Friday, November 28, 2008

David Brin on Science and Science Fiction

David Brin has kindly answered the ScienceOnline09 questions about science in science fiction by e-mail - I've posted them below. His responses are below. Peter Watts has also answered the questions on his blog, from both the scientist and science fiction writer points of view, and links to all of the responses so far are collected on the original post.

Here are David Brin's responses:

Questions for Science Fiction Writers

• Why are you writing science fiction in particular? What does the science add?

Only a few SF authors are scientifically or technically trained. Though many -- like Greg Bear and Kim Stanley Robinson -- were English majors who love to hang around with scientists and pick their brains.

In fact, most SF authors read History far more than science. Indeed, history -- and its possible extensions in time or other universes -- is far more often a topic of interest than any specific point of science. SF should have been called Speculative History.

• What is your relationship to science? Have you studied or worked in it, or do you just find it cool? Do you have a favorite field?

My masters was in electrical engineering and my Ph D was in astrophysics. I have also published papers in psychology and evolutionary biology.

• How important is it to you that the science be right? What kind of resources do you use for accuracy?

I find that it is easy to get expert opinions from top scientists, for the cost of some pizza and beer. Getting the science right is important. But no more important than getting the characters, the personalities, the personal stories and the details of plot right.

• Are there any specific science or science fiction blogs you would recommend to interested readers or writers?

My own: ;-)

Questions for Scientists

• What is your relationship to science fiction? Do you read it? Watch it? What/who do you like and why?

Science Fiction is the literature of change... the genre that admits that human life is in flux and that transformations occur all of the time. Sometimes these are propelled by scientific advances or technology. But not always. The changing roles of women in society, for example. These have long been grist for SF stories that predicted the important shifts that have taken place. Modern environmentalism was first pushed in SF.

• What do you see as science fiction's role in promoting science, if any? Can it do more than make people excited about science? Can it harm the cause of science?

Silly movie sci fi can be harmful. It often goes for the simplistic tale, and cares little about how people would really react to new technologies. The standard Idiot Plot is lazy and assumes that people and society will be stupid, because that drives a simpleminded plot easiest. Viewers come away convinced that progress is bad, society is helpless and we will always misuse technology. A dumb notion to propagandize!

Some films actually try to avoid this alluring trap, along with many good novels.

• Have you used science fiction as a starting point to talk about science? Is it easier to talk about people doing it right or getting it wrong?

There is a wiki online that tracks 23 successful predictions from my bestselling novel EARTH.

• Are there any specific science or science fiction blogs you would recommend to interested readers or writers?

I'll just add a recommendation specifically for Brin's articles about science, particularly his article on "Science Fiction That Teaches"


1 comment:

  1. Very interesting,straight, witty ,short ,crisp but thought provoking replies to the questions asked ...


I've turned on comment moderation on posts older than 30 days. Your (non-spammy) comment should appear when I've had a chance to review it.

Note: Links to are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.