Friday, March 18, 2011

Why I write Hard Science Fiction...

          It's Friday again, RocketFans, and I thought I'd close this week out by talking a little about why I chose to write Hard SF as opposed to the Space Opera I grew up loving.

          As much as I've enjoyed the Star Wars franchise over the years, I have a problem with it.  It's not that I've lost my love for that galaxy far, far away, or that the prequels have soured me on the whole thing like they have for others my age.  The problem is, no matter how believable the "used future" design ethic was on the silver screen, The world of Star Wars can never happen.  Space travel will never be that fast, ships in space will never move like galleons on the Spanish Main, and no mater how cool they are, I can never be a Jedi Knight when I grow up.  This has been in my adult years a great disappointment to me.

         There comes a point when escapist fiction of any kind becomes a liability, because it makes you wish for things that can never happen.  This is, perhaps, especially true of science fiction, because when science says you cannot do something, like have stealth in space or travel faster than light, it is not being arbitrary or trying to ruin your fun; science is simply pointing out that if you were able to do these things the sun would stop, because the laws of physics are that interconnected and fundamental.  No amount of wishing or plausible work-arounds or hand waving can make it so.  So to wish that a soft SF setting could be real is worse than useless; it is a waste of dreaming.

          Now, I'm not running down soft SF; it is a way to tell to stories that get people's attention and makes them dream big dreams, and there is nothing wrong with that.  What I'm saying is, wouldn't it be nice if our dreams actually could come true, someday?  Or at least be able to come true? 

          Interesting thing; a lot of the people who worked on the Apollo program for NASA back in the day say that they were inspired to get into aerospace and science by the works of Robert A. Heinlein.  Heinlein may not be considered Hard SF today, with his descriptions of jungles on Venus and three-legged Martians, but back in the forties and fifties he was, and his work inspired many Americans to want to go into space.  There is actually a transcript available of the Apollo XV astronauts wanting to sing Heinlein's "Green Hills of Earth" while on the Moon, at Rysling Crater no less, which was named for the songs fictitious author.  That is what science fiction can do, as opposed to mere space opera or fantasy; it can inspire a future reality while shedding a unique light on the present.

          It can also do the opposite, however.  I think one of the reasons that space travel is not catching fire in the public consciousness the way it could is that real space travel has almost nothing to do with space travel as Hollywood has shown us over the years.  What the crew on the ISS experience on a day-to-day basis is so far removed from what most people think of as "space travel" it hardly registers as the same thing at all in many people's minds.  And it isn't; real space travel is full of strange and wondrous phenomena that are unique in the realm of human experience.

           What all of this means to me is that when I had the opportunity to write my own science fiction, I wanted it to be as true to real-life space travel as I could make it.  I wanted the technology to match what we have, or at least could have someday.  I want my fiction to inspire kids the way Star Wars inspired me, but in a way that lets them imagine a world that could actually happen.  The world of The Black Desert will never come to pass, of this I have no doubt.  That being said, it is my hope that it may, in some small way, inspire the worlds that will come to pass. 

           Whatever dreams may come from this setting, I want those dreams to be achievable.

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