Science in Sci-Fi

When I first had the idea that ultimately became Paradigm Lost, I struggled with how much science to put into it. I did some research into contemporary science’s opinions on the future of space travel and found it fascinating.

So fascinating that for weeks, maybe months, I made no progress on actually writing the book.

As Interstellar pointed out, time is a resource. Working full-time, commuting 3-4 hours per day (Oh, the joys of DC…), having a family, and going to school only leave so much time for me to pursue writing. But that is not the main reason I decided to limit the amount of science. I would’ve spent as much time researching and writing the book as required to produce the type of product that I wanted–not just because it represents me, but I want you to enjoy it and to get your money’s worth. Most people work hard for their money, and I respect that people are taking a chance spending it on my book. I want to write books that are worth your money and your time, regardless of my day-to-day constraints–those are my challenges, not yours.

That being said, I really struggled on the amount of science that would be in the book; but let me backtrack for a second. This single piece of advice has affected me more than any other:

“My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: When you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.”
― Elmore Leonard, Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing

Obviously, that advices requires you to be accurate in an area that is largely subjective; it is no easy task. But if I found that I was bored writing a part of the book, then I doubted you would enjoy reading it. This advice had effects at a higher level, too: What was important to the story?

SPOILER ALERT – Do not read any further if you haven’t read Paradigm Lost.

I could be wrong, but I think I had an original idea (at least, I haven’t seen it anywhere): What if the sole purpose (or at least the end result) of biological evolution was to spawn a superior, artificial species?

AI scares the crap out of me. Let me caveat that, too: I grew up racing and drifting muscle cars, I’ve survived cancer, I’ve spent most of the last decade hunting, or at least countering, some very unpleasant people, and I’ve driven on the DC Beltway–and AI scares the crap out of me. Humanity is far from perfect, but I’d very much like to see it survive.

If creating truly sentient artificial life is possible, and I suspect that it is, then I hope we approach it with caution (e.g., the ‘Sinclair Chip,’ no direct connections to networks, etc.). Having AIs limited to human-ish bodies with no wired or wireless connectivity would help to limit the playing field; they’d be able to type faster, but they’d still have to type, to make an oversimplified analogy. (Obviously, it would be far more efficient for AIs to communicate technologically vs. verbally, but maybe society would want to limit that.) What I don’t cover too much in PL is that AIs will likely be able to evolve far more quickly than a biological species. I’m working under the assumption that AIs whose core programming is to essentially be human and protect humanity would try to evolve to become more human (like Data, in a way). This is very optimistic, but I hope it’s something we can achieve if sentient AI comes to fruition. A major point of this story was that AIs were so commonplace and accepted in society that it just wasn’t noteworthy anymore.

So now that I had my ‘unique’ idea, some core operating principles for human-based AI, and some research on the potential future of space travel, I decided to write my story. What I found was, for the story I wanted to tell at least, the science wasn’t as important as I originally thought it would’ve been. I have no doubt that, assuming we survive for a few more centuries, human ingenuity (possibly assisted by AI) will figure out how to travel farther in space. So based on the research I did, I took a few scientific possibilities about space travel, since it’s impossible to completely predict technology 300 years from now, and then started ‘world-building.’ If these technologies existed, how would humanity unfold? I’m a junkie for things like Strategic Forecasting (StratFor), so the societal implications were far more important to me–and my story–than the actual technology. The “I’m not a physicist” quips were a nod to this–not that Ward is me; he’s definitely a fictitious character.

A few people have said I’ve had too much science/tech in the book, several have said that I had the right amount, and a few have said that I didn’t have enough–and that’s fair. Some people want more tech, some people want less, and people are entitled to their opinion (especially if it is politely stated). People are unique individuals who want what they want, and that’s normal, but it’s impossible to please everyone. If I added a lot of science, I would appease some but turn off others. So in short, I focused on what was important to the story I wanted to tell and tried to include enough science and tech to make the universe believable. Besides, I like science and tech a lot, too. 😉

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