Kage Baker was cautiously interested by science.
It’s kind of a requisite for a science fiction writer. Luckily, there all sorts of studies that qualify as science – it’s not all the hard stuff like physics or engineering. Even though the fanboys would prefer that … but as science is a way of researching and learning things, so there are the so-called “soft” sciences; called “soft” partly in scorn from the physicists and engineers (and fanboys …), but also because they literally deal with things softer than, oh, steel, hard radiation, or rocks.
Social science is a soft science, and lots of science fiction writers have used it to explore ideas about the human condition. For every writer of ray-gunned and steel-walled space operas (and there are a lot of good ones) there’s a writer who composes speculation on alien, evolved, devolved or mutated societies. Charles Stross is currently writing novels whose plots hinge on economics. Some writers manage the hat trick of writing about both hard and soft sciences at the same time: Isaac Asimov. Robert Heinlein. Lois McMaster Bujold.
Kage didn’t quite trust science, though. She had no facility at all for mathematics, and so had to follow the current events in physics and related fields on educated faith. She was slightly more comfortable with biological sciences, but when it came down to basic tropes … Kage rather liked the theory of humours, and personally preferred clockwork to nanobots. She dealt in harder stuff because she had to; even to her, some plots didn’t make sense without a foundation in modern science – though she refused to get too far into how her machines worked. She knew how they worked; she’d worked it out to her satisfaction. She just didn’t feel like sharing it with the sort of critic who wrote to her to tell her that immortality was impossible. Or that there were no fossil aquifers on Mars, or that Olympus Mons could not still harbour simmering gas and lava.
That, she said, is why it’s called “science fiction“.
And by the way – there are fossil aquifers on Mars. And some indication that the heart of Mars is not quite cold all the way through, either. Research catches up with speculation, and sometimes speculation wins.
But in her heart of hearts, Kage was more comfortable with history and cartography and language. She liked knowing what had happened in the past, and where it happened, and what ordinary people had said about it. And as you all know, Dear Readers, she had a facility for theorizing how that would effect what happened in the future.
Me, I have a lively interest in science – partly because I was Kage’s clipping and translation service for years. I subscribe to several aggregate services from Scientific American and Discover magazines, and check several more blogs daily. Some of that is my attempt to stay up to date with stuff; and some of it is the constant search for ideas. And I shamelessly check a few weird news site, looking for the really peculiar gems that surface unexpectedly – I mean, a star ruby or a flawless emerald is nice, of course; but sometimes a goat bezoar with the face of Alan Turing on it is the winning jewel of the day! One needs a broad outlook …
I recently was amused by an article from SA inquiring in its title: “What Did Extinct Giant Vampire Bats Eat?” Was this a trick question, I wondered? It turned out just to be oddly phrased: it should more accurately have said Whom … they ate blood, of course, just from equally extinct megafauna that are now gone from our ken. But I did get a picture of a charming vampire bat skeleton, which suggested they could get second jobs as staple removers: Rather charming little guy, really, especially when reduced to his ivory essentials.
Today, while unabashedly reading Fark.com, I encountered a fascinating link to the current state of home gardening in Fukushima, Japan:
It’s a slide show of photographs right out of a florid 1950’s SF pulp magazine. I was surprised at the lack of tentacles … at least until I got to the eggplants, which do seem to be attempting tentacularity of some sort. The last photo was also impressive, because it isn’t a plant. It’s a frog.
Food for thought, as they say. Better living through science in the 21st century!
Enjoy, Dear Readers.