I’m still wondering about the expectations and priorities of writers in general, and of science-fiction writers in particular. My sincere apologies if this seems repetitive, but I need to set a few things straight before I move on, otherwise this thingum will gnaw at me and suck much needed neuronal capacity away from my revision.
You see, I believe that the first priority of a writer is to create compelling and entertaining stories and to share them with as many people as possible (maybe even enough to afford a living). The second priority is to be original and achieve excellence, so as to outshine, or at least impress the competition and entities that judge and reward quality in fiction. Everything else falls further down this list, in my opinion, like proving a point or converting people, or dissing the teachers who belittled us and making our moms proud, or the other way around.
In the case of science-fiction writers, the expectation of originality is great. Not only a mastery of storytelling and the writing craft is expected, but also a mastery in wielding ideas. We are expected to create complex characters, riveting plots, and also explore potential developments in science and technology, and showcase their dangers and benefits, preferably in an intriguing and memorable way. Nowhere is it demanded of us that we create accurate demonstrations of scientific theories and hypotheses, only that we respect known facts in our fictional extrapolations and inventions. We must respect the proven laws of physics, chemistry, quantum mechanics and astronomy, regardless of our personal convictions and religous beliefs, if we want our work to be considered science-fiction, and not science-fantasy or just fantasy.
Despite common misconception, mathematical demonstrations and logical deductions are not the same thing as empiric proof. Anyone aware of what a scientific method is—aware of the necessity of reproducible experimental results, coupled with the ability to generate accurate predictions of observable events, before a theory is considered a valid principle of physics, a set of physical laws—can easily recognize the difference between theory and proven law. The current theory of cosmology is a theoretical construct, not a proven law. As a theory, it can be plausible and popular as much as it likes, that doesn’t make it accurate in a scientific sense.
Today’s cosmology is still chiefly speculative, despite the predilection of the media to claim that we know things for sure. Until we venture out of our solar system and explore celestial phenomenons directly (and long enough), or are able to reproduce them with scaled down models here on Earth, we cannot be certain about their dynamics, we can only speculate. We have been observing the sky with scientific instruments only for the past four centuries, and have become aware that we exist in a galaxy among countless other galaxies only since the 1920’s. Our current cosmological model is just half a century old. On a universal timescale, this is ridiculous. To believe that this one special theory of the universe is a proven law and is the summit of our knowledge, is rather naive in my opinion.
The relevance of all this to writing science-fiction is the following:
As writers, we are by definition creating fictional representations of reality, in which we explore theories and hypotheses. We are not expected to deliver scientific papers that withstand empiric test—if we were, Asimov, Clarke, Lem, Anderson, Pohl, Niven, Vinge, Haldeman, Baxter,… would all be considered laughable frauds, which they most certainly aren’t.
Creating science-fiction has nothing to do with creating empirically valid science, and everything to do with exploring interesting theories. And since all we have in today’s cosmology are theories, one is as good a premise for science-fiction as any other, as long as it’s derived from known basic laws and principles (and there are quite a few wild theories out there, who are nonetheless derived from the same facts as the popular theories). Given that a writer’s second most important priority is originality and intrigue, what good arguments can possibly be given against the use of less popular theories as grounds for fictional worlds? You know, arguments other than conformity and the safety of a well tread road.
I am not a scientist, and I don’t have the slightest illusion about how limited my knowledge and my understanding is. I’m not interested in convincing anyone of my beliefs and curiosities, or in educating people about the workings of the universe. I’m a writer, and as such my loyalty lies entirely with the human imagination, not with a dogma or another, not with a religion or political orientation. I’m neither an avid supporter nor a raging demolisher of scientific theories. Maybe next year I’ll be fascinated with quantum dynamics, or androids and retroviruses, but right now I’m digging into alternative cosmology theories, and relishing the variety and the freedom to pick the most interesting and daring ones for my work—something that scientists unfortunately can’t do. That was the point of my previous post, not (anti-)propaganda, and I’m sorry if my typical enthusiasm gave the wrong impression.
I love this liberty to create alternative realities that entertain and make people think, it’s what makes writing the most awesome thing I can imagine doing. I’m dealing with intriguing fiction, not fact, and I’m very very satisfied with that.
Don’t worry, I’ve exhausted this subject for now. I’m really not that eager to debate whether the glass is half full, or twice as big as necessary.
Next week I’ll write about POV in science-fiction, and hopefully get some Ks of revision wordcount hammered in as well. How are all of your projects coming along, including all of you NaNo’s out there on the battlefield? I’ve got 46K so far, and hopefully 50 by the end of November. Who knows, maybe next year I’ll even participate officially.