In James Blish’s novel “They Shall Have Stars” we read:
“there was no electronic device anywhere on the Bridge since it was impossible to maintain a vacuum on Jupiter.”
The assumption Blish made was that electronics implied vacuum tubes (no transistors invented yet), which would collapse under the extreme atmospheric pressure found on our giant planet companion.
Making assumptions – worse, making the wrong ones – will always let us down if we look to science fiction as a way to predict the future.
It helps if you really understand the science you use in your novels, its current limits, and its aspirations to venture beyond the edge. Don’t leave gray areas in the open, do your research and learn a lot about your science in science fiction, even if it is in order to write one line.
Definitions of science fiction grow on trees, and it is a great genre to write on, and to read. It certainly specializes in answering “What if?” questions. What other genre can place humans (or aliens) in an imagined scenario, dooms day, post-apocalyptic, dystopian societies, and with that element of science or technology to make the story unique and inspirational. It is the job of the writer to show how those human will then react.
For the writer, it is far more important to make sure for the follow-through of the initial “what if” to be realistic and logical than it is to make a clear prediction of scientific possibility, especially when your assumption – on the contrary – is that there will be no new scientific possibilities (like being stuck with vacuum tubes in the future). But don’t force prediction doing too much erring into fantasy. Current science – and currently explored theories – is a fertile ground for science fiction if you know where to look for.
More relevant than prediction is instead the influence of science fiction on real science. I’ve worked for many years at CERN and at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, and I use that in my novels. Because science and science fiction are powerfully intertwined, it was also common to meet co-workers whose reading realm was Science Fiction. It’s obvious that science fiction is influenced by science, the clue’s in the name, but it is also true that science can be influenced by the right science fiction.
Take, for instance, robots. There is no doubt that many of the attempts to create humanoid robots have been driven by science fiction archetypes like Isaac Asimov’s classic stories. And the very word “robot” comes from fiction.
It is easy to find many different science and technology areas with a similarly complex relationship with science fiction. Virtual reality, tractor beams, bringing extinct creatures back to life, exoskeleton suits, cyborgs, cloaking devices and artificial intelligence spring to mind, and there are many more you can surely add to the list. But in the end, all of these pale before what might be the most important influence science fiction has on science. It may not have directly inspired every bit of science we see, but science fiction has certainly shaped generations of scientists. And that can only be a good thing.
Massimo Marino is a scientist envisioning science fiction. He spent years at CERN and The Lawrence Berkeley Lab followed by lead positions with Apple, Inc. and the World Economic Forum.
Massimo currently lives in France and crosses the border with Switzerland multiple times daily, although he is no smuggler.
As a scientist writing science fiction, he went from smashing particles at accelerators at SLAC and CERN to smashing words on a computer screen.
He’s the author of multi-awarded Daimones Trilogy, with over 1,000 ratings in combined Amazon and goodreads. He’s an active member of SFWA, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.
The Daimones Trilogy:
• 2013 Hall of Fame – Best in Science Fiction, Quality Reads UK Book Club