This week’s inspiration is longer than past editions because there were more stories I found of interest this week including ancient nuclear fusion, a Concorde successor, a scientific mystery may be solved, a very cool look at the point of view of different pets, and some historical flashbacks involving atomic bombs falling on North Carolina and others falling into Mexico. Hopefully this gets the creative juices flowing for some of you as it did for me.
I’ve been asked to write a Science Fiction and Fantasy Joke Ebook by Delabarre Publishing, after the success of my 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids released August 1st. And in doing research, I came across this and thought I’d share it. Here are Top 20 Scientist Answers to Why The Chicken Crossed The Road:
Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Archimedes: Because it had the inclination.
Aristotle: It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.
Andre Ampere: To keep up with current events.
Alexander Graham Bell: To get to the nearest phone.
Marie Curie: She was radiating with enthusiasm as she crossed the road.
Nicolaus Copernicus: Despite the evidence of your senses I can show that it is mathematically simpler to describe it as the road passing under the chicken.
C. J. Doppler: For its effect on passer-bys.
Thomas Edison: She thought it would be an illuminating experience.
Richard Feynman: It didn’t cross the road to the other side. It actually came back to where it started but was momentarily moving backward in time.
Jean Foucault: It didn’t. The rotation of the earth made it appear to cross.
Galileo: To get a better look at the stars.
Karl Gauss: Because of the magnetic personality of the rooster on the other side.
Stephen Hawking: The first seconds made the universe in such a way that chickens cross the road.
Werner Heisenberg: It was uncertain if it could make it, but wanted to try on general principles.
Newton: Because an apple fell on its head.
Ohm: There was more resistance on this side.
Pascal: It was pressured to cross the road.
Wolfgang Pauli: There already was a chicken on this side of the road.
Volta: The other side had more potential.
James Watt: It thought it would be a good way to let off steam.
I do realize that some of these are funnier the greater your understanding of the various scientists’ views and work, but I hope they gave you a chuckle as they did me. And yes, I’d love to hear in comments if you know of other approaches not listed.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured in anthologies and magazines. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. A freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction and also hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.
Research, hate it or love it, is something every speculative fiction writer must deal with at one time or another. Most deal with it often. Research is an easy thing to neglect for many reasons. Above all, it’s usually less fun than writing and creating and it’s time consuming. Still, research is necessary. Here are ten mistakes writers make with research. Consider the costs of making them yourself.
1) Skipping the research. I don’t need no stinking research. Mistake number one. You may be able to fudge some things, especially in science fiction stories set in worlds far distant from our own, for example, but in your historical fantasy, your contemporary urban fantasy or your medieval epic fantasy, you’d better know the facts. If you don’t, readers will and they’ll be unhappy you didn’t care enough to make sure you did. In any world building or story crafting where facts and details readers could know or research are required, research it yourself. Know what you’re talking about. That’s usually impossible without research.
2) Relying on novels by other genre writers. How do you know Terry Goodkind or Patrick Rothfuss got it right? Where did they get their facts? People make up inaccurate facts all the time and write them into their novels. (I am not saying Goodkind and Rothfuss did. I have no such examples. Just using them as examples.) There’s nothing worse for fantasy fans than reading another stereotypical novel set in a stereotypical fantasy world that gets it wrong. Don’t trust anyone but yourself to do the research and do it well, unless you can afford to pay a research assistant, in which case, be sure and hire a trustworthy one.
3) Using only one source. How do you verify facts? Check them against multiple sources. Don’t assume the source you are using has it all right. Check their facts against other sources. The internet is a great resource as are libraries. You can find multiple resources on almost any topic you’d want to research. So make use of that and be sure you’ve got it right.
4) Researching only when and what they have to. To a degree, you only need research for a science in your science fiction, so to speak. But that doesn’t mean you should stop there. How do you know your world makes sense geographically? How do you know the dietary patterns and plants you place in various locations are correct for the climate or environment? Who cares? Informed readers, that’s who, and all it takes is one to blow the whistle and cause other readers to doubt you. Once they doubt you, they have trouble trusting the stories you tell and if they can’t suspend disbelief, your science fiction and fantasy can’t succeed very well. So research details whenever you can. Even if you’re not sure they’re important. This doesn’t mean you need to research every word, of course, but play detective and ask yourself what you can research to make your story better and more skeptic-proof and true to life and then get busy.
