robert l. forward

anonymous asked:

Trying to be scientifically accurate in sci-fi is a sucker's game. Just like how you had authors making the piltdown man plot critical, there's stuff now I'm sure will have been found to be based on discredited theories in the future, cuz science is always moving. Space-fantasy like Star Wars will always be timeless because of how generic all the "science" is. Well, for the original trilogy anyway. Don't get me started on the legion of tech manuals and expanded universe stuff...

Using the term “hard scifi” to talk about scifi that emphasizes plausibility and extrapolation is maybe one of the greatest public relations and publicity failures of all time. The name implies a lot of things, all of which are bad, and very few of which are actually true.

Sure, there are bad examples of hard scifi – there are lots of unreadable scifi stories about “two engineers discussing relativity as they get sucked down a black hole,” as Cory Doctorow put it. Then again, there are lots of bad examples of steampunk stories, romance stories, any kind of story you can name.

It can, though, be done well…and some writers do very interesting things with it. These kinds of stories don’t have to be intimidating…the whole point of a story is that you learn as you go. If a science writer wanted to be intimidating, they would be doing something other than writing a novel. 

The appeal of scifi that has an element of plausibility is that it activates the same part of your brain that lights up when you enjoy detective novels, the logical reasoning portion Forrest Ackerman, one of the founders of modern fandom in the 1930s, once said that if science fiction never existed, he would be a fan of detective novels, because the same processes are at work in both.

Here’s a few recommendations if “talky, techy” scifi that could really happen is more your bag, and might even change your mind about that entire field if you give them a chance:

Dragon’s Egg by Robert L. Forward. This story is about human explorers who find a planet orbiting a neutron star, which has a gravity 67 billion times that of earth, and the sesame seed sized inhabitants bound by the strong-force rather than the weak force, who see only in ultraviolet and x-ray light, and who’s lives are incredibly sped up by time dialation…their entire civilization, from a human point of view, lasts an entire month, and they worship our spacecraft as a divine artifact. By the start of the month, they are stone age, by the end, they have technology far in advance of earth and try to communicate with us slow-lived beings.

Einstein’s Bridge by John G. Cramer. Imagine if this happened: a supercollider turns on, and the radioactive particles start blasting out prime numbers. It’s being used by an intelligent species to communicate with us…and it turns out more than one alien race are trying to do that, including one that happens to be evil.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars books. This series is the antidote to the idea that hard scifi is by definition, not character driven. It reminds me of nothing so much as Game of Thrones: it’s a political thriller that alternates between the point of view of multiple characters, set around the colonization and independence of Mars, trying to free itself from the yoke of an oppressive corporate ruled earth. It makes you want to try kava (the drink of choice on Mars), kind of like how Narnia makes you want to try turkish delight. 

miscellaninousgarbage  asked:

What's a neutron star? I read about them in Bill Bryson's book, but I couldn't figure out why a neutron start would happen in the first place?

When massive stars collapse, the core of the star gets compressed extremely tightly by the force of its own gravity. As the core collapses, the electrons and protons in the core get closer and closer together. Eventually, the core gets so dense that the electrons and protons are forced together, combining into neutrons. The entire core becomes essentially a solid ball of neutrons, as dense as an atomic nuclei. The outer layers of the star, which are also rushing in towards the core, bounce off of this rock-hard layer of neutrons and whiz off into space, creating a supernova and leaving behind a neutron star at the center. And all of this happens in less than a second. Pretty wild. To summarize: neutron stars are giant balls of neutrons that resulted when a stellar core collapsed and became so dense the protons and electrons combined into neutrons. 

Side note: Robert L. Forward wrote a really interesting novel called Dragon’s Egg, which was about intelligent life on a neutron star! It’s quite an interesting read, and you learn a whole lot about neutron stars since the author has a Ph.D in physics. If you want a copy, you can find it here; you won’t find it at a bookstore because it’s out of print, but you can find a used copy online (I linked to one). Let me know if you have any other questions, I’m happy to answer them!