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“Researching the Science in Science Fiction” was probably my favorite panel at FenCon this year. The panel was moderated by William Ledbetter and included Science GoH Marianne Dyson, fellow authors Kristi Hudson (not pictured) and Patrice Sarath (not pictured). Photo credit: C. Stuart Hardwick.
While all the panels were great, I really enjoy discussing the craft of writing. For a sci-fi writer, that often means research. Sometimes it means going down the research rabbit-hole and getting lost. We discussed our own experiences, i.e. how we approach it, as well as the best methods.
Doing research may sound easy. Google is your friend, right? Problem is that everything correct is on the internet; along with everything that is incorrect. The search for facts can be as muddied as the search for truth.
As a writer one must know when to stop. Research is a great way to procrastinate and still pretend that you’re “writing.” Research can also be the death-knell for your premise, your idea, and your story. So how do you handle the story-slayer? Do you write around it? Do you pull out your handwavium and unobtainium? Do you just ignore it? (Think about the sounds that spaceships in Star Wars make in the vacuum of space where sound cannot travel).
Lots of factors come into play, depending on what kind of story you’re writing. There is more rigor in a hard SF story than a soft SF one. Consistency becomes a challenge, as well as knowing how much of your research to include. After all, you did all that work. Hours and hours. Weeks and months and years. The longer you spent toiling away in the research salt-mines, the more you want to include. But that’s not necessarily the best thing for your story.
Only about 10% of what I learn via research makes its way into my stories, even the hard SF ones. It has to be absolutely vital to the story, but more importantly, it has to be something that the viewpoint character knows. I think that including things the viewpoint character cannot possibly know is one of the worst mistakes I see consistently across all genres, not just sci-fi.
Number two would be the dreaded, tension-less, “As you know, Bob” exposition via dialogue. Number three is straight up exposition, usually via author voice. We hashed out some of the best strategies for avoiding not just research pitfalls, but best practices when it comes to incorporating that research into our stories.
I’m hoping FenCon will continue to offer this panel at upcoming conventions, and if you’re an aspiring writer, I hope you’ll attend. I certainly learned a lot from my fellow panelists.
Well, it’s official. I’m very excited to announce that I will be attending FenCon XV. Schedule forthcoming, and many thanks to William Ledbetter, the science track director, for the invitation. I’m also working on getting a new publication out in early September just in time for this event.
What is FenCon? Who’ll be there? Why should I go?
Answers below. Hope to see you there!
Join us September 21-23, 2018 at the Westin DFW Airpport. See the hotel link for reservations and directions.
2018 marks 200 years since the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. Join us as we celebrate 200 years of classic and modern SF! Of course, we’ll have panel programming, concerts, hands-on workshops, and more! All the good stuff that makes FenCon theTexas destination convention!
Oh, and did we mention SCIENCE? You can’t put the “S” in “SF” without it! Oh you could try, but would it be as much fun as FenCon?
Advance memberships are on sale now!
FenCon XV Guests of Honor
As promised, in honor of Father’s Day, To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity is live. If you pre-ordered, your eBook is available for download now.
Whether you like science fiction, fantasy, military sci-fi, historical, or contemporary, adventure, humor, interesting characters, or even thought pieces, this anthology has a story for you.
My story, “Cooper” is a tribute to Jeff Cooper, one of the iconic, real-life figures associated with the M1911 and the 45ACP. This story was inspired not just by the idea of a sentient/sapient gun. I also found inspiration in The Wizard of Oz, in the fact that the Tin Man had in him, what he was so desperately seeking–a heart. Like the Tin Man, my protagonist is in search of something he thinks he’s lost.
Scott Bell‘s gritty cop story, “Earning It” explores the meaning of valor and honor. A writer with a unique voice, Scott balances out the grittiness with his trademark humor.
J Trevor Robinson‘s “Let the Chips Fall Where They May” doesn’t give us the “gentlemen thieves” of the typical pop-culture casino heist story. Inspired by his own father, it is instead the story of a commander, a role model, and a father responsible for the lives of so many others.
William C. Burns answers the question “So, what are wizards doing in the 21st century?” in his fantasy, “The Heaven Beasts.”
Michael W. Herbert, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam, wrote two stories for this anthology, both based on real life events–one about dealing with rape, and another about defending a gay shipmate. I’m particularly fond of the way he handled both of these controversial subjects. As Michael says, “A mature man does not always know what to do, but he will do what he can to help.”
Richard Paolinelli gives us a dystopian story, “The Last Hunt.” Unlike so many other zombie stories, this one is about one man’s devotion to his duty and his country.
If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan, I think you’ll really enjoy Ann Margaret Lewis‘s “The Affair of Miss Finney.” Holmes pursued many dark crimes, but Doyle never addressed the crime of rape. So, how would Holmes deal with the worst crime a woman can suffer?