5) Using questionable sources. Just as one source may or may not be reliable, the validity of any source must be verified. A good sign is when you use sources commonly used by many other people. You can also check data about the author and publisher. And you can find reviews and evaluations as well. There are many ways to check the sources, even comparing them to other respected sources to see how they compare. If you find one source that says “it happened like this,” and no other source agrees, perhaps that little factoid might not be the best one to put in your story.
6) Thinking every iota of research must be in the novel. Info dump and listen for the thump as readers drop your book on the floor. They may never pick it back up again, either, so don’t make this mistake. In world building, you have to know everything but your readers don’t. Neither do your characters. Include what’s necessary to tell the story and make the world come alive and leave the rest for a sequel or your files. The point of researching wasn’t to add fluff to your novel but knowledge to your head. The more you know, the smarter you write. And smart writers don’t info dump.
7) Making stuff up without checking. Making something up is part of fiction writing, yes, I get that. But if you make something up which actually exists and the facts are wrong, you’ll look foolish. And nothing turns off a reader more. Make sure that things you invent don’t exist before you put them in your story and make up facts or science to explain them.
8 ) Including research that’s hard to understand. Just because you understand it, doesn’t mean your reader will. If you think the story needs it, make sure the research is explained well when you write it in. Quoting scientific jargon from your sources is one way to blow it. Put it in simple, every day language so readers of all backgrounds will get it. Include only what’s necessary and forget the rest. Tom Clancy used to spend page after page describing weapons in intimate detail. If his books hadn’t been so compelling, readers would have left. Instead, they just jumped ahead. His books sold, so he kept doing it, but unless you’re a bestseller, don’t count on getting away with it. Explain it simply, fast and well, then move on. It’s the same as anything else in your prose, communicating with the reader is the goal. If you don’t do it well, your work won’t succeed. So first, make sure you understand it well before you write it, then write it as if you’re explaining it to a child.
9) Underestimating readers’ expectations. A lot depends on the genre and subgenre, of course. Space opera fans and hard SF fans have different expectations. But don’t make the mistake of assuming since you don’t know, readers won’t either. I struggle with this myself. Research is one of my least favorite past times, but when someone comes along who knows better, the illusion is blown and it can turn off fans and readers in droves once word spreads. Take the time to be informed so you can inform your readers. Assumption is the mother of all screw ups, they say. Don’t assume your readers aren’t smarter or more informed than you are. Most often they are.
10) Rushing through research. As the other 9 points prove, research takes time. Just like writing prose does. While you probably shouldn’t include time spent researching toward your writing word count goals, you should set aside quality time for research. How much you need depends on what you’re researching, how much you already know about it, the subgenre, genre, and many other factors. But research, when done, should be done right, like anything else. It’s an element of craft and quality writing as with anything else done to complete your novel. Treat it accordingly and don’t rush it. Research is just as much a part of the writing job as creating prose and thinking up ideas are.
Well, there’s ten common mistakes speculative fiction writers make in regards to research. I’m guilty. What about you? And do you have other suggestions? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.
For what it’s worth…
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novelThe Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.
A compelling read filled with sparkling prose about the author’s adventures outside his culture and comfort zone encountering predators around the world and even in his own yard. Rich in detail with a good sense of self-deprecation mixed with genuine cultural and animal insight, Foster herein challenges all of us to live a little more bravely than we might so that we can write better, understand better, and experience the world better. Truly inspiring. I couldn’t put it down.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to stare a lion in the face on the serenghetti or swim with sharks in the ocean? Author Alan Dean Foster answers those questions and more in the riveting “Predators I Have Known,” coming February 22nd from Open Road Media.
Foster, a well known and respected author of science fiction and fantasy, New York Times bestselling author of 110 books, has the same lust for adventure he satisfies in readers with his many books and he takes us with him on many adventures around the world as he satiates it with daring encounters many of us might never risk. From the Amazon River in South America to the plains of Africa to the Arizona desert, Foster’s tales are told with vivid description, honest self-deprecation, and a great sense of humor using powerful prose. He captures his emotions and thoughts as he faces uncertain dangers yet feels compelled to stand his ground and not run. The predators are everything from giant ants to giant otters, usual suspects like snakes and spiders to big cats and elephants and other surprises. Some are well known, others less so. All are intriguing.
