Writing hard science fiction a personal account
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Writing “Hard” Science Fiction: A Personal Account. John G. Cramer Professor of Physics Department of Physics University of Washington Seattle, Washington 98195-1560. E-Mail: cramer@phys.washington.edu Web: http://faculty.washington.edu/jcramer.

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Writing “Hard” Science Fiction:A Personal Account

John G. CramerProfessor of Physics

Department of PhysicsUniversity of WashingtonSeattle, Washington 98195-1560

E-Mail: cramer@phys.washington.edu

Web: http://faculty.washington.edu/jcramer

Presented to Bellevue Rotary ClubSeattle, Washington, May 20, 2003

John G. Cramer


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Outline of Talk

  • How did I get into all this?

  • “The Alternate View” Columns in Analog

  • What is “Hard” Science Fiction?

  • Twistor – 1989

  • Einstein’s Bridge – 1997

  • Real vs. “Rubber” Science

  • Writing your novel: “The Cramer Method”

  • Getting it published

  • Conclusion

John G. Cramer


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How did I get into all this?

  • Chair (1977- 81) of APS/DNP Nuclear ScienceResources Committee, providing physicsinformation to Congress (not lobbying!).

  • Popular science writing, “The Alternate View”bimonthly science column in Analog Magazine,1983 to present. 108 columns written. (See http://www.npl.washington.edu/AV).

  • Twistor (written 1986-88) about an unexpectedbreakthrough from a “small” table-top physicsexperiment in a university physics lab (UW).

  • Einstein’s Bridge (written 1989-96) about “big”physics at the SSC in Waxahachie, Texas.

John G. Cramer


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"The Alternate View" Columns

Now 118 columns, ~2,000 words in length, on a wide variety of topics in physics and astrophysics: http://www.npl.washington.edu/AV

  • Group 1 -- Cutting Edge Science

  • Group 2 -- Quantum Mechanics

  • Group 3 -- Neutrinos

  • Group 4 -- Cosmology and Astrophysics

  • Group 5 -- Gravity and General Relativity

  • Group 6 -- Wormholes and Space Warps

  • Group 7 -- Mega-Projects

  • Group 8 -- Space Drives

  • Group 9 -- Evolution and Catastrophe

  • Group 10 -- Communications and Virtual Reality

  • Group 11 -- Flashes in the Pan - Things That Didn't Work

  • Group 12 -- Science Policy 

John G. Cramer


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What is“Hard” Science Fiction?

  • Serious attempt to portray science andscientists as accurately as possible.

  • Scientists are often principal characters.

  • Scientific problem solving is a major plot element.

  • Authors are often scientists or engineers.

  • Examples of hard SF by physicists and astronomers:

    • A for Andromeda – Fred Hoyle

    • Timescape and Cosm – Gregory Benford

    • Dragon’s Egg – Robert W. Forward

    • Contact – Carl Sagan

    • Twistor and Einstein’s Bridge – John Cramer

John G. Cramer


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Twistor (Morrow/Avon-1989)

Scientific extrapolations of Twistor:

  • Condensed-matter physicists are performing an experiment to study “holographic spin-order” for use in memory storage devices.

  • Their EM field unexpectedly rotates the “shadow-spin” of particles, converting normal matter to shadow matter andvice versa.

  • Earth’s orbit is occupied by two other “shadow-Earths” that interact onlythrough gravity.

  • These have been cross-seeded with life through infrequent action of ball lightning.

John G. Cramer


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Einstein’s Bridge (Avon-1996)

Scientific extrapolations of Einstein’s Bridge:

  • Collisions at the SSC produce extra-dimensional signals that propagateto other bubble-universes.

  • Intelligent aliens in another universeuse such signals to establish wormhole contact with other intelligent specieswho are doing high energy physics.

  • Creation of time-like loops using wormholes can destroy the universeback to start of the wormhole, so thatthe universe can re-evolve from thatpoint.

John G. Cramer


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Real vs. “Rubber” Science

  • Hard SF uses both real science and extrapolative“rubber” science in the plot.

  • The real science must be completely accurate,or at least as accurate as the writer can manage.

  • The made-up rubber science must be convincing and plausible. Twistor used extrapolations of 1986 condensed-matter physics ideas. Einstein’s Bridge started with SSC physics from design study reports.

  • The joint between the real and rubber science must be invisible to the reader, like a root-graft on a fruit tree.

  • I like to include an Afterword to inform the reader what was real and what was not.

John G. Cramer


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Writing Your Novel:“The Cramer Method”

  • Construct a set of memorable imagesand scientific extrapolations that appeal to you.

  • Design a plot that will use the science and conjureup the images.

  • Design characters to fit the plot. Write their biographies. Have conversations with them.

  • Choose the setting. Learn as much as possible about it.

  • Outline the novel in scenes and chapters.

  • Write the scenes. Write the dialog first. Then use third person point of view and sentence length to create effects.

  • Rewrite and rewrite and rewrite and …

John G. Cramer


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Getting YourNovel Published

  • DO NOT self publish!

  • Who do you know? Meeting writers and editors.

  • Surviving the slush pile. (First page is crucial!)

  • Get an agent after you have an offer.(DO NOT pay an “agent” to read your manuscript!)

  • The book contract. (That’s what agents are for.)

  • Dealing with editors (They’re not journal editors).

  • Rewrites (expect them) and copy editing (“stet”).

  • Cover art (DO NOT expect to have any input!)

  • Time to publication (Hurry up and wait).

John G. Cramer


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Conclusion

  • There is a good market for hard SF.Both of my novels are now in their4th Avon mass-market paperbackprintings, and editors and readers are asking for more.

  • The readers of hard SF really appreciate works of fiction in which the science is represented as accurately as possible.

  • There is a need for good hard SF that portrays science and scientists in a positive light and communicates the challenge, excitement, and sheer fun of doing science.

  • Hard SF reading and writing: Try it. You’ll like it.

John G. Cramer