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Science and Insight for Science Fiction Writers is now available from Author House -- Amazon -- Barnes and Noble and other fine book sellers, search for "Roger Bourke White Jr."

Science and Insight for Science Fiction Writers

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright January 2012


Introduction -- to full introduction

So you want to write some science fiction stories, do you?

Some real science fiction stories, stories where the science matters as much as the characters? Then you want to write the subset of science fiction that I call Technofiction.

How do you start?

You start with the premise that science and technology are interesting to write about because they change how we humans live. So the first step in any good Technofiction story is observing the differences that science and technology make to how humans live. (or aliens, for that matter)

Volume One: The Evolution of Technology

Tattoos and T-Shirts -- How New Tech replaces Old Tech

Differences between High Technology and High Magic

On Birds and Boeings -- Surprises we can expect from Genetic Engineering

The evolution of technology is the heart of Technofiction. Technofiction is about how technology changes our lives, and this section is about how technology changes.

I have watched new inventions come into our lives for five decades now. I’ve seen lots of surprises, and what fun they’ve been! But as I’ve watched, I’ve started to see patterns, as well.

These essays are about are the patterns I see.

Volume Two: Space Travel

Lifestyles on Interstellar Space Flights

Thoughts on Space Commerce

Thoughts on the Composition of Gas Giants -- The Ooze Zone

How Hot is Venus?

Thoughts on Biosphere 2 and the Gardens of Starships

Space travel fires the human imagination.

The Moon riding high in the sky.

The planets that look so different when we put a telescope to them.

Knowing that the planets are Earth-like bodies, not moving dots on a celestial ceiling, knowing that there may be more planets circling distant stars. ...

New worlds ... new ways of living ... Imagination Firing!

But dealing with space travel has always been difficult for science fiction writers. There are two big problems: How to get there, and how to get there in a reasonable amount of time.

Science fiction readers’ understanding of how to space travel has evolved steadily. H. G. Wells and Jules Verne both wrote their pre-1900 stories describing space travel as having the travelers, humans and aliens alike, being shot out of cannons. Ummm! That’s a “fasten your seatbelt” ride!

Robert Goddard, a physicist, revolutionized science fiction in the mid-1920’s by showing that liquid-fueled rockets could be used for space travel, and readers and writers moved from cannons to rockets.

But by the 1960’s, the warm glow of rocket travel was fading, under the harsh reality of better understanding: It was clear to writers and readers that rocket travel was going to be slow, and Einstein’s relativity theories were putting a solid cap on how fast rockets could go, even in theory.

These problems were killing the science fiction writers who wanted to write stories about travel to other stars, so they either ignored the problem of getting there, or invented dozens upon dozens of fantastic workarounds to this “get me there in a reasonable time” problem. Contemporary Star Trek’s warp drive is a legacy of this effort to come up with a plausible-enough workaround.

Another of Star Trek’s inventions, the transporter, nicely illustrates the two common problems with fantastic workarounds:

o First, because they aren’t constrained by real physics, their capabilities drift with each telling -– Star Trek 2009’s transporters that can beam on to warping starships being a current example of drifting capabilities -– the 1960’s Star Trek transporters could only beam between an orbiting ship and a planet’s surface.

o Second, the other consequences of a particular technology are not thought through. Going back to Star Trek transporters again, there’s no reason why they would not replace cars and trucks on Earth, and completely change the lifestyle of life on Earth.

Technofiction tries to avoid these kinds of problems by thinking through thoroughly the consequences of a new technology. This means answering questions such as: Who else can use it? What happens when the machines doing the new invention get smaller, cheaper, easier? Who else in the community is going to say.

“Hey! Smaller? Cheaper? Now I can now use that machine for [some surprising use].”

What follows in this section are a series of essays that go back to basics of space travel. In these essays, I talk about what is the best we can do with star travel in real life. I accept that ships will be slower-than-light (STL), and then craft what the space travel lifestyle will be like from there.

Volume Three: The Evolution of Life

Ecological Booms, Busts and Flip-Flops

Save Mankind with Neolithic Park

On Gene Pools, Language and Arranged Marriages

Good Times, Bad Times, and Genes

Sucesses of the Grandfather are Visited on the Grandson

Brides and Matrons, Big Males and Flat Bodies -- More Thoughts on the Subtlety of Human Design

What Valuable Trait is the Vitamin C "Screwed up Gene" a Marker for?

Special Life-Creating Things about the Earth

The Accelerating Rate of Evolutionary Change

Humans are a pretty special case of life on Earth.

They are special, but they are very much a part of the web of life on Earth, and well adapted to it.

