Putting the Science in Sci-Fi

by J.D. Lakey

Don’t tell anyone. This will be our little secret. I use a calculator when I write. I have to.

It started out small. I invented this planet full of humans who have traveled so far in space and time from human Earth that they have forgotten it exists. The world of Black Bead is full of psychic creatures, some of whom would dearly love to eat you. The main character, Cheobawn, lives in a dome that protects the humans from these predators. In the first book, the protagonists go outside the dome to have a bit of fun.

Here comes the math. Part of my world-building involved creating a unit of distance. A click – the distance an adult dome dweller can walk in an hour. The question became this. If you were an adult concerned about the well-being of your children without being a helicopter parent, how far would you let them travel? Next question. If an adult can walk one click per hour how long does it take for a group of kids to travel the same distance? How far would they go if they meant to break those rules? How far would they have to be from the dome if they had to run to get home in a hurry?

That was the simple math. In the second book, Bhotta’s Tears, the math became tricky. The people use huge elk as mounts and pack animals. So here is the equation. If a mule train on Earth can travel X number of miles in a day at Y miles per hour what does that equate to in bennelk miles on the planet Occonomara? Getting that number allowed me to confidently plot out an adventure to the edge of the Escarpment and back.

That math part was easy. The third book, Spider Wars, required the invention of a quantum entangled stone grown in the brain of a giant lizard that altered how humans traveled through space-time, a race of aliens who can drag a star ship around dimensional corners, thus eliminating that tedious time problem inherent in space travel, and a race of spiders who solved that same problem by recreating themselves, getting rid of the need for star ships or spacesuits. The trick to writing this without boring the reader to tears with explanation is to have the science firmly in mind and then have your characters walk around inside a world where these things are true. If I can make the reader believe it to be possible then the reveals in the fifth book, Arrow’s Flight, are easier to write because you have already explained all the science.

The ultimate questions become the ones concerning eugenics. If you were a highly evolved civilization who wanted to engineer your children to survive a hostile universe full of the aforementioned creatures, what would you change about yourself? Would you become as psychic as the animals on this alien planet? Would you become a race of physically adept warriors? Or would you simply engineer a brain that could process the immense amount of data required to do it all? Now walk around in this world with an avatar empowered with those skills and see what kind of trouble you can get into.

Welcome to Cheobawn’s world.

J.D. Lakey is the author of The Black Bead Chronicles. Find out more at www.jdlakey.com

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