June Wrap-Up!

Hey Folks,

I’d first like to thank every one who contributed a post to this month, Fictorian and guests alike!

The idea of a month devoted to not just research collection (because we’d like to spend more time writing instead, right?), but also some new concepts and ideas we might not have thought of to apply to our stories, thus making them more believable, realistic, or even helping us think of what might be true in the future.

Overall, I hope that our information was useful.

Some of my favorites (and there were many), in no particular order:

I started us off with a discussion on why realism and accurate information was so important in media.
Mostly because I was chased by a black bear once, and man, was I ever glad I read Little House on the Prairie.

Buuut also you know not everyone in your story is going to know the most accurate information, or maybe the readers are so used to an inaccurate trope that realism would cause them to cry foul. So sometimes perfectly accurate information isn’t the most important thing to the story.

Kristin Luna explored how gender can influence perceptions of risk-taking characters, particularly young women. We take risks! But perhaps not in the same way as young male characters might.

Guy Anthony De Marco gave us a 101 on proper terminology and use of firearms. Particularly, please don’t have your character take the safety off the revolver unless they’re removing their finger from the trigger. Just…why.

Marta Sprout wrote an excellent guest post on how crime scenes should, and shouldn’t, be investigated.

Kim May implored us to do our research on the particular culture of an Asian character instead of writing them into a stereotype. 

If we don’t care enough to get it right then we offend readers of that ethnicity — thus losing them as readers — AND we mislead and misinform the readers who aren’t familiar with that ethnicity. Also, by misrepresenting that group we’re ultimately contributing to the cultural oppression of that group — even though we don’t mean to.

I shared how to look for, and write about, a character drowning. Also please watch out for everyone at the pool. Even if they’re a strong swimmer. But especially watch the little ones because I had to pull a kid out who was panicking and that was so scary for them. Pools are supposed to be fun and safe summer memories.

I also wrote about the moving definition of ‘death’ and that lead to a whole exploration of what exactly cryonics are, how it all works, and what one might do with that sort of technology in their story. 

M. J. Carlson gave us a Top 10 list of the most used (and misused) injuries in fiction in his very informative guest post.

Mary Pletsch talked about how misconceptions about the military and soldiers can not only lead to inaccurate plotlines and failed missions, but contribute to ugly misconceptions around real service members.

Nathan Barra had so much on how one can accurately portray scientists outside of the stereotypical tropes that he had to split it into Science Fact and Fiction Part 1 and Part 2.

In Healing in Science Fiction, Jace Killian emphasized how quickly technology can change, and the importance of doing your research on current issues when anticipating future technology.

That’s what we have for June! Stay tuned for an interview with an amazing person tomorrow and check back in July as we discuss genre!

– Emily Godhand

Healing in Science Fiction

wanted healing

It’s important to do your homework when writing, especially about science.

In the recent past, I’ve read a number of stories and novels in the Sci-Fi genre that utilize some version of a healing agent. Sometimes this is a salve or injection or maybe a bath like in Wanted. The authors of these stories try to give some indication of science behind the concoction. The explanation will usually toss around some terms including antibiotics.

Antibiotics don’t work anymore.

One hundred years ago, before antibiotics, people might get a bacterial infection from scraping their knee or slicing their finger. The infection would “fester” meaning the bacterial colonies would spread and eventually the person could go into septic shock. We called this blood poisoning when I was a kid, but basically it’s where the bacteria has taken such control of a body that it can’t fight back and will eventually die.

Penicillin changed all that.

All the sudden folks that underwent surgeries, recovered rather than going sepsis. We could do more intricate, outpatient procedures (as opposed to chopping off an infected limb and cauterizing the wound).

You get the point. Antibiotics were awesome.

But they were never a fix-all. They don’t affect viruses, fungi, algae, or cancer. Just bacteria. And some estimate that there are millions of types of bacteria. So antibiotics don’t have an affect on all of them. In fact, within a year of introducing penicillin into the medical world, scientists discovered strands of bacteria that had already become resistant to penicillin, meaning it no longer worked to ward of infection from those strands.

That’s why they developed amoxicillin and cephalexin and erythromycin and Biaxin and Floxin and Levaquin and so many more. But just as quickly as the antibiotics are introduced, bacteria finds a way to morph, change some how and become resistant. No new antibiotic has been developed since the 1980s. And the “last resort” known as Colistin is kept under lock and key, barely used just in case the bacteria develop resistance through exposure. And sure enough, it’s all ready happening.

