Friday, November 17, 2017

What World May Be

In no way can I tell you where I got the bug put into my author brain, but here it is. We can dissect it if you wish.

The bug has many legs. It's tiny and hard to see, but it likes to talk. It says that the way to build a believable world/universe/magic system is to limit your change to one major concept. In UF that's easy. Magic happens. The details of how/why/consequences are where the interesting stuff comes in. In SF(R) the major accepted thing is generally space flight. Then it's a matter of what happens when our heroes encounter aliens or aliens encounter them or what happens when the onboard computer says, "I'm sorry, Dave. I afraid I can't do that."

For the most part, the broad strokes don't need a lot of research in my experience. It's the details that do. Take the space flight thing. We're in a space ship! We're getting away from the bad guys! Until they blow out our engine (right before you take the shot that destroys them - thanks for that.) And now we're adrift. We're inside a solar system. So hey! Solar sail! No problem! Uh. Wait. So. Exactly WHAT can I use as a solar sail? Oh hey look. NASA has a position paper out about a theoretical new kind of sail called an e-sail. Hey. That looks cool! So. How fast could we go with that? How far?

Funny. That summary white paper can't answer those questions. And neither can I. So off to ask people with actual training. You do know there are Reddits and forums and message boards where actual rocket scientists hang out? There're even a bunch on Facebook. A few of them will point and laugh when I ask newbie questions, but 99% of the folks really want the rest of us to be science-literate and will offer encyclopedic answers to questions about what kind of acceleration can I expect a ship to put on with a sail blah, blah, red giant, post helium flash, blah. 

Jeffe saw that question go up in one forum and can attest to the awesome answers I got from a handful of really bright people. Made me wish the solar sail figured into more of the story, but alas. We have aliens to vanquish yet. 

Yes. Searching the interwebs for stuff first is the right thing to do - I do find that I can usually garner a broad base understanding of something like nano - technology, but when it comes to how someone would harness nanotech to weaponize it, I didn't have anyone to ask. I had to read and read and then make some guesses. Guesses that I might have gotten dead wrong (though no one has said anything about it yet if I did.) 

And there's the other thing the bug likes to whisper. Don't get so caught up in the research and in being RIGHT that you sacrifice story. Readers will forgive a lot if they're shown a good time inside a story. 

So sure. Research. But make sure you get out there after those villians at great cost to your heroes and heroines. 


  1. Love the SFWA forums for that kind of conversation!

    1. Yeah, I admit I ended up with far better data than I could have hoped for and all kinds of plot bunnies for other stories just based on some of the off handed comments. So there's a lesson there, too. Pro author groups? Totally worth the price of admission.