Balancing Story and Scientific Authenticity (A DisCon III Panel)

In December of 2021, I had the opportunity to attend DisConIII. Many of the panel recordings were also available for attendees for a limited time. Here are my other DisCon posts.

The panelists for the titular panel were: Catharine Asaro, Derek Kunsken, Eva Elasigue, Lezli Robyn, Maquel A. Jacob, and moderated by John Ashmead.

The panel description was as follows: Many readers love real science, or just the appearance of real science, in their science fiction. It is no small challenge to create compelling literature that also triggers a scientific sense of wonder. Panelists discuss how to do it right.

How Can Getting The Science Right Makes The Story Better

  • Bolsters and adds authenticity
  • Can establish the basis of the story
  • Spinning something around “one true kernel” gives enjoyment to readers who enjoy “spotting” real science

Types of Science

While many expect so-called “hard science fiction” to focus on technology or biology, there’s a wide array of sciences one can use to infuse science into one’s story.

  • Biology
  • Astronomy
  • Linguistics
  • Anthropology
  • Chemistry
  • Cryptography
  • Psionics – With assistive devices, technology has made this more accessible, although, there was panel discussion on how real this is

Stories and Authors That Do It Well

  • The Martian – Andy Weir
  • A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martine
  • Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson
  • The Algebraist – Iain M. Bank
  • Enders Game – Orson Scott Card
  • Dune – Frank Herbert
  • Stephen Baxter
  • Alistair Reynolds
  • Wayne Grady
  • Catharine Asaro
  • Nancy Kress
  • Arrival

Tips On Using The Science In Your Stories

While you never want to show every equation — or every bit of research, there are certain audiences that enjoy certain types of exposition. Know your audience. Some publishers enjoy the inner dialogue, some politics, some science.

For short story writers, Analog typically likes to see scientific solutions, Asimov typically prefers to see the consequences of the science. But don’t self-censor, because the Editors prefer variety.

The best ways to incorporate your science and demonstrate the rules of your world are to demonstrate by action, not exposition.

2 Comments

  1. I’ve heard this discussed for a long time. One suggestion that comes up over and over is only have one thing, that’s not established science, or an extension of that. If more than one, the fewer, the better. For example, in my sf, I’ve got FTL and FTL communications… and nothing else that’s not an extension of what we know now. (Genengineering? Look up CRISPR.)

    Liked by 1 person

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