think the new Battlestar Galactica series, or for you old school guys, the ones found in Asimov’s Foundation/Empire stories. You could even consider Trek’s transporters in this category, but I do not know if they travel faster than light.
2) Linear. You can travel faster than light just like you can below light speed. You have a finite actual speed and take time (albeit faster than light does) to get to a place. Think Star Trek’s Warp Drive, or Star Wars Hyperdrive.
3) Wormholes. You travel sub-light through a region of space that connects two places. It’s not intantaneous, but it’s pretty fast. Think Farscape, Contact, or the later Trek’s Transwarp Conduits.
So you see the difficulty. It’s all been done. So how do you differentiate? You have to do something. It’s normally a case of re-writing the laws of Physics. In the case of Trek, they fold space around the ship – or so the lore goes – allowing it to travel faster than light without breaking relativity. In the case of Star Wars, physics is thrown out of the window in favour of some cool special effects.
Trek talked alot. It wasn’t hard Sci-fi, it didn’t try to be, it was definitly Soft, almost Pulp at times. The problem is that they talked alot. They spouted technobabble and rambled on incoherently. Not even making the slightest bit of sense.
Star Wars didn’t let Science get in the way of a good yarn.
I’ve watched enough trek to be indoctrinated in it’s ways, but I wouldn’t call myself a Trekkie. I was one of the people who enjoyed Enterprise for it’s almost complete lack of Treknobabble and focus on people stories.
So while Science has it’s place in Science Fiction (obviously), it shouldn’t be the raison d’etré of the book. You have to know in advance how much you want to inform the reader and space it out over the course of the book. Don’t dump it at once, don’t make words up, and don’t go over your limit or it’ll read like a textbook.