So you see, Antibiotics don’t work anymore. At least not in the future. In fact, Dr. Fukuda of the World Health Organization stated that “the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.”

Now doesn’t that sound more like science fiction than a concoction using antibiotics as a cure-all?

So what is science doing about it?

healingNow for the science nonfiction. Scientists are developing all sorts of new technology to help prevent the apocalypse. Nanoparticles as treatments and delivery mechanisms of other treatments, viruses for the same purpose, enzymes that fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria now called “Superbugs” and the development of other antimicrobial agents like small molecules that mimic the human immune system—specifically antimicrobial peptides.

Bottom line, do your homework. Don’t just spout off something that a reader might perceive to diminish your credibility.

Jace KillanI live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I’ve hold an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page and learn more at www.jacekillan.com.


Horses – the Motorcycles of the Middle Ages

HorsesWhat’s a wandering hero without his horse?

Not nearly as cool, that’s what.

Perhaps the second most iconic image in fantasy and many other types of fiction, behind the image of the sword, is that of the horse.

But for such a beloved and well-known part of stories set in the pre-modern world, as well as many alternate worlds, there are a number of common mistakes when it comes to how some writers utilize horses. Worse, horse enthusiasts are almost as critical as gun nuts for pointing out inaccuracies or unbelievable claims.

The majority of writers seem to understand that characters who are new at riding will get very sore down below, that the riders’ legs, not the saddle, keep them on a horse, and that bridles are usually quite important (unless both horse and rider are trained to work together by knee commands only). Horses will not usually leap off of cliffs on command, or pummel snakes and wolves to death with their hooves.

Horses are not motorcycles.

They can’t run at top speed for hours or days without rest, feeding, or care. As writers design their world, they need to consider well the distances their characters must travel. Like travel by ship, travel by horseback actually takes quite a bit of time, particularly if the roads are not good or if the terrain is mountainous.

Admittedly, there are some horses with incredible stamina, such as some Arabian horses, but unless the story is set up to make it clear to readers that such is the case, don’t fall into the trap of assuming a horse can go forever. Long journeys are covered by alternating slow and fast paces, and what’s considered fast depends much on conditions being ridden through.

Another aspect of horses that is often over-utilized is rearing and whinnying. Spend a little time around horses and it becomes clear that rearing is extremely rare, and that they really don’t whinny that much.

Transylvania horsesOne of my favorite misconceptions about horses though are the impossible feats of strength. Most often, they are seen jumping enormous gaps, often while pulling a stagecoach no less.

Take a look at this great example from the movie Van Helsing. This is the great scene where the marvelous Transylvania horses leap a gorge, pulling a stagecoach. I actually love that movie, but that scene always makes me cringe. It’s even more noteworthy because supposedly they just completed galloping non-stp across three mountainous countries too.

So add horses to stories. Horses are great and we love them, but take a little time and thought to how they are portrayed. Do some riding. Make friends with horse owners and ask them questions. They’re usually happy to help.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank MorinA Stone's Throw coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers scifi time travel thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

Science Fact and Science Fiction (Part 2)

Yesterday, we talked about what sort of people become scientists and how they think. If you missed Part 1 of Science Fact and Science Fiction, be sure to go read that first.

And now, back to the list of 4 things writers get wrong about science and scientists.

3. As Always, You Need to Follow the Money…

Many senior scientists don’t get much lab time. In fact, most of the professors I studied under or worked with in college spent most of their time raising funds to keep the lights on and the experiments rolling. Lab space, lab equipment, experimental materials, and graduate student salaries don’t come cheap. So, whenever you read or write about a scientific study, it behooves you to think about where the money comes from. Figure out the funding and you’ll often have a good idea of the sorts of biases and politics you’re going to have to deal with. Additionally, each of the four major types of scientists — academic, corporate, government, and amateur/startup — have their own quirks, habits, and means of incentive.

Academic scientists are driven by the stricture of “publish or perish.” Their goal is to secure funding from governments, special interest groups, or businesses to allow them to study what interests them. They are often pure scientists (remember from yesterday: those who value knowledge for its own sake). However, the modern system is set up such that academic scientists are under a great deal of pressure to perform “ground breaking” work and publish those results with regularity.

