Peter Watts webcast lecture: "Why Science Fiction is Too Important To Be Left to the Scientists"

Tony Smith sez, "Why Science Fiction is Too Important To Be Left to the Scientists will be a talk given by scientist and science fiction writer Peter Watts for a online writers workshop held in March by StarShipSofa. Other guests include Ann VanderMeer and Nancy Kress. Pete says about the workshop talk - I'll make the argument that scientific expertise actually makes for really shitty sf storytelling. As an SF writer with a PhD in science, I figure I can get away with it."


  1. If showcasing either fantasy technology or hard science realism is the only purpose for writing your story, it’s unlikely to be much of a story.

  2. I don’t buy it. Accuracy is considered not stifling, but *good* in other forms of fiction.  The classic criticism of historical fiction is glaring factual errors, and any author who writes about Napoleonic battles and gets the general’s names wrong is going to get laughed at. Why should it be any different for science fiction? Obviously, there needs to be an entertaining story as well, but you can have that *and* be accurate.

  3. I think there’s a distinction to be made between writing about science and writing with science. Writing about science is when the book turns into a press release or product demo for a new technology, when plot and narrative are sacrificed for the sake of description of the concept.

    Asimov wrote great science fiction, but I’d say his stuff was writing with science. Look at the stuff Asimov was most famous for: Foundation, the Robotics trilogies, or Nightfall. They all used scientific concepts as important features in their stories, but the science was a tool to tell the story, not the main focus of the story. The Foundation series was a look at society and how it reacts to new technologies and events. Nightfall was a speculative work about human reactions to completely new phenomena, not a tour-guide novel about planetary movements. The Robot series used Robots as central pieces of the plots, but the real meat of the books wasn’t the Laws of Robotics, it was Asimov slowly, over the course of several books, performing speculative thought experiments about how the Laws could be perverted or broken, each time using that concept to tell a unique story.

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