The Geomancer


Is that Science there in my Fiction?

The wonderful SF Signal is back with another Mind Meld. This one asks, "Do science fiction authors have an obligation to be scientifically accurate with their stories? Is there a minimum level of accuracy an author should adhere to?" Responses include those of Pyr authors David Louis Edelman, Alexis Glynn Latner, and Adam Roberts, though my favorite points are raised by Karl Schroeder and Elizabeth Bear.

Schroeder turns the question around, arguing that science itself progresses by looking for holes in the contemporary understanding of the universe, and thus, "If scientists are obligated to look for holes in the 'scientifically accurate' picture of the world, would it make sense for science fiction writers to be obligated to uphold that picture?" (Which is an excellent anti-Mundane argument.)

Bear says, "None whatsoever. With one notable exception, which is to say, when writing rigorous quote unquote hard science fiction. I do think the SF writer has an obligation to know which rules she's breaking, and break them for a purpose, as an author writing historical fiction should alter history with intent rather than from ignorance."

The always erudite Adam Roberts reinforces Schroeder's point when he cites Paul Feyerabend's Against Methodand says, "Scientific rules limit possible advances in science: the only principle that does not inhibit progress is: anything goes."


  1. I'll be brief - no. They are writing science FICTION. Fiction.

  2. Yet I think there is an obligation to be internally consistent. When director Spielberg says that he loves science fiction because he can just throw all the rules out and "make things up" it burns me up. Just like the magical systems in fantasy, the thought that goes into it SHOWS and MATTERS, whether that's the research into real science or extrapolations forwards from real science of hard SF, or the coherent magical systems and world-building of rich fantasy worlds.

    As someone alluded to, you wouldn't accept historical fiction that set the American Revolution after World War II just because the author wanted to do it that way, unless of course that was the point - as was the case in Xena: Warrior Princess where all historical figures belong to "the past" and therefore Xena could meet King Tut one week and Ghengis Khan the next.

  3. I agree that it should be consistent - whether it be sf, fantasy, or historical fiction. But I don't require it to be believable. I loved Xena exactly because it took one historical period and moved it way forward of when it actually was. And actually, I think there was a lot more science going on years & years & years ago then scientists etc. today will acknowledge.

    And one of the reasons I enjoy today's SF, people like Mieville and MacDonald, is that the reader can actually see that they did think about the science part, and that it mattered to them, & is one of the reasons why I don't like "pulp."

  4. You had me up to the "pulp" bit.

  5. Sorry. I really don't like "pulp" - in any genre. I think it's given SF a bad name - I don't believe any "pulp" author really cared about their book - that they just wrote it to make money. My bias.

    I just wish I understood more of the science. It frustrates me sometimes when an author goes to great lengths to explain something clearly & I haven't the faintest idea what he/she is talking about because I don't understand it. My husband tells me "Don't worry that you can't understand it - just get the general idea and move on." But then, unlike me, he doesn't read every word in a book, and I do. Sigh.