The problem is that getting a break-through every couple months is unlikely. A scientific investigation, if done properly, may take years or even a life time to bear fruit. There are many researchers whose discoveries weren’t recognized as important until well after they had died. However, that isn’t an excuse in a publish or perish culture. You still need to make regular “progress” or you can lose you funding and your job. This pressure has led some to distort or even outright fabricate data in order to keep the money flowing. Pro tip: Want to be despised by a bunch of scientists? Falsify data. Not only is it dishonest and often illegal, even minor transgressions will destroy your reputation and career if discovered.

Corporate scientists, on the other hand, don’t have as much trouble with the issue of funding. However, they also don’t really get to choose what they study. Their job is to invent, improve a product, or make a discovery that can then be commercialized to make a boatload of money. Preferably, they’ll do this quickly and cheaply. Ultimately, they get their funding from the company’s consumer base.

Naturally, applied scientists (remember: those who find value in using knowledge) tend to migrate to the private sector. This is the sort of work that I do, and I really enjoy it. I can take the time and energy that I’d otherwise have to focus on finding funding and do the work. Plus, I genuinely enjoy what I do, so it’s a win-win.

Next are the government scientists, who can be further split into two major groups. First are the administrations with government mandated missions, such as NASA or the handful of government research labs. The reason they exist is because the government thinks that either a) no one would invest in that kind of work and it’s essential to public wellbeing, or b) they don’t want that sort of work in the hands of private entities. In fact, there’s a line in the United States Constitution (Section 8) that mandates that the Federal Government is to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” And they do. Government grants and contracts are responsible for many of the major discoveries and technological advances we take for granted.

The second group of government scientists are those who are employed to act as regulators and advisers. Their job is to double check the rest of us to ensure that our work complies to local, state, and federal laws, as well as ensure that new products won’t cause harm to the public. They are also often expert witnesses for various branches of the government. However, it is still a government job, fraught with all the same sort of bureaucracy, problems, and politics that are characteristic of any government endeavor.

The last group is the amateurs and startups. Though they are often the most underrated group, they are also often the pioneers with the unique vision needed to change the world. These folks aren’t limited by corporate goals or academic systems. They are the sorts of people who passionately follow their interests and therefore can be either pure or applied scientists. Amateurs often don’t end up making a lot of progress, largely because of lack of formal training or funding. Most startup companies fail because they can’t compete in the market or their “big idea” isn’t so ground breaking after all. However, sometimes these people invent or discover things that change the world. After all, the Jet Propulsion Laboratories owes their origins to four “amateurs” who were students at Caltech. Even today, many successful technology companies are founded on the basis of a great idea and a lot of effort put in by people working in a basement.

4. Science is Imperfect – That’s the Point!

Everyone tends to look to science for answers when really they should be looking for questions. Fundamentally, the point of science is both understanding and predictive power. Observations of the past should be used to predict the future. If they fail to do so, they aren’t necessarily useless. Rather the model is simply incomplete. As hypotheses are repeatedly tested and challenged, they gain weight and become theories. As theories age and stand up to the efforts of hundreds and thousands of observations and experiments, they become taken as “fact.”

Though scientists have earned a reputation for arrogance, what they really need is a profound sense of humility. Scientists are human. Our understanding can be wrong or incomplete. We must NEVER reject a new piece of evidence because it clashes with our world view. Hypotheses that were once viewed as ridiculous are now widely accepted as fact. Need an example? If you had stood up fifty years ago and asserted that black holes are real, you would’ve been laughed out of the room. Black holes were the stuff of science fiction. However, we now know that not only do black holes exist, but they are fairly common (if hard to see). In fact, our very own Milky Way galaxy, like most others, actively orbits around a single supermassive black hole at the galactic center! (Want to know more? Look up Sagittarious A*.)

In conclusion, the really important question is this: What kind of story are you telling? How important is scientific reality to your audience? Can you get away with hand waving and mutterings of “sufficiently advanced technology,” or do you need to research every single tiny detail? I can’t tell you for sure. It depends on your audience and your own tastes. Getting science “right” in fiction is less about factual accuracy than it is about being consistent. Writers don’t really need to be experts, however. We can find plenty of authorities who are happy to share their knowledge.

Fortunately for us, Science Fiction is speculative. The most important thing about getting science right is to ensure that you are internally consistent and your characters behave like scientists would. I’ll say this again because it is essential. What you can’t afford to do is get the human element wrong. Though science is a body of knowledge and a set of skills, it is also a point of view. If we write the characters with truth and consistency, we can sell the rest.