Putting The Science In Fiction

Dan Koboldt, editor
Chuck Wendig, foreword
Writer’s Digest Books
$18.99

“We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. WE make a lot of the products you buy better.”

Starting a review with an old advertising tagline for German chemical manufacturer BASF may seem odd but it underscores the reason behind Putting the Science in Fiction. In his foreword, author Chuck Wendig mentions one of writing’s “sacred cows”: write what you know. As Wendig then states and as every writer finds out sooner or later, it’s good advice until you find yourself trying to write about something unfamiliar. Of course, rules can be bent and Wendig suggests doing just that, but bending it will still only get you so far especially if you’re writing science fiction, fantasy, or, say superheroes. That’s when Dan Koboldt’s Putting The Science In Fiction comes in. This book is a collection of fifty nine articles from his notable blog that address topics in eight categories ranging from research labs and horrible ways to die to genomes to technology, climate and natural disasters and “Star Wars and the far future” and more.

One day I brought this book along as I was meeting someone and would have a few minutes alone before they arrived. Randomly flipping through the pages I stopped on a page in chapter 31. It’s titled Tentacles: From Octopus to Alien. Here’s what caught my attention as my eyes randomly scanned a page: “Cephalopod arms not onlly exert control over their own movement, but also take in their own sensory impressions of the surrounding environment. Acting as combination finger-tongues, they are constantly touching and tasting the water, the rocks, their prey, even their fellow octopuses.” Suddenly I started trying to imagine what this combination of sensations would feel like for an octopus and felt urged to read the full chapter. While it is no secret octupuses display complex behavior, did you know their nervous system is very different and comprised of a centralized brain with a lot of processing distributed throughout the body? More ideas appeared in my head! What if a writer wrote an Aquaman story from the point of view of an octopus? And I don’t mean with the charm of Aquaman’s octopus Silver Age sidekick Topo. And to be impartial, substitute Sub-Mariner for Aquaman. Or a race of aliens with cephalopod characteristics or a story with a tentacle erotica scene written from the view point of the octopus/ alien. Maybe the latter has been done already. I don’t keep on that but please give me credit if you take that suggestion! That’s just a couple examples of the interesting points that Danna Staff included in this chapter!

Want to write a story that involves characters growing, selling, or buying organs? You should read Megan Cartwright Chaudhuri’s chapter on Organogenesis In 3D to get the basics, not only because your details will be correct but because she’ll give you a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t to make your story more compelling. Do you have a story idea about a person(s) experiencing a particular mental illness or living with dementia? Part three, The Brain Is Wider Than The Sky, contains nearly 40 pages of articles giving insight into these areas. Please note, that mental health issues are serious matters and these authors’ writings are not intended as a means to diagnose, shame, or control anyone. They are insights and act as a spring board for further research should you desire. Thinking about putting that space opera idea you’ve had in your head down into story format? The closing section discusses space travel, futuristic weapons, exo planets, and practical spaceship design. Do you think space ships need windows, especially for navigation? Then you better read Sylvia Spruck Wrigley’s chapter Realistic Space Flight.

Many other topics are covered by experts in their fields. The chapters are concisely written and easy to read. This book is for you if you’re interested in making more storytelling more accurate and interesting, whether your medium is comics, novels, film, or television, or you’re simply a curious nerd like me who finds books like this fascinating. Don’t believe me this book is relevant to comics? Dan Koboldt, Chuck Wendig, and Diana Pho host a panel on this book today at New York Comic Con!

Look for this book at your favorite local bookstore or give them this ISBN 237000048741 or purchase from Amazon.

October 6, 2018
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