For readers without the budget, time or guts to travel the world, Foster gives you a bird’s eye view of Australia, the Amazon jungle, the Pantanal, African desert and more. Having visited some of the places he does myself, I can attest to the accuracy of his descriptions and realism of his emotions. I only wish I could describe them so well. Sure to invoke the imagination, the book will make you laugh with delight, squirm with discomfort, and wait with baited breath to see if he survives. It’s a wonderful change of pace from a beloved writer and one I highly recommend. I’m sure I will read it again and again, especially when my own reality prevents satisfying my own lust for adventure.
The only weakness for me was that I wanted more, and I especially wish there were some of Foster’s pictures of the various encounters. His prose is vivid enough one can live without them, but having them would have just made the book all the more powerful.
In January 1989, while out in Los Angeles preparing to transfer colleges, I interviewed actor Ted Danson for my college newspaper because he was an alumnus. During that interview, Danson discussed his passion for the American Ocean’s Campaign (now Oceana), which he’d founded as an environmental-focused nonprofit to educate the public on saving our damaged oceans. He recalled the time he’d been on vacation with his family and saw such pollution on a beach that he felt uncomfortable letting his daughters swim. I recalled times I’d witnessed similar sludge in the Rocky Mountains. I recalled driving through the Alps and being shocked how well preserved they were by comparison. That was the moment I first believed mankind’s habit of damaging the environment without concern for the future was a major problem.
So, in a sense, I believed one of the tenets of Global Warming long before that theory existed. Which is one reason I find it easy to say: I don’t believe in Global Warming theory. I believe God created the Earth and gave it to man as a home. I believe we are here as stewards and we have a responsibility to take care of the gift of our planet and preserve it as a gift to be shared with future generations. I remember hearing about the destruction of Mangrroves by New Orleans and over in Asia as hurricanes hit and realizing the damage had gotten worse than I’d realized. And thinking we have to stop this. And I believe we do.
But that doesn’t mean I believe in all this peudo-science used to justify Global Warming. Climate changes? Well, Hammartan winds have been causing strange shifts for decades, so why is it all of a sudden Global Warming? One of my biggest issues with science as a whole these days is summed up in the article http://slate.me/fo8yGr. Science has become dominated by people with one dominant worldview and ideology. How can it truly call itself unbiased, how can the methods truly be subjective when the people asking the questions start from such a similar place? As a science fiction and fantasy writer, I have marvelled how people who can be so creative and open to endless possibility in their writing can be so close minded in their real world attitudes toward God and other subjects. Is it really so easy to write off a higher being as the iniator of the Big Bang, when one is so convinced a big bang actually occurred?
And the arguments I’ve heard and data I’ve read on Global Warming just prove this to me. Anyone who even remotely questions the theory is labelled “irrational” or “ignorant.” What happened to healthy skepticism in science? Some legitimate questions have been raised about the data and I don’t think true, dedicated scientists of integrity would discount them so quickly. There’s no doubt, in my mind, that mankind’s activities are harming the environment. Corporations and governments and others have built for years, destroying habitat and natural resources, without any regard for long term impact. We’ve known most of my life that oil was not unlimited, that it one day might run out. The fact that it hasn’t yet, doesn’t change my concern that our dependence on fossil fuels is a long term concern. In the same way, I can believe that the Earth’s other rich resources have limits. And one has only to read the Wildlife Foundations endangered species lists to figure out the damage done to the animal kingdom.
Is it really possible for anyone to believe significant damage hasn’t been done to the environment by man? Not a rational person, no, but rational people still don’t have to believe in Global Warming to be rational. Sorry folks. The very suggestion that they do is completely irrational. This is science, remember? It’s based on hypothesis which form theories. In essence, educated guesses, at least until definitive proof exists. And while definitive proof exists of environmental damage by man, Global Warming theory has not been definitively proven. So I remain skeptical.
The need for stewardship, however, is obvious. It occurs not only in personal finance or use of office supplies (particularly witnessed by those responsible for the relevant budgets) but in the face of rising gas prices. It’s not really a big stretch to apply the concept to other areas as well, such as the environment. As farmers, my family often spoke of good stewardship of their land. Land is valuable and to survive, farmers must make the most of every parcel. Perhaps city folk have a harder time grasping this prospect, but I don’t think it’s that hard. We have to take care of everything we own if we want it to last. I learned that every time a childhood toy broke and couldn’t be repaired.
So here I am, proponent of stewardship but Global Warming skeptic. And I am a rational person, despite being a science fiction and fantasy writer. I have great faith in science and great faith in religion, and I have great faith in human kind.