Teaching SF Writers Some Science

It may seem odd for someone who is a fantasy writer, but I’m also a scientist. I have a PhD in biophsyical chemistry, I did eight years of laboratory research as a grad student and post-doc, and I teach college chemistry.

People who hear that then usually ask “Why don’t you write (or read) much SF?” The reason is that I’m a very hard sell when it comes to fictional science. Most of the biology I see in SF is so impossibly speculative or fundamentally flawed that my suspension of disbelief is shot and I can’t enjoy the fiction.

As a science teacher, which I’ve been for over twenty years, I’m always interested in efforts to teach people science. Its basic principles govern the entire world around us, including such common things as cooking and the weather. Yet science education seems to be a low priority for many schools, teachers, and students.

Hugo-winning author David D. Levine (who has a fantasy story forthcoming in my magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies) recently blogged on Tor.com about a workshop called Launch Pad where a dozen SF writers attended lectures by astonomers. The overall effort was aimed at spreading science education through popular fiction, which I wholeheartedly support, but I also think it will result in more accurate science in SF. For a difficult-to-please reader like me, that can only boost the entertainment value as well.

I was also struck by something from David’s account of the lecture on public misperceptions of astronomy. The wrong explanation of why the moon has phases (“it’s the shadow of the Earth falling on the moon”) is a sore spot with me because I once got that incorrect argument from a SF/F editor in remarks about a story of mine. In their defense, they said they got it from a geologist, but that makes it even worse. :)

I hope this Launch Pad workshop continues. I often give advice on biological sciences to my writing friends, and I would happily lecture at any Launch Pad-analog focused on those areas. I’m also in favor of including SF/F editors in something like this. If they’re going to evaluate or criticize objective facts in manuscripts, they should at least have some idea what they’re talking about. Another way that science education would make the world a better place!

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3 Responses to “Teaching SF Writers Some Science”

  1. Christopher Kastensmidt Says:

    It’s funny, I’m a computer engineer myself and I’ve always enjoyed both reading and writing fantasy much more than SF.

    Maybe all the SF writers are philosophy and English grads. :)

  2. scott Says:


    Ironically, there were several Chem majors in addition to me on the staff of the semi-pro lit mag at my college, including both Head Editors my last two years.

  3. the fiction of Scott H. Andrews » Blog Archive » Space and Time for Me Says:

    […] This one has a long and tortured history, which may be why I feel relieved as much as jubilant. It’s a damn good story, if I do say so myself–not brilliant but definitely quite good. It’s one of my odd hybrids of fantasy and real science–a fantasy setting built around 100% accurate science, but with pre-tech characters who don’t understand that science and therefore don’t expound about it. It’s also one of my most literary pieces, with an unreliable narrator. Several pro editors loved it but had the ending go completely over their heads, and several amateur editors had the science in the setting go completely over theirs (cf. my rant on SF/F writers and editors not knowing basic science). […]