Cover of the fantasy fiction magazine Avon Science Fiction Reader no. 2 (1951) featuring “Sacrifice to the Lust Queen of the Flame Rite.” Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Written By: Jennifer Smith
Long before pulp tropes such as ray guns and gray, encephalitic aliens became indelibly linked with the term “science fiction,” there was Jules Verne—the man who said, “Anything that one man can imagine, another man can make real.”
Verne is probably more easily recognized as the author of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), a science fiction novel that inspired real-world innovation. The sci-fi classic chronicles the adventures of an underwater ship called the Nautilus, which captured the imagination of American inventor Simon Lake. In 1898, Lake debuted the Argonaut and “made real” the first submarine to successfully make an open-ocean voyage.
On the other hand, scientists too inspire the arts and help science fiction writers with the research that goes into making their fantastical ideas seem real or at least plausible.
Scientist and inventor Jean Painlevé (1902-89) made seriously scientific films that earned him much acclaim from Surrealist contemporaries because of their avant-garde nature. Painlevé’s films can be seen today in a collection aptly titled Science is Fiction: 23 Films by Jean Painlevé, which enjoys a modern rock tribute in the form of an accompanying eight-film score by Yo La Tengo.
As far as science fiction specifically, The Science and Art Entertainment Exchange “connects entertainment industry professionals with top scientists and engineers to create a synergy between accurate science and engaging storylines in both film and TV programming.” This exchange recently consulted on upcoming science fiction films such as the re-make of Dune (2014), and this summer’s blockbuster contender, Battleship (2012).
Clearly, the relationship between scientists and storytellers has been a close one and speaks to the trend towards collaboration between science and the arts in general. Still, a new twist on the science fiction genre, loosely dubbed “science-inspired fiction,” “SiF,” or Sci-Lit,” challenges writers to abandon any and all ideas of little green men and draw inspiration from science itself, using hard scientific fact to explore new possibilities within the realm of fiction as a whole.
Here’s a sample of some of the “science-inspired fiction” to be found floating around the vast, largely undiscovered frontiers of the Internet.
A pioneer of the genre, writer-in-residence in Bristol University’s Science Faculty, Tania Hershman, studied Mathematics and Physics, spending 13 years making her living as a science journalist for publications such as Wired and New Scientist.
Her first collection, The White Road and Other Stories, sprung from a quote in New Scientist:
“What’s long, white, and very, very cold? The road to the South Pole is nearing completion… this road will stretch for more than 1600 kilometres across some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world.”
The resulting short story takes place at a roadside café along this “white road.”
Hershman’s site references a number of other works that fit into the “science-inspired fiction” moniker including an anthology called Litmus: Short Stories from Modern Science, which literally paired writers with scientists to explore the idea of those “Eureka!” moments in film, literature, and myth.
A project of freelance writer Will Hindmarch, Wired Tales is a blog that features monthly short stories based on the latest issue of Wired magazine. In homage to fantasy and horror pulp magazine, Weird Tales, the blog organizes stories into issues and entices readers with titles such as “The Pharmaware Rep” and “You, Invader.”
LabLit.com is “dedicated to real laboratory culture and to the portrayal and perceptions of that culture—science, scientists and labs—in fiction, the media and across popular culture.”
The site offers an intriguing juxtaposition of fact and fiction, pairing scientific media with lab-oriented fiction. Some of the recent fiction publications include “1+1” by Daen de Leon and “The Witching Hour” by Polly Ashford.
Along with essays, reviews, and podcasts, the site also features poetry such as “Five Neuro Poems” by A.N. Hedge.
Any one of these resources would give you a good introduction to “science-inspired fiction,” but whether or not the term “science-inspired fiction” catches on, its emergence speaks to an idea that “sci-fi” writers have been espousing forever: Fiction, no matter the subject matter, is about speculating and experimenting.