Monthly Archives: October 2014

How Much Science Should a Sci Fi Book Have?

The typical sci fi book should have enough science in it to tell the story, and nothing more.

Conflict, and how the protagonist deals with that conflict, drives most good stories. Science interprets the reality of the world around us. By itself, science has no conflict.

Science is a secondary character in most novels. Devoting pages at a time to a secondary character is usually a mistake. I learned this from experience. When I first submitted Truth-Teller Rebellion to Champagne Press, it came back with a rejection, but with the comment that if, among other things, I wanted to eliminate the excess description (science in most cases) I could resubmit it. Thank you Champagne Press for that second chance. An example given was the two pages I had devoted to a detailed explanation of the construction and operation of a solplane. The editor was right. My two pages on solplanes just slowed down a story that already was a little too slow.

Often, a scientific idea is the spark behind a novel. For example, what if artificial intelligences no longer need mankind? That is the basis of The Fall of Hyperion and 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, what keeps the reader turning the pages in these classics is how the protagonist deals with this obstacle, not the science of artificial intelligences.

I recently read Anathem by Neal Stephenson. I admire this book for its originality, but the science of this book slowed it down. Anathem’s thesis centers on the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, MWIQM, which is roughly akin to the parallel worlds that inhabit many sci fi novels. I read the first discussions of MWIQM with care. However, there were more talking head discussions about MWIQM for pages at a time. I skipped over them all. Some quantum mechanics geeks might like these interruptions to the story, but they are a fine slice of the reading public. I suspect most readers will react as I did.

Putting science in a novel in most cases means more description. I like to get poetic with my descriptions. It pleased me that said in its review of Truth-Teller Rebellion that “Mr. Schultz’s scenery descriptions are not to be missed.” I was flattered, but that doesn’t mean I should write more and longer descriptions. When I’m writing my best, my descriptions mesh seamlessly with the dialogue and action.

Science is important to science fiction, but unless you want only hardcore science geeks for readers, keep the science short and sweet.

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It’s Been a Hectic Month of Editing and Toddler Sitting. Which Makes Me Wonder: How Parents Find Time to Write and Raise Kids

I received the Truth-Teller Revenge galleys from my publisher for the final proof a little over a month ago. I went through them, and then my meticulous and wonderful wife caught everything that I hadn’t. There was a lot to catch and only ten days to do it in. I can’t believe I read “grim” for “grime” multiple times. It goes to show how difficult it is to edit one’s own book. After a discussion with my publisher, Truth-Teller Revenge will come out in January 2015, instead of this November. At the cost of a two-month delay in publishing, it will be a much better book.

Closely following the final edit of Revenge was the birth of our second grandchild, a lovely little girl who needed a little extra time at the hospital before coming home. While Mommy and Daddy were beside her at the hospital, my wife and I cared for our two-year-old toddler grandson for ten days. This experience gave me a greater appreciation for the time, energy, and attention it takes to raise children. Now that our granddaughter is at home getting settled with her family, I will be getting back to writing and blogging.

My hat is off to all you parent/writers. I don’t know how you do it!

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Fuzzy Nation, a fun fast read, versus Hyperion, a monumental mindbender

John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation and Dan Simmons’ Hyperion/The Fall of Hyperion are both in their own way great books, but they couldn’t be more different.

Three hundred page Fuzzy Nation is a fast paced tale about Bruce Holloway, an ethically challenged prospector on a planet that may or may not be home to one of the few sentient beings encountered by mankind. Holloway is a disbarred lawyer who called his girlfriend a liar in court to save his own ass. A disbarred lawyer? Lied about his now former girlfriend? Did I say Holloway is ethically challenged?

Holloway is wrangling with Zaracorp over the ownership of a sunstone discovery. If he wins, he’ll be richer than Bill Gates. Then he meets his first Fuzzy. Per law if the Fuzzies are sentient, then it’s their planet, including the sunstones.

Are they sentient? And even if they are, is Holloway willing to give up billions for some little furballs? What is Holloway going to do?

Fuzzy Nation is a fast, humorous read with a libertarian flare, which reminds me of some of Heinlein’s novellas.

The combined thousand pages of Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion is at the other end of the science fiction spectrum. I believe these two books should be considered as one. I started reading Hyperion without realizing that. At Hyperion’s end, I was like “you can’t end the book like that!” I immediately bought The Fall of Hyperion.

Hyperion’s setting is the far future, which is populated by the Hegemony, the Ousters, and the TechnoCore. The Hegemony is a human civilization in many ways not unlike our own, but with technology far beyond ours. It exists in an uneasy symbiotic relationship with the Artificial Intelligences comprising the TechnoCore, which is responsible for much of the technology upon which the Hegemony is dependent. The Ousters are humans at odds with the Hegemony and genetically evolved to live in mostly non-planetary space.

The book begins with seven pilgrims journeying to visit the Time Tombs of the planet Hyperion, where they expect to meet the fearsome Shrike. Supposedly, they can ask the Shrike a question, but it seems more likely they’ll find their own death. The pilgrims include a diplomat, a warrior, a priest, an elderly scholar with an infant, a poet, a private investigator, and an enigmatic Templar. Why do they want to meet the Shrike?

Each of the pilgrims in turn tells their urgent reason for going on the pilgrimage and why they want to meet the Shrike. I found all the pilgrim’s tales interesting, although for me some of the tellings got a little tedious. I suspect, though, that readers will have different favorites among the pilgrims and their stories.

There is another important character, a cybrid, who is the human clone of the English poet John Keats, but also an artificial intelligence. This being spans the human/A.I. world.

Those are the bones of the book, but this isn’t the Canterbury Tales. Simmons gives you a heavy dose of religion, the interaction of human and self-aware artificial intelligences, what might be the aspirations of a group of unimaginably advanced A.I.’s, time travel, the evolution of mankind, and among other themes.

It is perhaps the most ambitious sci-fi book I’ve ever read. I can’t say everything is executed perfectly, but, hey, the book is over a thousand pages. Every page can’t be perfect. This book is a must read.


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