Putting The Science In Fiction – A Book Review

This compilation of articles from various authors/experts has the lofty goal of helping authors create more realistic stories. It includes advice and information on medicine, the human body, wildlife, computers, planet earth, rocket science, and space travel.

This volume would serve most authors well as a reference tool and even as an idea generator. Writing a whodunit? Check out chapter seven on toxins and poisoning (my favorite). How about an apocalyptic story? There’re a couple chapters on pathogens and plagues on how to wipe out the population. Need an alien with tentacles, a hologram, or faster than light travel? This book covers it!

While “Putting The Science In Fiction” fulfills its purpose and is worth purchasing, I have two main criticisms:

  1. Since the chapters are coming from various experts, their writing styles range from boring to delightful, creating an unpleasant mental whiplash. I’m not sure how much editing Koboldt actually did with the book contents, but it would have been helpful to have more consistency
  2. Despite the title of the book, some of the contributing authors were too vocal in their disdain for fiction. “You can probably get away with a lot of stuff, but you want your novel to be authentic, don’t you?” Along with the hardliners were some who simply chided authors to be more accurate, while a few encouraged creativity and suggested story possibilities.

The reason this book initially got my attention was its possible ties to the SciFi genre. I wanted to see where it stood in the hard science fiction vs. soft science fiction debate. The answer? It was a mixed bag of playful “do what you want” and “get it right or don’t bother”. As far as I’m concerned, if I’m writing fictional stories about space, space travel, or aliens, I can do whatever I want. Our current scientific knowledge and ability are far too limited to make interesting fiction, and most readers would throw back their heads and howl if authors restricted themselves to it.






3 responses to “Putting The Science In Fiction – A Book Review”

  1. H.R.R. Gorman Avatar

    I saw this book advertised on Twitter where Koboldt is fairly popular. I had a feeling it would turn out to be a mixed bag – happens a lot with any sort of compendium.

    Another thing I’m wary of with books like this, whether it be “Writing for the Sciences” or “Science for Writers” is the authors’ bias. Scientists often think themselves far smarter and more important than anyone else, and I bet it showed in several sections of this book. I didn’t want to read a book that put people down, for any reason.

    1. Alexander Elliott Avatar
      Alexander Elliott

      Yes, the bias showed! I can certainly see how “science” and “fiction” are like oil and water. Science folks want things neat, tidy, and accurate while authors demand creative license and freedom of expression!

      1. H.R.R. Gorman Avatar

        Hahaha, scientists neat and tidy and accurate… that’ll be the day…

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