Monday, January 5, 2015

The science behind the fiction

Analog magazine is, using its full title, Analog Science Fiction and Fact. In that fact category, I've written a dozen articles for the magazine. (Should you be counting, #12 is queued up and should run sometime this year.) Most of my articles have been in a series that -- in my mind, anyway -- is called The Science Behind the Fiction.

Breaking light speed, Star Wars (1977)
In other words, the articles cover common genre tropes: assumptions -- like faster-than-light travel -- that underpin lots of science fiction. They look at whether there is (or, at least, could be) a decent scientific rationale for these assumptions. The articles also offer SF examples of tropes and their (often implicit) rationales as found in literary, video, and (less often) gaming contexts.

Including the queued-up article, the series entries have been:
  1. Say What? Ruminations about Language, Communications, and Science Fiction
  2. Faster Than a Speeding Photon: The Why, Where, and (Perhaps the) How of Faster-Than-Light Technology
  3. Alien Aliens: Beyond Rubber Suits
  4. Alien Worlds: Not in Kansas Any More
  5. Alien Dimensions: The Universe Next Door
  6. Alternate Abilities: The Paranormal
  7. Alien AWOLs: The Great Silence
  8. Alien Altercations: Star (Spanning) Wars
Articles 1 through 4 were, in their respective years of eligibility, all finalists in the annual Analog readers poll, with "Faster Than ..." taking first place for 2012 -- which is to say, this is a popular series. Articles 5 through 7 appeared in 2014 issues and are eligible in the currently running readers poll (ballots due by NLT February 1st).

Candidate topics -- no clever (in my mind, anyway) titles yet -- for future series articles include:
  1. The many obstacles to interstellar travel
  2. Transhumanism
  3. Artificial intelligence
  4. Time travel
From The Time Machine (1960)
Why am I posting about this? Because my write-about-this-sometime list for the series is getting short! What major SF tropes have I missed? What tropes/topics would you find interesting to read about?

Comment away, please, whether on candidate new topics or what worked for you (or didn't) in earlier series installments.


Anonymous said...

Space drives beyond Rockets, but not particularly FTL.

Jeff Haas said...

It seems to me that global warming has been the third rail in the science-fiction community. I find that deeply disturbing because scientists are nearly unanimous on the subject and science-fiction writers used to respect scientists. Write about that.

Jim Meeks-Johnson said...

Tracking down SF tropes is an interesting exercise. I admit I haven't read all of your Analog articles, (let my subscription lapse for a while) so you may have covered some of these: the singularity, cyborgs, visitations by LGM or others in the past, immortality, telepathy (non psychic), society and values (gender equality, causal sex, technological tyranny), machines who want to be human (feel love), aliens learning human speech -- but usually have a lisp, the collapse of civilization, vampires and werewolves are real.

Edward M. Lerner said...

Anonymous and Jeff: thanks for your suggestions.

Jeff: I would say that climate change is an assumption in a fair proportion (but certainly not all) modern, near-future SF -- whether or not the story is *about* climate change. As (not very credible) examples, consider the movies Waterworld and Day After Tomorrow. I remember an Analog story (but not its title) a few months ago that also had a seriously flooded world. Ramez Naam's recent novels Nexus and Crux had global warming as a major part of the background, as did David Brin's novel Existence. Climate change being gradual, I think that it's easier to write about after-the-fact effects than the process itself.

- Ed

Edward M. Lerner said...

Jim: I've covered a part of your list, but certainly not all of it. Thanks!

- Ed

escoles said...

The trope that's been bothering me a lot lately is 'Doing Math Changes Reality.' It seems to be a subtype of the trope where conscious, human awareness of a thing changes its nature ('Seeing Changes Reality', a.k.a. 'Schroedinger Both Was And Wasn't Here').

I'm at a loss for what you would do with that, though, and I'm starting to think I'm the only person who cares anyway...

Edward M. Lerner said...

Hi Escoles,

I'm not sure I've encountered any claims that math can change reality, but I've certainly encountered claims (in science articles and in fiction) of consciousness changing reality. Quantum consciousness turns out to be respectable science -- although *not* a majority-opinion interpretation of quantum mechanics. Of course NO interpretation of QM earns a majority endorsement. See:

- Ed

Jim Meeks-Johnson said...

I'd like to add Augmented Reality to my list. Vinge and Brin have done some good things with this, not to mention Leckie, and of course a branch of it goes back to the roots of cyberpunk, but I think it still has legs.