Because writing science fiction is damn hard work. There’s so much research to do. Depth of planetary crust. Effects of electromagnetic pulse on electrical equipment. Volcanic activity and pyroplastic flows. Neutral particle beams and charged particle beams. Tracked vehicle mechanics. Explosive decompression. Environmental effects of meteorite impacts. Surface effects of underground nuclear detonations. Bioextraction of minerals from spoil. Cirrhosis of the liver and pancreatic disease. FTL communication.
You know, that list makes the novel look pretty damn exciting. Which is why I started to write it in the first place.
Okay, I am now motivated and reinspired. Huh. And this was supposed to be a rant. Well, instead of a rant, let it be an elucidation.
It’s true that 99% of this information won’t make it into the book. Not as information, anyway, but it will affect the physical world, which in turn affects the characters. Which is why it has to be right.
Oh, you think it doesn’t matter? That no-one will care if my pyroplastic flow doesn’t obey the physical laws of this universe? That I can just give my characters ray guns, and leave it at that?
Hah, no. It matters. Because the first thing a science fiction reader is going to ask when confronted with a ray gun, is “what kind of ray?”
As an science fiction author, you’d better have the answer, or your credibility goes straight down the toilet. For a perfect example, check out Bad Astronomy, one man’s personal war against those vile creators who Take The Laws Of Physics In Vain.
Yes, okay, the average Bob won’t realise that you can’t use a black hole to save a planet from a supernova. But you can get away with a lot in movies, because you can hide behind flashy scenes and special effects. In books, it better be tight, and believable.
Besides, the average Bob doesn’t read science fiction. The science fiction audience is, in general, more technical, more critical and more demanding than, say, the urban fantasy audience. According to Orson Scott Card, they tend to take metaphors literally because, to the science fiction audience, someone who ‘walks mechanically” could quite easily have robotic legs. Readers coming from other genres can have difficulty making the leap to reading figuratively.
However, times are a changing; in the last 20 years or so (I was about to say 10 years, then realised how old I am) science ficiton has developed a couple of subgenres. There’s McCafferty’s popular science fantasy, The Dragonriders of Pern. There is a plethora of science fiction romance (I recommend Sharon Shinn as a great place to start). I’m sure there’s some science fiction erotica out there, but I’m not going looking.
How do you tell the real science fiction from the rest? Well, if the science has laws, and is an integral part of the story, it’s science fiction. Anything else is just a story set in space.
And that’s 500 words I could have been writing on my novel.