If you’ve ever written anything remotely Science Fiction-related, you’ve probably done research. Personally, it wasn’t something I had ever really considered up until a few years ago. That was the beauty of primarily writing Fantasy: you can make it up and no one will question it (usually, there are outliers).
I’ve found Science Fiction to be an entirely different animal. I have to be honest here. I was never much into “hard” sci-fi, full of detailed explanations of tech and high level theories. I always preferred Fantasy’s “wave a wand and call it magic” approach, thus negating the need to explain why things happened (I’m not arguing rules of various magic systems here, just go with this for argument’s sake, okay?). This was one-hundred and fifty percent true for me… until I discovered Steampunk.
Unlike any other type of sci-fi I’d read before, I found myself fascinated by the turnings of gears and how certain things were possible. When I started writing Master of Myth, I tentatively dipped my toes into the dreaded wilds of researching tech, mostly weaponry and modes of transportation, and I found it to be not so scary after all. Making more acquaintances with people in scientific fields only furthered my interest in the factual. What began as a search for “what’s the name of this gun part” in Master of Myth, has turned into an obsession with Getting It Right.
To illustrate the point, here’s a few examples of some of the things I researched while writing Maven:
- Hawaiian hotels
- virus cellular structure and life cycles
- sign language
- aquatic research programs at colleges
- UEFA schedules
- dolphin anatomy and pod behavior
- marine micro-organisms and their role in underwater ecology
- geography and topography
All this and it doesn’t even list all the computer and naval terminology I had to look up either as refresher or I flat out didn’t know or the little things here and there that would come up, take me an hour to find, only to use one word in a single sentence that the reader will likely forget five seconds after they see it. Not to in any way disparage readers, but as an author I am far more critical of every single word I write than many of my readers will be.
So why all this? Because of the need to Get it Right. I know too many people that might see my words, see the Wrongness in them, and it would take some of the shine off the story. Wrongness is distracting. Wrongness makes you stop reading to question something in front of you. Wrongness destroys the suspension of disbelief. Perhaps I’m too concerned with this, but it’s as much for my own peace of mind as it is for the readers’ benefit. I write the stories I want to read and I want them to make sense. I think anyone paying money for a book expects, demands, even, to be immersed in a world so thoroughly they don’t stop to question the whole thing because one detail threw a literary curve ball at their face and gave them a black eye. I refuse to do that to a reader, or do that to my story.
I am curious, though, how closely readers of sci-fi scrutinize the books they read. What throws you out of a story? Can you remember reading a great book to suddenly have the rug ripped out from under you by a small, inaccurate detail? I suppose this isn’t limited to the Science Fiction genre, but it feels more likely to happen there. That could just be me and my own opinions, however.
The dilemma I find myself facing now is that I don’t know that I could go back to the research-not-required realms of Fantasy writing. I’m moving away from the magic and into the factual. I was a little sad in realizing this, but it’s been such a natural progression, a type of growth, that by the time I realized it was happening, it was already done. Don’t get me wrong, I still adore the Harry Potter-ish, elf-and-dwarf-bearing books of Fantasy. Gods and ogres, pixies and prophecies, sorcerers and talking animals will always be staples of the books on my shelves, but how much of that will bleed into my own fiction anymore…
Well, I can’t see what the future holds. All I can do is write about it!