Friday, 18 January 2013

Guest Post: The Science behind the Fiction

Today I welcome Paul Byers to my blog, author of Arctic Fire, Catalyst and the new short story collection, Act of God.

As a writer, I enjoy the freedom that comes from writing science fiction. If I want to make the sky green, then it’s green. If I want to have a massive alien fleet of robotic creatures who want to attack earth because they need our oil, so be it. 

Today’s audience is much more sophisticated and educated, most having grown up on such sci-fi staples as Star Trek and Star Wars. Nowadays, a writer can take a lot for granted when telling their story. Everybody has heard of hyperspace or warp drive, phasers, lasers and photon cannons and the concept of faster-than-light travel and beaming is no big deal and doesn’t need to be explained.

But just because today’s audience is savvy, doesn’t mean you can create a sub-space oscillating flux capacitor relay system bent on disrupting the resonating harmonic frequencies governing the tectonic plating grid system surrounding the magnetic fields shielding the earth from the electromagnetic and gamma radiation associated with a mark 12 solar flare eruptions. Deep breath, in others words, do your research!

Even though you have certain freedoms with sci-fi, good fiction is based off of good facts. And as a writer, I sometimes struggle with the amount of facts to include in the story. While doing research, I come across one interesting fact that leads to another, then another and soon all these interesting tidbits are too much and overflow like the sentence above full of $2 words. It’s a balancing act between what I think is really cool and what the reader needs to know about the story.

In the short story, Shooting Star from Act of God, the Saturn V rocket used to launch the Apollo Moon Missions and also our hero, Captain Grant, weighs in at 5-6 million pounds. The original Wright Brothers Flyer topped the scales at around 625 pounds. Another interesting fact is that it takes the space shuttle about 90 minutes to orbit the earth. The astronauts would see a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes. Important to the story, no, but interesting, yes.

Sometimes the lack of facts is what makes the more interesting story. In my thriller, Arctic Fire, part of the story includes the sinking of the Titanic. With the 100th anniversary of the sinking just past, you think you’ve heard all there is to hear about the loss of the great ship, guess again.

There is some evidence that points to the fact that it wasn’t the Titanic that sank, but her identical twin sister ship, the Olympic, and that the two were switched in a grand insurance scam. A more intriguing theory is one taken right out of a Dan Brown novel with agents of the Catholic Church sinking the ship in an elaborate plot to achieve their own political ends.

My personal favorite is the theory that it wasn’t an iceberg that sank the luxury liner at all, but the curse of the mummy!

In The Journal, from Act of God, several “unsolved” mysteries are brought up by the characters in the book. In 1590, Sir Walter Raleigh started a colony in the New World at Roanoke, Virginia. Today it’s known as ‘The Lost Colony’ because 118 men, women and children just vanished without a trace. Some say they were attacked by neighboring Indians, some say they were assimilated by them and others think they tried to relocate and simply all died. But what really happened?

In 1908 there was a huge crash / explosion in Siberia, leveling over 800 square miles of forest. The official explanation of what happened was an air burst of a meteor, but was it?

To fly off and boldly go… using facts and combining fiction and imagination together is the corner stone to good science fiction. But using facts and “missing” facts to build your stories upon can be just as “fascinating,” as some would say.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from one of the great forerunners of today’s science fiction, Flash Gordon.

Emperor Ming: Pathetic earthlings. Hurling your bodies out into the void, without the slightest inkling of who or what is out here. If you had known anything about the true nature of the universe, anything at all, you would've hidden from it in terror.
Klytus: Most effective, Your Majesty. Will you destroy this Earth? 
Emperor Ming: Later. I like to play with things a while before annihilation.

About the Author:

Paul grew up in Oregon on the shores of the mighty and mysterious Columbia River, and spent endless hours daydreaming on the beach in front of his house, making up stories about the ships from exotic ports all over the world that steamed up the river – what secret cargo might they be carrying; did they harbor spies who were on dark and exciting missions?

Later in adult life, he moved to another mysterious and provocative city – Las Vegas, just outside the famous Nellis Air Force base. After work he would sit on his porch and watch the fighters take off and land, igniting his imagination with visions of secret missions and rich speculation about what could possibly be hidden at Area 51.

After moving back to his native Pacific Northwest, Paul worked for the Navy and took every opportunity he could to speak with veterans from WWII to the Gulf War, listening to them swap stories and relate the experiences of a lifetime.

So it is this combination of a passionate love of history, a vivid “what if” imagination, and a philosophy of life that boils down to the belief that – there are few things in life that a bigger hammer won’t fix – that led Paul to become a writer of exciting, fact-based action-thrillers. His greatest joy is leaving his readers wondering where the facts end and the fiction begins.

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