Science Fiction Storytelling

By Jonathan Jeckell

Science fiction storytelling has a long history of inspiring real-life science and technology – driving research and development to take these imagined technologies from fiction to reality. Today, there’s a growing body of stories and storytellers that are inspired by and incorporating actual cutting-edge hard science. Recent successes in hard science fiction, including Andy Weir’s novel and award-winning film adaptation “The Martian” and the television series “The Expanse,” have carved a place in the market for more realistic and believable world-building in the Sci-Fi space.  As audiences clamor for greater realism in Sci-Fi fare, storytellers are seeking ways to creatively inject emerging science and technologies.

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“Interstellar” famously drew from a lot of actual science, including the visualization of what a black hole would look like and the relativistic effects on time from being near a black hole. More recently Q Switched Productions has pushed to make the most realistic space combat simulation yet in their game “Children of a Dead Earth”.  Sample gameplay, such as destroyers launching an attack on a ship with their rail guns, shows the potential of such a science-based approach in entertainment.

Fans of the genre have long taken note of the science and technology in their favorite novels, shows, and games. Many of us spent countless hours in the early 90’s on the USENET forums on the early internet analyzing and trying to make sense of the latest tech from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and other shows. But some have also studiously collected, analyzed, and integrated such a compilation of information, bringing in expert scrutiny from a vast range of fields, before the science and tech ever appear on screen. It's all a writer or producer would ever need to build incredibly detailed, realistic, and scientifically sound worlds.  

Winchell Chung @nyrath (on Twitter) has one of the biggest and most detailed collections at his Atomic Rockets site His site is a treasure trove of information about such things as ship design, how combat missions in space would work, asteroid mining, settling on other planets, and using resources in space – with extensive references to back up his assertions (or the assertions he has collected). It also includes highly organized notes for prospective science fiction authors.  

Another incredible resource is @toughsf (on Twitter) and his website which perhaps differs from @nyrath’s site in that it tends to focus on scenarios and the projection of new science and technology from headlines into Sci-Fi settings in the future. @toughsf also regularly posts threads on Twitter breaking down how things like RADAR work to make them easily understandable by a general audience. Rather than creating fantastical fictional technologies to explore the human relationship with technology in the abstract, such as in Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein,” today’s storytellers can now tap highly realistic science that allows them to generate ever more compelling explorations of the human condition. With these sorts of resources in hand, storytellers can focus on telling the human story in that environment or the implications of that environment on human society - or the vast array of things great storytellers are supposed to do other than create technobabble.

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Beyond appeasing the audience’s desire for more grounded and plausible Sci-Fi worlds, using realistic, if emerging, science and technology introduces myriad new possibilities for stories. This realism may seem to impose constraints, but instead spawns creativity and imagination that may be more relevant to us as some of these things come to pass. Will humanity continue to wage war in space?  Why?  How would these wars be fought? The extra level of detail over the more speculative science fiction can help dial the contrast on some of these issues to better understand ourselves. This is the very essence of what science fiction is all about.


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