These essays talk about some interesting implications of evolution. They talk about how tightly adapted the human form is to living on Earth, how humans are a boom species who thrive mightily because they are such good environment modifiers, and how you can view language as a human invention, and, if you view language as an invention, the interesting surprise applications that have sprung up around it.

This section opens up some interesting insights on how humans live on Earth, and how life on other planets may be quite different from what we experience here on Earth.

Volume Four: Human Thinking

The Thinking Stack, Part One

The Thinking Stack, Part Two

The Sacred Masculine and Civilization

Advanced Leadership and Followership: Two Modern Human Skills

On Language and Lifespan

Why Humans Like to Drink Soft Drinks

Thoughts on Prostitution

Intelligence without Nerves

What Makes Civilization Worth the Trouble?

Thoughts on Religion and Self-Awareness

Thoughts on the Y2K Crisis

Mania and Markets

Human thinking is one of mankind’s most distinctive features. For one thing, very germane to this book, it is the heart of all good story telling.

Many people have written a whole lot on human thinking, so what makes this section distinctive?

What I write about here is the tight relation between how we think and the world we live in. It is the relation between human thinking and evolution.

My premise is that much of the mystery of human thinking, the human condition, if you will, can be explained by viewing human thinking as an efficient adaptation to solving the day-to-day problems of human living ... in Stone Age times, with a light sprinkling of adapting on top, to help in Agricultural Age times.

The goal of this next section of essays is to build added insight into the motivation of the characters you may put into your stories. If this section helps you, it will let you move beyond good and evil, greedy and generous, heroic and cowardly, loving and hateful, as motivations for the characters who move through your stories. There are other motivations available...

Volume Five: The 9-11 Disaster, a Text Book Case in Fear

The Anatomy of Memorable Disasters

Post September 11th (written in November 2001)

NASA Abandons Hubble -- An incarnation of "Lifeboats on the Titanic" Thinking

Worshipping at the Altar of the Holy Metal Detector

The 9-11 Disaster was a terrible human tragedy.

America’s response to it was a thousand-fold bigger human tragedy.

The silver lining in this dark cloud is that the 9-11 Decade has been a text book case of a human community responding to fear: There is a whole lot to be learned from looking at what the American people did, and why they did it.

The essays in this section were written as I experienced the 9-11 Decade, and as I thought about why people were doing what they were doing, and I guessed at what people would be doing next.

What I learned out of the 9-11 experience, was identifying a way of thinking that I now call Panic Thinking and Blunder response.

The goal of these essays is to help you write about how fear stalks a community.

Note that the tone of many of these essays is ranting about what America should be doing instead of what it is doing. That's because these essays were written as the crisis unfolded. They were written talking about the present, not about the past or the future. This can give you a feel for what thinking is happening at the time of a crisis.

Volume Six: Other Topics

Why Do Stars Shine for So Long?

An Inexpensive Earth Terraforming Project

Thinking about Deltas

Thoughts on how to use the video part of a TV broadcast to better report news

Teaching TV 101 in High School

This volume is a catchall for other interesting topics I have written about.

The topics range from the phase changes going on inside stars, to the shape that deltas take when they form, to a terraforming project we can do to our own earth, and finally, to how we can design better TV programming.

Have fun.

Volume Seven: Humanity's Place in the Universe

The Relation Between Creators and Creations -- God and Man, Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse

How Small Can Mankind's Universe Be?

Is Religion Distinctively Human?

The Cow-Human Relation -- From the Cow's Perspective

What is mankind’s place in the universe?

Yes, this is a religious question, but it's something that comes up in science thinking as well. What follows is a series of essays about questions I have thought long and hard about.

This section may be useful to you as a writer because this topic is one of the common themes in science fiction writing. Whenever we embrace a new technology and change our lifestyle, this question of what our place in the universe is reemerges, and answering it can make for very interesting stories.

What follows are topics I find fascinating because the many answers offered by the many people I’ve talked to have added a lot of insight into human thinking and a lot of depth to my story telling. This section may add depth to your story telling as well.


And there you have it.

The purpose of these essays is to stimulate your thinking about science subjects.  The goal is that when you write stories, you can move beyond science fiction settings that have been written about time and time again and bring new wonder to your stories.

What I have been written about are two basic themes:

The insights that I have written about here are the product of many hours of casual thinking. I do not sit down and say, “Time to type something about science.”  Instead what happens is: I walk, eat, watch people, and read about what people are doing.  And as I do these things, I think, and Ah-Hah’s come to me.  Then I sit down and write. The Ah-Hah’s are new patterns that come to me that connect what I know.

Once I have seen an interesting pattern, then I can shape characters around it to make an interesting story, and the result is Technofiction.

Hopefully, these essays will inspire your creative juices in a similar way, and we readers will have lots of new and interesting science fiction to enjoy.


cyreenkland ... technoland