Science fiction in science

Consider my nerd quotient dialed to 11. I will be attending the Science Online 2009 conference this January, and one of the perks will be the panel on using science fiction as a tool for science communication. The moderators asked for input and to “start an online conversation between science fiction writers and science bloggers.”

Well, I want to talk to science fiction writers! And since so many TOG readers are nerdy nerd nerds (and frequently educators of various kinds) I figured you all might want to weigh in, too. Here are my answers to the “Questions for Science Bloggers.”

What is your relationship to science fiction? Do you read it? Watch it? What/who do you like and why?

I love science fiction, though I think probably most of what I read falls more into the fantasy camp. I suppose I’m kind of sterotypically girly in that I care a lot about character development and less about speculative technology, though I do love me some space fights. Though I read all kinds of tripe in my callow youth, I now no longer enjoy books without decent female characters. (Though I don’t mind if they’re sexbots as long as they have a personality and actual humanoid motivations – I thought Charles Stross’ Saturn’s Children was tons of fun.)

My favorite scifi author is Ray Bradbury. I’m going to count China Mieville in there too, since he kind of writes about speculative (albeit dystopian) biotechnology. I listen to several scifi podcasts, mainly Escape Pod. My favorite scifi show is Battlestar Galactica, particularly the first and second seasons, with their optimal combination of space fights, daring rescues, and interesting, flawed characters. (Please, gentle readers, DO NOT spoil the fourth season. I watch it on DVD so I haven’t seen it yet!) I still pine for Firefly. I found Heroes tedious and derivative, and could never bear any of the Stargate series.

What do you see as science fiction’s role in promoting science, if any? Can it do more than make people excited about science? Can it harm the cause of science?

Right now, I don’t see scifi as having much to do with real science. Most of the science in science fiction is so bad that it is either neutral (not associated with real science at all) or harmful to science. I stopped watching Farscape over some nonsense about Aeryn Sun being cold-blooded and how that meant she couldn’t get hot. Hadn’t anyone in LA been to the desert and seen all the lizards scuttling around?

Besides, the science portrayed is so far away from what is possible now. For example, somebody who became a computer programmer to be like Hiro Protagonist in Snow Crash would be sadly disappointed.

Have you used science fiction as a starting point to talk about science? Is it easier to talk about people doing it right or getting it wrong?

I really haven’t. This is probably because I’m a marine ecologist and not too much science fiction is about that type of thing. (Except for the horrible abundance of “dolphins with mystical knowledge” books. I would never use these book as examples because a) people do not need to be encouraged to harass poor cetaceans for Mystical Truths; and b) they are BAD books.)

Are there any specific science or science fiction blogs you would recommend to interested readers or writers?

The science blogs I read are listed in my blog roll. I don’t regularly read any scifi blogs, but if I did, I’d read Io9 and Discovery Magazine’s Science Not Fiction. (Full disclosure: Co-blogger and cohabitator Eric blogs for Science Not Fiction, but that’s only 47% of the reason I’m promoting it.)


6 Responses to Science fiction in science

  1. Martini-Corona says:

    >Right now, I don’t see scifi as having much to do with real science.

    That’s may depend on what you classify as “science” fiction vs. “speculative” fiction. What about Wm. Gibson’s stuff? Internets = science… kind of. Or dystopian futures, like in Never Let Me Go (cloning), Children of Men (environmental pollution? unclear), or Cloud Atlas (all of the above)? I suppose these stories fall more into the category of “scientific ethics” than “science,” but it should all be related.

    I have a feeling that “hard” sci-fi is more technical… for non-mystical dolphins, you might try David Brin’s Uplift series. Or if you have tried them and they make you die inside… sorry?

  2. Martini-Corona says:

    Also, for lots of physics-heavy world building and also gender relations that will make you poke your brain out (IIRC — I read this in middle school), please read The Integral Trees. I recall a fair amount of sex-in-freefall as well.

  3. Peggy says:

    I don’t know if it’s a sign of my competing girly and boy-y (is that a word?) aspects, but I like SF with both character development and speculative technology. There’s not much SF that does both well.

    Martini-Corona: I think novel “Children of Men” is an interesting example of non-SF-like science fiction. The tone is not that far different from James’s murder mysteries, and has a very English feel to it. There’s not much an attempt made to explain what has happened scientifically, instead focusing on what happens to society.

    Thanks for participating in the discussion!

  4. I was interpreting the question as technology-oriented science fiction. It’s a lot easier to think of good books that DON’T explain the science. For example, in “Left Hand of Darkness” Ursula Le Guin talks a lot about the social implications of people without fixed gender, but not very much about how the people got that way. Or all the sentient-computer driven world-hopping time-travel madness in Dan Simmons’ “Hyperion.”

    Martini-Corona – No, I’ve never read Brin. I’ll check it out – the premise sounds neat. Not sure I can deal with the Integral Trees, though…Niven DOES tend to make me die inside.

  5. Gila says:

    Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Ursula Le Guin…all great reads.

  6. Tabitha says:

    Whoa! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a completely different topic but it has pretty much the same page layout and design.
    Superb choice of colors!

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