Saturday, December 19, 2009

How Do You Like Your Science Fiction: Hard or Soft?

My high school Earth Science class did not do much for me, except showcase how monumentally inept I was at science. After the first few weeks of struggling with it, I transferred to the General Science class and performed much better there.

I did learn a valuable lesson in those first torturous weeks of Earth Science. It would have a far greater impact on my writing than it would on anything else. It caused me to begin an exercise in thought that I now utilize on a regular basis, both when looking for story ideas or just for sheer enjoyment.

Microcosmic worlds. Neat little panoramas that reveal themselves in my brain that I like to try and sort out. My Earth Science teacher was the first to introduce this concept. A few years later, I read a classic short story by Theodore Sturgeon called "Microcosmic God" that established it beautifully for me and planted the way of thought firmly in my mind, so that I'm always looking for microcosms to speculate on.

What if there are microscopic life forms existing in their own engaging little world on the head of a match? And they experience Apocalypse whenever we strike it?

Most of these ideas are in the realm of fantasy and this is where I primarily live. There may be elements of science in my writing. And there most certainly may be horror. I like to mix it up a bit. I like that term "speculative fiction." It covers so much wonderful landscape.

I've often heard that some people are vehemently opposed to what is labeled "soft science fiction." My guess is that would be a story that doesn't sport some astrophysics or chemistry lesson every other page. "Here, Mr. Spock, is why we can not travel past the speed of light: blah...blah...blah." I'm not saying there's no room for hard science fiction in my life. A great deal of what I read is hard science fiction. But I do not write hard sci-fi. I write fantasy sautéed with science fiction, with a side dish of horror. I write "Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavors of Weird." For me, it's about plot and characterization. I like my speculative fiction like my ice cream: sometimes hard, sometimes soft-serve.

I don't have a degree in physics, astronomy, chemistry or even writing. I've learned a few things over the years about the sciences that interest me: sociology, psychology and meteorology (meteorology actually applies some physics principles such as thermodynamics, the Bernoulli and Coriolis effects). I've found that structuring a good story out of these elements brings me the greatest satisfaction. And most folks seem to like it. I also believe that there is no more alien or horrifying a landscape than that of the human mind. That is something I love to explore.

Whatever hard science I use is employed like a sugary waffle cone, wrapping all that delectably sweet, gooey fantasy/horror weirdness down inside. I do lots of research and hope that I'm writing my science as factual as possible; breaking as few rules as possible, and if rules are slightly bent then I do my best to provide plausible scientific excuses for it without making it become a college physics lecture.

It's hard to do, but well worth it if the result is a satisfied reader.

No comments:

Post a Comment