MIND MELD Makeup with Jay Lake: Scientific Accuracy in Stories

Two weeks ago we asked several authors for their thoughts on scientific accuracy in science fiction stories. Jay was unable to answer at that time, but sent along his response for all of us to read.

Q: Do science fiction authors have an obligation to be scientifically accurate with their stories? Is there a minimum level of accuracy an author should adhere to?
Jay Lake
Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works on numerous writing and editing projects. His 2008 novels are Escapement from Tor Books and Madness of Flowers from Night Shade Books, while his short fiction appears regularly in literary and genre markets worldwide. Jay is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and a multiple nominee for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards. Jay can be reached through his blog at jaylake.livejournal.com or his Web site at www.jlake.com.

In a word, no. It’s *fiction*, we’re all making it up anyway.

To be a little more specific and less flippant, *any* story is going to fail in the face of expertise. I can write a convincing medical scene for the general reader, but a doctor will call b.s. Likewise astronomy, biology or any other discipline. It all depends on the distance of the reader from the subject matter.

This means one can write about cosmology with a relatively free hand. That’s all esoteric theory anyway. But write about the physics of falling bodies without taking terminal velocity into account and you’re in trouble.

As a matter principle, I always strive for scientific accuracy to the best of my ability. But it’s like the old joke about not being faster than the bear. I don’t have to be accurate, I just have to be more accurate than my readers’ understanding.

2 thoughts on “MIND MELD Makeup with Jay Lake: Scientific Accuracy in Stories”

  1. And I’ve got Jay coming to Lauch Pad Astronomy Workshop for Writers (www.launchpadworkshop.org) this summer so we can scratch astronomy from his list of areas he can’t write well enough to get past an astronomer. There’s a certain minimal level of expertise, research, and fact-checking that every writer should do when writing on complicated topics.

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