Monday, October 29, 2012

My New Friend, Musa Author Ted Mendelssohn Teaches Me a New Trick

Getting a new blog post from Ted was a bit like kismet.  I have been wrestling with a component of a sci-fi I've been working with.  After reading his advice, I realize why I have a block about it.....while trying to write scientifically, I've actually been trying to be TOO scientific.  Here, let me let Ted explain it.  He does it so much better than me.

Ted Mendelssohn

Samantha has graciously invited me into her house – her blog, that is – with a post about including science in your writing. So here it is, the Big Basic Rule of Writing Science Fiction (because yes, there is only one):

Science fiction is NOT about science.

Period. Full stop.

Entirely new power sources? Travel to other star systems? Sentient non-human beings? Who cares? Seriously. An SF story is about none of these things. Rather, it's about the effects these things might have on the story's protagonists.

Good example: Robert Heinlein's classic 1940 short story, Blowups Happen. Five years before we had the atom bomb, and eleven before the first nuclear power plant came on line, Heinlein imagined a breeder nuclear reactor that provided power and medical radioactives to the entire western United States. And then he asked "But what if the plant is fundamentally unstable? What if it could explode in an atomic fireball?" The plant is vital to the US economy; it can't be shut down. But the engineers know that one mistake on their part could wipe the entire state of Nevada off the map in a multi-megaton explosion. The stress is unbearable, so they start to "blow up." Although there was plenty of science in the story, the most important thing was the stress on the human beings.

Another classic example: Cordwainer Smith's Scanners Live in Vain. Smith asked the question: "What if space flight requires men to undergo radical transformations – to become partially machine, to lose some of their humanity? How will they behave?" His answer was utterly believable – that men who had sacrificed so much, and lost so much of what makes us human, would protect their power and status with extreme, terrible acts that they would never have considered before they were transformed.

This is how to use science in fiction: Understand the implications of a new development, and follow them wherever they might go. What if genetic engineering allows us to give up sleep? What would the psychological effects of immortality really be like? Instead of creating a world you like and finding science to justify it, look at science and wonder what the implications might be.

And go from there.

Thanks, Ted!  And if you liked what you read here, you will love to get more comfortable with his works.  Buy and read, and let him know how you felt.  The best way to support an indie author is to buy an indie author.  We all thank you.

Ted's new book is from Musa Publishing:  

And you can become a follower of his, here:  


  1. Thanks for those words of wisdom, Ted. For someone who can't read technical stuff, much less write it, it's a relief to know that the best way to tackle the technical side of sci-fi is to leave most of it out.

  2. You make it sound so easy now, Ted. Thanks!

  3. Thanks Ted. I don't at the moment write SF but that idea of looking at a 'what if?' and taking it from there is essentially the basis of all types of fiction. Words of common sense. Great stuff.

  4. Thanks, everyone. I'm glad you found it helpful.