Working with reality

This is a scary venue for most fiction authors, I’m sure.  Semi-fictional historical novels, hard science-fiction, and many other novel types are a kind of writing that require a great deal of effort from the author.

Last week, I began writing a short story, one which I’m terming “semi-hard science-fiction”.  To quote that massive collection of possibly accurate information, Wikipedia, hard science-fiction is “…..characterized by an emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy, or on both”.  This says a lot, especially to a writer.  “Emphasis on….detail….or accuracy” is a frightening idea.

In my work on “Lifter”, I discovered just how daunting a task even my “semi-hard” science-fiction could be.  By semi-hard, I mean that the story is characterized by detail and accuracy in scientific areas, but not to the point which hard science-fiction is.  In the realm of hard science-fiction, there have been authors criticized by readers for not accurately computing the gravity, orbit, speed, etc, of planets and artificial space-edifices.  My story isn’t quite up to these standards, being more based on mentally expanding on scientific theories and functional experiments than it is based on mathematically expanding them.

Even so, I wanted to keep the science as realistic as possible.  That desire made “Lifter” a good deal harder than any other story I’ve done so far.  It’s only going to be around 5,000 words, but the amount of research and constant referral is easily equal to the amount I did for my full-length fantasy novel “Every Blade of Grass”.

For EBOG, I needed to find out how many people could be supported by a square mile in medieval times.  For “Lifter”, I had to find out what a laser-induced plasma expansion sounded like.  For EBOG, I had to keep records of how many men were in the various armies in play.  For “Lifter”, I had to determine the weight/cost/distance ratios of different earth-to-orbit vehicles.  My “lifters”, the space-craft that are ubiquitous and central to the story, needed to be the most likely, the cheapest, and the safest of the current experimental/theoretical craft of today.

After looking around for a day and a half, I found one that not only gripped the imagination, but is theoretically practical and experimentally viable.  It’s also cheap enough to launch that it seemed the perfect choice for a privately owned cargo vehicle.  Still, it turned out that a day and a half wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy all the scenes in the story.  I also had to find out how stabilizing gyroscopes maintained their speed.  Discovering if nuclear fusion was viable and, more importantly, a relatively clean energy, was necessary, as well.

All of this is coming together in a very interesting and, I hope, compelling short story about what we might be able to expect in the technological future of space travel.  The societal and business model is utterly preposterous, but I built one that allowed me to really showcase the possibilities of the technology and give me characters who could help drive the story.  I wanted to depart from the more common military or government-based space-exploration and advancement.

It’s an interesting learning experience, one that is actually giving me a great deal more confidence for other stories that I’ve been dreaming about, ones that I’ve been avoiding due to the need for massive amounts of research.

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