When Pete put this question to me, it took a bit of time in hospital for me to fully grasp it. The question wasn’t the cause of my medical issue, but laying there without much to do besides think and dream gave me the chance to realize that there are three ways that science (hard or speculative) has fueled my fiction.
1. Endless possibility.
We live in a time where major scientific advancements that will affect our future generation happen nearly every day. We may not hear of them for years, but they are out there. Whether it be a medical advancement in the treatment of a disease or a proposal for a hyper loop transportation system, we may not see the fruits of those labors during our lifetimes, but our children and their children will know them as the norm. Take a look around you.
When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, the idea of a computer in your hand was absurd. Computers during those days still took up portions of large rooms.
Or, consider that humanity went from the first powered flight in 1903 to the moon in 1969 and you’ll see what I mean. Imagining the progression of our current norms toward the future breeds endless possibility. We may get a portion of that future right based on what we know of the science now, or we may botch it enough that our future generations will read our work and laugh at our innocence.
I tend to look at our sciences today as a keyhole to the future. We cannot unlock the door, but our understanding of things now provide us a way to see into the future and what might be.
2. The occasional moment where your idea becomes reality (in a way).
Several years ago, 2009 in fact, I wrote a story entitled “Digger Girl” that took place on an asteroid converted for interstellar flight. The idea seemed logical to me. The heavy shielding necessary would mostly be in place, depending on the thickness of the asteroid in question. Propulsion would have been an issue, but the orbital mechanics of speeding up an asteroid to fall towards the Sun and receive a gravitational assist from several planets were sound. Attach a reaction control system to the beast and a theoretical propulsion system that could perpetually thrust the asteroid forward and a mission to proximal could take a couple of hundred years. The asteroid became a generation ship without the nasty business of lifting all of that mass to orbit.
Imagine my surprise late last year when a scientist postulated the same thing and it reached the press. For that brief moment in time, I knew what it must have been like for Clarke and others to have predicted something that became reality (in a way). To me, that’s one of the thrills of writing science fiction. Your dreams have a chance of being reality. To me, it doesn’t matter that this scientist proposed the same thing, and for all I know it was postulated a long time before 2009 (remember, all good science fiction stories have been told before).
That brief connection to a possible future made my day, and I hope to have many others before I reach the “clearing at the end of the path.”
3. Science is how we take destiny by the horns.
I’m inspired every day by some aspect of science, especially when I look at the collective mess we are as a species. Without waxing political, I worry about the future that my children are growing up into. We live in a world that still thrives on conflict to no end. Our world, the very ecosystem, is in chaos. This may be the cyclical nature of things or it very well could be manmade, but the argument is the same nonetheless. I am a firm believer in a statement from Tsiolkovsky that “the Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.” Time is against us. The Sun is going to die. It doesn’t matter that it may be billions of years until then. We have a lot to do as a species before then, and I believe we will get there, but the goal must be to leave this planet behind.
Science provides the progress to change our basic human needs – longevity, better shelter and clothing, better foods. I try to look beyond the political machinations and global profiteering of our current society in the hopes that science has the impact it should, to take our destiny by the horns and propel us to the stars. I will never see it, but I can dream about a time when the world pulls together and all of humanity reaps the benefits versus a tender few. That motivates me to write.
In all, I tend to tell very human stories that hopefully reflect how science is a benefit to our ever-changing humanity. Science inspires me because it continues to move forward. It does not stagnate. There is always someone, somewhere, thinking and postulating and experimenting. Let us hope that never changes. If science stagnates, humanity will stagnate. Bringing a bit of science to the forefront reminds a reader how much that science has changed their lives. We take our technology for granted now, when a few decades ago, we had nothing of the sort. That progress came from science.
Think of where we can be in another hundred years. I know I do.