STEM in Science Fiction

Science has to be central to your science fiction.
Photo by Lucas Pezeta on

Last week I read “How to Write a Good Science Fiction Novel: A 10-Point Plan” by Brandon Cornett. Not surprisingly, one of his pieces of advice was to make the science an important part of the story.

Why do I say “not surprisingly”? Because there are two ways that writers fail to make the science central to their science fiction.

Gadgets and Gizmos

In a lot of stories there are tons of gadgets and gizmos and things that go ping. There are a lot of science “window dressings.” And there’s nothing wrong things like that. Star Trek had the transporter and their communicators. They had nifty automated doors.

Science accessories are cool and easy to add but they cannot be the total of the science in your story. Not if you are writing science ficiton.

Science and Your Story Problem

In much of the science fiction that I’ve been reading, the science has nothing to do with the story problem or the solution to this problem. It is a story about adjusting to a new school. The school is all about science, but the story problem is not.

Or it is a buddy story. You have two alien characters who have to learn to be friends in spite of their differences. That sould make an awesome subplot but your science fiction story needs to revolve around science.

And this can be really hard to do.

In my story, my main characters need to rescue another group of kids from a space ship. This of course led to the all important question – why would someone need to abandon their space ship?

Running out of fuel is an option. But I’ve seen that same option used twice in Cowboy Beebop. There could be a radiation leak. But I’m 100% certain that somewhere in Star Trek someone got blistery and nasty from too much radiation.

Fortunately my husband is a NASA nerd and my son is an engineering student. I explained my problem to them. They quickly sorted through several problems that they’ve already seen in other stories. Then they listed two more – one of which occurred during a NASA mission and another that would happen if a circuit was overloaded.

In this science fiction story, I’m working to give science center stage.


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