In “For Man or Beast,” award-winning science fiction author Brad R. Torgersen, plunges us into a story about a future, untamed frontier where we discover that it is about being men and women that makes us essential not just to each other, but to civilization.
In “Bring the Pain,” veteran and writer T. L. “Tom” Knighton, delights and entertains us with a story about a guy who is, quite literally, a tank.
In “The Messenger” Lloyd Behm II makes us cheer for an aging green beret who keeps his oaths, even in a post-apocalyptic world where the US no longer exists.
Marina Fontaine‘s “Picture Imperfect” is set in the near-future dystopia of her Chasing Freedom novel. Her hero is forced to choose between protecting his family and complying with a system that provides him with comfort and power.
Jon Del Arroz‘s military sci-fi adventure, “Compassion,” shows us that we must continue to fight the good fight, to fight for what is right.
Newcomer Jamie Ibson‘s story, “Priorities” takes us into the world of the school resource officer, the cops that investigate offenses involving students and schools.
No speculative fiction anthology would be complete a werewolf story, right? Julie Frost‘s “Man-Made Hell” mixes science-fiction and the supernatural, giving us a character who embodies virtus (the manly virtues) no matter his form.
I’ve been a reader for far longer than I’ve been a writer. Not once, during my most voracious phase as a reader, during those summers spent at the library, did I go, “Hmm, I want to read a book by a/an [insert identity group] writer.”
What I was looking for, was escapism, entertainment. A good story, well told. Interesting characters. Interesting milieu. Romance. Adventure.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I spent a lot of time discussing books with my fellow geeks–and to be honest, if you want to get all PC about it, they were a diverse lot. When it came to reading, they wanted the same things I did.
I didn’t need to have a woman as the protagonist in order to identify with a character. I didn’t need that character to be of the same national origin or race either. Why? Because well-crafted characters (and stories) transcend all those things.
I don’t have to be bisexual for Friday Jones to be one of my favorite of Heinlein’s characters. I don’t have to be a gay sadist to love Augustus (one of the minor characters in R. M. Meluch’s wonderful space opera series, Tour of the Merrimack (6 Book Series)).
Believe it or not, I didn’t pick up my first Honor Harrington novel because it had a woman on the cover–shocker, I know!
I don’t go out seeking stories with protagonists of Romanian, or Hungarian, or Greek, or Italian descent. I don’t seek out stories written by immigrants. Or women. Or any of the “identities” or associations some people would love to pin on me.
That’s one of the reasons I am proud that my short story “Cooper” is part of To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity. You see, there was no requirement that you be a man to submit a story. Or that the story even be from a man’s perspective.
Marina Fontaine, one of my co-authors, put it best, when she wrote:
We were going to give them good stories.
Stories about men as heroes and role models, fathers and mentors, hardened warriors and even fantastic creatures. Men who are interesting, capable and worthy. Characters whom you’d want to meet, to spend time with, to learn from, and whose stories will stay with you after the reading is over.
And just like that, the authors’ gender became irrelevant.
The rest of her excellent article on how this anthology came to be can be read here. Give it a look. And buy the book. See what can happen, when stories are about Story [rather than the author’s identity].
“Love is blind. But what will happen when the blindness ends and the terrible truth is revealed?”
I’m very happy to announce that two of my short stories will be included in a new anthology put out by Superversive Press. Coming November 8th, 2017.
Check out my first post for the wonderful people at Superversive SF.
Tired of the remakes, the reboots, the “let’s see how much more blood we can squeeze out of this turnip” output of today’s Hollywood? I think you’ll find Passengers a refreshing change.
This is one of those things that everybody knows, right? You’ve known since kindergarten. White sheet of paper. Yellow crayon. No problem.
I know it’s so because I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve read about “Earth’s yellow star.” It’s one of those things we take for granted or that we take on faith. A lot of things are like that today. Everybody says so, therefore it must be so. Especially if they stand up in front of a classroom, or if it’s been published in a book. Or they’re wearing a lab coat. Especially if they’re wearing a lab coat. Pffft!
The Sun is a white star. And yes, it’s the Sun. Just like the Earth is the Earth unless you’re speaking of the soil stuck to your boots, in which case you can go ahead and write “earth.” It’s capitalized if it’s a name just like it’s Mars, not mars. Or Moon, not moon, unless you mean a generic moon. Or a generic sun as in a “million suns.” Or Jupiter’s outer moons. But I digress.
Don’t take my word for it.
If your VPC (viewpoint character) has never seen the Sun except through dust and he thinks it’s orange, that’s fine, but if your VPC is a starship captain or a scientist or an omni narrator, he really ought to know better.