Putting the Science in Fiction edited by Dan Koboldt

Review published on September 20, 2018.

As an aspiring author myself, I’m always interested in titles that might help me develop my craft. I predominantly write crime fiction, but my reading tastes are a little more eclectic – encompassing horror, some science fiction, dystopia and the burgeoning new genre that is Cli-Fi – so I can well envisage writing something along those lines someday. Readers have always sought a certain realism, even in horror and fantasy they expect some consistency in the world the author creates, and this is especially so since the dawn of the internet age, when facts are so easily checkable. Obviously, the online world is the writer’s friend, enabling as it does swifter and more efficient research, but it can also be a foe, swamping them with facts of dubious veracity and luring with distraction.

Putting the Science in Fiction aims to act as an easily accessible resource for writers of any genre whose plots might touch on scientific matters. It is important to note here that “science” is broadly interpreted so as to include all the disciplines from physics through medicine and biological science to engineering. The text addresses cutting edge scientific debates and phenomena, topical debates, as well as the science that routinely reoccurs in fiction. So, we have everything from the human genome and genetic manipulation, through zombies, to the science behind Star Wars weapons.

While this book is listed as being by Dan Koboldt, in actual fact he is the editor. Each chapter is in actual fact written by an expert in their field. So, we have a chapter on the human genome by Koboldt (who is a geneticist), one on portraying mental health accurately by Kathleen S. Allen, a psychiatric nurse, and another on cyborgs and cybernetics by Benjamin Kinney, a neuroscientist. Other topics I might list are writing convincing death scenes by Bianca Nogrady, a science reporter, and realistic space flight, by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley, a pilot and aviation engineer.

As noted, some of the chapters deal with more speculative topics, the chapter on zombies for example tries to answer scientifically how a zombie could theoretically come to pass, while the chapter on Star Wars weapons and space flight is clearly aimed at helping science fiction writers base their fiction in theoretical hard science. Other chapters, such that on the science behind Jurassic Park, aim to answer the question as to the realism of scenarios portrayed in film and firmly embedded in the public’s psyche.

This is a really good book with essays penned by an eclectic range of authors on a broad range of subjects. Each has suggestions at the end for resources the reader might want to look at if they want to research the topic in more depth, but on their own they stand as informative summaries, the authors successfully straddling the divide between sufficient detail and brevity. I found this book very helpful and think that as a resource I will be referring to it for a long time to come.

James Pierson 5/2

Putting the Science in Fiction edited by Dan Koboldt
Writer’s Digest Books 9781440353383 pbk Oct 2018

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