Science! Spaceships robots and time-travel! That’s what science fiction is all about, right? One of the top 5 best selling genres in the world, and all you need is your imagination! You can write about life on a colony ship to Alpha Centauri and explain what it’s like to be teleported onto a planet, and nobody’s gonna ask you if you’ve tried those things out before writing about them. It’s not like that other genre which is currently #1 in sales: Sibling Incest Bondage Erotica.
It turns out that today’s Sci-Fi readers have an uncanny ability to determine when a sci-fi writer is writing science fiction that just doesn’t wash. I’m not referring to accurately predicting the future, some of the best science fiction from the past century has proven itself to be quite off-mark, if not entirely wonky. In the last few years, a lot of the Fi has relocated to the Sci, and very few forecasts have survived the migration. Sure, Robert A. Heinlein may have predicted Google, but a lot of his other predictions for the year 2000 have fallen quite short. We found no life on Mars, haven’t defeated cancer yet and interplanetary transport is still far off. And although Philip K. Dick’s crawling mega-cities in his blockbuster “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” do strike our fancy, it still has paper newspapers as main media, and people smoking indoors. SF readers don’t mind this, and most won’t even notice. They don’t go to the genre to have their fortunes read to them, it’s not horoscopes they crave, it’s scientific speculation.
Now it’s true that the genre does split up into two main subgenres, hardcore and softcore…no, wait, that’s erotica. Hard and soft science fiction. Hard science fiction delves more completely into the scientific details and technical specifications which make up its futuristic hypothesis. Soft science fiction will deal more with the plot, while not explicitly going into the mechanics of how the protagonist’s sister’s atoms got reassembled inside a temporary alternative timeline which, when seen from outside, looks suspiciously like a bondage knot.
That said, even soft science fiction needs to be plausible, which means authors can’t just make shit up. Some of the most memorable SF authors, like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, were also scientists and scientific divulgers. And although readers are not scientists, at least not all of them, they’re still known for being damn good at spotting incoherent and unsubstantial science.
It turns out that SF authors are the ones who need to do the most research, and the hardest kind of research too, because nobody knows what it’s like to travel through time or wake from cryogenic sleep. You need to piece that information together starting from existing scientific theories and available tech. Lucky for you, apart from a pre-existing article on time travel which I wrote some time ago (heh), I also went and did some more research for you. Here are two interesting links to start building your future scenarios:
Wanna write about space travel? How hard can it be, it’s not that it’s rocket science, right? Well that’s precisely what it is! But this website gives you a nice, simplified breakdown of the fundamental physics involved in launching stuff into space: http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/prelimnotes.php