Thursday, February 25, 2010

Science in Science Fiction

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion at the University of South Florida Symposium on Science in Science Fiction.   Three of the greatest science fiction writers of all time – Harry Harrison, Ben Bova, and Gregory Benford served on the panel.  Between the three of them, they have over a hundred years of science fiction writing experience.

Harrison’s distinguished career began with his first published science fiction book, Plague from Space, in 1965.  His second work, Make Room! Make Room! published in 1966 loosely served as the basis for the movie Soylent Green.  It told the story of diminishing resources and overpopulation.   In 2009 he won the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award.

Ben Bova’s science fiction career began in the early seventies.  He has written over one hundred books, and served as editor of “Analog Science Fiction” and “Omni Magazine.” 

Gregory Benford has also been writing science fiction since the seventies.  He has a PhD in astrophysics, and teaches at University of California, Irvine.  He also does genomic research.

All three of these authors write hard science fiction.  They base their stories on scientific theory.  They use facts and technical data in their writing.  The science doesn’t change, whether it takes place on Earth, Mars, or across the Universe.  The scientific laws remain constant.

Some of their early works may appear a bit dated.  For instance, Bova said in one of his early works the astronavigator used a slide rule to chart their course across the galaxy.  Harrison had an onboard computer made with vacuum tubes.  On the other hand, in the late sixties, Benford wrote a short story about computer viruses.

The panel discussed the future material of science fiction, and how they view science fiction.  They all believe that hard science fiction writers are optimistic about the future.  Bova thinks that future science fiction themes will tell stories of mankind’s expansion into space.  Seeking solutions to societal problems and resources for a better life for all mankind.  Gregory Benford thinks the future of science fiction writing will include topics about climate change, genomic research, and the ethics of genomic research.  He also sees science fiction writing as optimistic.  If you are going to write about the future, than you must believe a future exists.

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