Saturday, February 21, 2009

We come in peace: shoot to kill

I have spent my life as a career research scientist with some modest degree of success. Science research is creative but hardnosed. Speculation is absolutely forbidden. Every statement must be backed by a reference or evidence, preferably with P values. A question that I keep being asked is why, out of all possible choices for subject matter that could be described as SF&F, do I write magical fantasies? Surely my heart should be with hard-core science fiction.

The problem is that I know too much about the natural world. I find it difficult to write about things that are virtually true or, to put it another way, wrong. This is not a problem that afflicts engineers or physical scientists. The starship Enterprise travels faster than light by ‘bending’ space with a ‘warp drive’. Fine. It is so far outside of physics that it means nothing and challenges nothing. I have a story that is being published in April that uses mediums to ‘fly’ starships to the stars, a concept that is no more real or unreal than a warp-drive.

However, Romulans and Klingons are a nonsense. They are not just humans with plastic bits on but they also behave like one-dimensional humans.

Years ago when I was a teenager (many, many years ago,) I read a fascinating and superbly written story about an intelligent animal shaped like a wheel. The hook was that it had evolved on a bay’s shoreline that had complex currents that rolled the beast around – so it had to move to live. Great idea, but it’s biological nonsense and that bothers me. Such an organism could never evolve.

However, once you use a magic-fantasy setting then anything is possible. The supernatural, by definition, does not have to conform to natural science. The only limitation is the writer’s imagination and his skill in persuading a reader to suspend belief.

7 comments:

Ori Pomerantz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ori Pomerantz said...

I love to see aliens designed by biologists, such as yourself. If you ever feel inspired to do so, I'd be happy to read the results.

But I can see how it would be harder. Tom Kratman has to write operation orders for the battles in his books - knowing a lot makes it harder to fake.

matapam said...

But, but, everyone knows that with a bit of genetic engineering _anything_ is possible. Just think what you could do with a mutant nematode.

"It was designed to reduce paper waste at landfills. How was I to know it would attack book stores?"

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

I know what you mean, John,

I have a story in an anthology where another story appears. It is about the Jacaranda Woman and the aboriginal mythology behind her. The problem is the Jacaranda is an introduced tree from South America and first planted in Australia in 1864.

I can't bring myself to read the story because I know the premise is inaccurate. Of course, you could say this is an alternative Queensland, where Jacaranda trees are native to Australia. And maybe the story addresses this. I just can't bring myself to read it.

Who knows? Maybe it is my loss.

John Lambshead said...

Dear Ori

I will give it some thought,
John

John Lambshead said...

Matapam
Genetically engineered mutant nematodes?

For the love of God, no.

The little so-in-sos are scary enough already.

John

John Lambshead said...

Rowena

I have found it difficult to watch Primeval because of the absurd scripy re a Professor of Zoology.

John