Guest post: Bryan Thomas Schmidt: Can There Be Space Opera Without The Science?

First of all, sincere apologies to Bryan. I agreed to do this guest post as a part of his blog tour, but then forgot about it as my trip to Canberra was postponed by two weeks. I had only internet connection on my phone (I swear the likelihood of a hotel offering free wifi is inversely related to the pricof said hotel, and also the chance of finding a cafe with free wifi is inversely related to the proximity of a large by of government workers on six-figure salaries). Long story short: I went there to get away from the internet and I didn’t think it would matter. But I was wrong. So here is the post, two days late.

Can There Be Space Opera Without The Science?

This is an ironic  thin g to post about on a scientist’s blog, I realize, but it’s an interesting topic I’ve heard authors speaking about lately and perhaps it would good to address in light of my own space opera series, The Saga Of Davi Rhii, which has now grown to two novels with a third pending. Daniel Abraham talked about the Hugo-nominated novel Leviathan Wakes which he cowrote with Ty Franck as James S.A. Corey and said they really focused more on emotion and sentiment than nifty science or tech in writing that. I tend to be the same way. But there are some considerations which one should make if you desire to write something appealing to fans of both.

For example, in the case of certain tropes like laser guns and FTL drives. FTL are not generally considered to be possible at present, and laser guns in space are not generally considered less effective weapons than standard projectile weapons would be, yet both consistent tropes in much of science fiction. They sound cool and are very effective story aids, but as far as the science, both fall short shrift. So those are things which likely won’t alienate your science fan audience.

But other things do matter more.

For example, in the Davi Rhii books, I posit a solar system with twin suns, one slightly larger, around which the planets rotate, and a second sun which is further out and mostly exerts gravitational influence on their rotations and seasons. When I first drafted this novel,  such a thing was considered absurd, but then NASA scientists discovered, last year, an actual solar system with two suns. That was an unexpected gift to the science of my novels, but I also took the time to consider how the presence of two suns would work. The planets in my system have double summers, one shorter, when they are closest to the twin sun than their master sun, and the one nearest the main sun being longer. Gravitational effects from the second sun on each planet vary but things like longer daylight and earthquakes,  tidal waves and other unusual weather patterns are just part of life. Those are all things that tend to be affected by gravitational fields and might well exist under such circumstances. So it’s not exact science  but is believable, at least potentially.


Another example is the use of partial terraforming on some of the planets to make them habitable for humans. In a couple of cases, planets furthest out are enclosed in domes where humans can coexist with native species. In one case, the humans wear breathing apparatus and are able to go out on the planet’s surface. In  the other, life only exists inside the dome. In other cases, terraforming was halted when native life was discovered and yet has played a role in transforming portions of those planets where humans and aliens live together.

I also gave consideration to the types of geographies, etc. of the planets as well as their relative size to one another based on their location in the system and distances from the suns. There are a couple of Earth-like planets toward the middle with two ice planets far out and rockier planets between. Nearer to the sun are a water planet and even a couple which are uninhabitable, like our own mercury and Venus, for example. Again, this is not perfect science but its suggestive from known science which allows readers to view it as plausible on the surface and lends a science feel, despite not being in depth enough to hold up to larger scrutiny.

In addition, I had a friend help me calculate actual travel distances between planets so that we could use accurate FTL and regular speed times for vehicles moving between them.

The purpose of this is to include elements of real science where possible while also lending hints of science to the novel where in depth science doesn’t exist. It just makes the story more palatable i.e. believable for people who think about scientific considerations in reading science fiction. It also is really important at stimulating one’s own process as an author in world-building. If like me, you’re not a scientist, it’s helpful to look at the world you’re creating in terms of where science would exist and/or be required and where it matters to your story. It prompts you to ask questions about such concerns in writing and even directs your creative process to some degree in ways you might not have considered in brainstorming.

What type of consideration to science do you give when writing? Do you like stories to be solely hard science fiction or a good mix? What are the issues you’ve encountered? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments.

In Bryan’s second novel, The Returning, new challenges arise as Davi Rhii’s rival Bordox and his uncle, Xalivar, seek revenge for his actions in The Worker Prince, putting his life and those of his friends and family in constant danger. Meanwhile, politics as usual has the Borali Alliance split apart over questions of citizenship and freedom for the former slaves. Someone’s even killing them off. Davi’s involvement in the investigation turns his life upside down, including his relationship with his fiancée, Tela. The answers are not easy with his whole world at stake.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

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2 comments on “Guest post: Bryan Thomas Schmidt: Can There Be Space Opera Without The Science?

  1. Pingback: The Returning Blog Tour Schedule | Bryan Thomas Schmidt

  2. Pingback: The Returning Blog Tour Schedule, Part 2 | Bryan Thomas Schmidt

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