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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Building Paranormal Worlds isn't Rocket Science. Or is it?

I saw this on another blog, and thought I'd add my $00.02.

Writers of speculative fiction strive to create rich worlds of the fantastic, but believable. The closer you stay within the boundaries set by the laws of physics, the more believable your worlds will be. You can always bend the rules a little. 

You want to write a fantasy, paranormal or a SciFi novel -- do you need to go out and get a degree in quantum physics or a working knowledge of Isaac Newton’s laws of motion, or James Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory? Your story has a space ship. Hmmm. Do you need to understand rocket propulsion or try to come up with a possible futuristic method to make your rocket go fast? Adding SCIENCE to you spec fiction will make it believable, right? Isaac Asimov did it. 
How much science to do you need? Quantum physics talks about the origin of matter (extremely over simplified). Is the fundamental particle of matter the atom? Or is matter infinitely divisible into smaller and smaller bits? And then there’s the String Theory. It states that the fundamental particles are tiny vibrating strings. There are at least five different theories on this, and the ‘M’-Theory or Membrane theory and the mathematics needed to prove these theories are either so complex that hardly anyone understands them or the mathematics haven’t even been developed yet!

Yikes! Do you really want to get that geeky in your story? Forget about it. Technical details are fine, but don't go overboard. Your readers’ eyes will glaze over.

Well ... here's my comment:
I do think an author should do their homework - just as you would if you were writing an historical, steampunk, or creating a contemporary setting in a city like Los Angeles. All readers like to learn a little something. Taking a science fact, and making it relevant is your job as a writer. And especially if you have a little science fiction in your story, you should make an attempt to know/learn something relevant from the world of computers, IT, informatics, engines, and/or something technical! Even mathematical analysis of the stock market unite some contemporary ideas that are important to 'get.' [see The Quants, but Scott Petersen, for example]. It adds credibility to what you're writing, and grounds it. No need to get carried away, of course!

I recommend the following books for writers on cosmology, physics, and contemporary (relevant) math who seek to create new worlds of fiction, and the author of the above mentioned blog recommended the bottom two: 
  • Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel [Michio Kaku (Author)]
  • PSIence: How New Discoveries in Quantum Physics and New Science May Explain the Existence of Paranormal Phenomena [Marie D. Jones (Author)]
  • The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It [Scott Patterson (Author)]
  •  “Quantum, A Guide for the Perplexed” by Jim Al-Khalili. 
  • Patterns In The Void” by Sten F. Odenwald

I don't make these recommendations lightly. I think both of top two authors go a long way toward making (selected) science concepts accessible to the average person. Scott Patersons book is a little dense for me, but I still have it on my list of resource books - trying to get the jargon right, and understand a little more math!

Thoughts?  Anyone else with good books to recommend?

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