Wednesday, 3 June 2015

The Battle Between Hard Science and Space Opera

Hi guys,

The Arcanist is in editing at the moment so I have a little time to spend on my blog. This time I thought I'd turn my thoughts to a controversy that keeps coming up.
This is a far from a new topic. In fact it's one that keeps coming up again and again and again in my various writing groups (Damn – almost said gropes – fingers aren't working well today!) How much science should we put in our books? One that rages through the world of sci fi. How far can we move from what we know – or what we think we know – about how the universe works as we write?
My answer is that sci fi is a genre based on two simple words – “what if?” It doesn't operate on the phrase – “well this what we know so lets work with that.” It goes beyond that to speculate on what we don't know. And sometimes to cross the boundaries between what we know and what might actually be.
Nowhere in sci fi is this tension between what we believe we know about the workings of the universe and what we need to speculate might be for our stories to work, more pronounced than in my own sub-genre of space opera. Because space opera is based on one founding acceptance, the idea that we can travel to the stars. Relativity on the other hand quite clearly says no. You can't go faster than the speed of light, and really that's pushing it too far. So realistically speaking the closest you can come to space travel is generation ships. I don't know about you guys, but if someone offered me a ticket on a spaceship heading for a new star to explore, with a round trip time frame of a century or more – I'd say no. I might sign up for a trip lasting a few months, but once we start talking generations I have better things to do.

So for me like generations of sci fi authors before me, I'll resort to cheating to write my space operas. I'll use hyperspace and subspace, warp drives and time dilation drives, worm holes and slip streams – maybe even the dreaded spin dizzy drive of Doc Smith. And though some people may – and have – criticised me for it, I won't apologise. Call me a scientific heretic – I'm comfortable with that though I prefer fantabulist! Because the ultimate reality is that I want to write books about travelling to the stars, about alien invasions, and interstellar wars.
In my mind those who want sci fi to limit itself to science fact, have lost a large part of the joy of the genre. They have lost the what if that is the heart of what sci fi is all about.

Cheers, Greg.


  1. Greg in theory it is possible because while nothing can go faster than light space can do whatever it wants.

  2. Hi,

    I so want to agree with you, but really all the theories about space warping are at best mathematical possibilities. Wormholes - Einstein Rosenberg constructs have never been demonstrated. And the mathematics of the Alcubierre warp drive come with energy requirements that are - well astronomical seems like the appropriate term somehow.

    Cheers, Greg.