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It’s Not the Science in Science Fiction That Matters

Déjà Vu author Ian Hocking talks about the science in science fiction and why he prioritizes “meaning” over “factual accuracy”:

I guess I’ve come to this conclusion through the editing process. I’ve learned that what makes a scene good isn’t the tech; it’s the meaning conjured by the characters, their struggles, the conflict, and the wider narrative. When working to improve a work of fiction, you can fiddle with the meaning (I’m using this word in a broad sense that encompasses ’emotion’, ‘affect’, ‘interest’ and so on) or the technical stuff. At the end of the day, it’s the sharpening of meaning that improves the work by any real margin.

I tend to agree that scientific accuracy is not foremeost. This is why I find classic science fiction to be charming, despite the scientific flaws that time has exposed. I love sense of wonder, but not at the expense of the story.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

4 Comments on It’s Not the Science in Science Fiction That Matters

  1. I agree with the article, more or less. It’s why I prefer classic science fiction over, say, Greg Bear. Without really intending to, I have for the past several years drifted toward a sort of grayed-out middle ground, somewhere between heavy sci-fi and massive fantasy tomes. It’s the sort of gray area where things like urban fantasy and technopunk exist.

    I’d rather go the Robert Heinlein approach and have a book full of characters and people and interesting events than a book which I cannot quite follow, just because I’m not scientifically caught-up.

    That said, I think the scientific accuracy should be there nonetheless. In a fantasy novel, you wouldn’t want to focus all your attention it, but you’d want to make sure you’re not using horses like cars, or leaving your bow exposed to the rain. Likewise in sci-fi, you don’t have to have perfect knowledge of quantum theory, but don’t confuse your black holes with your wormholes.

  2. Would you rather read a novel written by a good storyteller or a good scientist? Not that an author can’t be both, but if I had to choose I’d take the storyteller any day.

  3. The other comment I’d like to make is that we’ve raised the bar pretty high for new writers in the SF genre. We expect them to be familiar with just about every SF story & novel written since the 30’s, conversant with all the different modes of tranport, weaponry and so on, to have a good working knowledge of all the cliches they must avoid …

    No wonder people choose to write fantasy. Sword, check. Horse, check. Doohicky of power, check. Evil bad guy with magic, check. Right, off we go then.

  4. I agree that that’s why people go toward fantasy when they’re young writers. The problem is, they frequently don’t understand anything of the realism of a fantasy world, thus leading to D&D style, Conan the Barbarian fantasy novels.

    I think it’s important to know your stuff, at least well enough that you can tell your story. I don’t think you need a Bachelor’s in applied sciences to write a sci-fi novel (boy, I hope not.)

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