Writing Science Fiction
I am not a scientist. Most of the things I discuss here come from my own research using the scientific work of others. I would appreciate comments regarding the errors that might crop up.
Writers must do research; it’s part of the contract between the writer and the reader that what we write contains accurate information. Every story has a background, places, customs, scientific facts, historic events, and so on.
Here is the result of failing to do research: A best-selling American author had a character take the train north from London to Cornwall. It wouldn’t have taken more than a few minutes for her to look at a map and find that Cornwall is south-west of London.
But a science fiction writer must do more. We are creating a fictional environment, be it a future Earth or other worlds, and we want to keep “bad science” down to a minimum.
First, there is the problem of space travel. Everyone knows that it is impossible to travel faster than the speed of light, in truth, even traveling at a fraction of light speed could be perilous.
It’s not the speed that would kill you, it’s the acceleration required to reach that speed. The faster an object travels, the greater becomes its mass, and you can imagine how destructive that would be to a human body. Words like implode, squish, disintegrate come to mind, although it’s probably closer to think atomize.
Not only that, there are changes in gases; hydrogen turns into intense radiation when speed approaches that of light, and the radiation would kill the travelers if the pressure didn’t.
Most space-oriented science fiction needs characters to be able to navigate rapidly from one star system to another, so we create fictional methods. One of the most popular is the so-called wormhole, a tunnel that crosses folds in space to arrive at a distant destination. I used this in my novel, Forbidden World, calling the holes portals.
The other is the mysterious magical FTL (Faster Than Light) drive. Nobody knows how it works, but it has become an accepted technology in some of the best science fiction writing.
In one of my recent novels, I use constant acceleration which is hard to explain. It would require constant acceleration of no more than one gravity for half the journey and then constant deceleration of 1g the rest of the way.
“Definition: In case the velocity of a body increases or decreases by the same amount or magnitude of velocity in equal intervals of time and the direction of motion of the body does does not change, we say the body has constant acceleration. This case pertains to motion along a straight line.” https://www.quora.com/What-is-meant-by-constant-acceleration
Communications over great distances are likewise limited. Radio waves are part of the electromagnetic spectrum and can’t move any faster than speed of light.
I work on the theory that telepathy is not limited by distance or physical constraints and is instantaneous, providing there is one telepath to send and one to receive the message. This works effectively in my novel Forbidden World.
Bio-stasis is sometimes referred to as hibernation. It is used to allow the people on the ship to sleep during the many years it takes to go the great distances involved. They may wake up for short intervals before they arrive at their destination, but most of the time is spent in deep sleep. This kind of hibernation slows the aging processes of the body to a minute level (theoretically).
Research is currently being done on cryogenics, but there are still many obstacles in the way of actually freezing a living body and having it survive.
Nanotechnology is an area which may support cryogenics. “Bucky-balls”, or Buckminsterfullerene, Carbon60 has been suggested as potential material that could be used for packing cells to prevent damage caused by freezing.*
* I got this idea from a book I read some years ago, but I can’t recall the title, however, here is a link to several books on the subject. BuckminsterfullerineBooks.
So you can see that we have to dig into all sorts of things, especially if we are not science-trained. For my current novel, I have to research gravity, how it varies depending on the body of matter involved. For example, I need to define the differences between the gravity of planets and asteroids, and the centrifugal force used on the ship.
In addition to gravity, I have to know some biology, mineralogy and mining, medicine, and how to manage non-renewable resources in a closed environment.
The Possible and the Impossible
Recycling is very important in a closed environment. Everything has to be recycled, because there’s no source of replacement.
If it’s a long journey, medical and educational facilities must be provided, as well as leisure time activities, and exercise is vital.
Small manufacturing plants would also be useful to replace (by recycling) worn out equipment, clothing, furniture, as well as to produce things like pharmaceuticals and tools. In effect, you would be reproducing a complete world inside a space ship.
Unreasonable liberties writers and filmmakers take in their creations.
Some of the worst examples are people eating meat on a space ship—where do they find space for pasture to feed grazing animals? The same goes for smoking. When they must provide breathable air to keep everyone on the ship alive, why would they put such a strain on the system by smoking cigarettes and cigars?
Finally, coffee, it seems that nobody on a spaceship or alien planet can survive without coffee, but where does all this coffee come from? Coffee is grown in a very special set of environmental conditions which I doubt could be replicated on a spaceship, even if there were room.
Space is more than space wars with aliens. The military aspect of it is minor when you consider scientific experts required in many fields to keep everything running: cooks, gardeners, mechanics, medical personal, teachers, machinists, crafters, and so on.
Speaking of space wars, how many times have you seen a SF video or movie with space ships that zoom and whistle, roar, or disintegrate with the world shattering booms? I’ve got news for them, sound does not travel in a vacuum. Everything that happens outside the spaceship is completely silent, although the pilots and navigators can use radio waves to communicate. But that wouldn’t be fun, would it?
Personally, I prefer Science Fiction that is more about people than technology and fighting.