Writing Science Fiction requires a knowledge of bolognium, a word author Larry Niven invented to explain inventions SF authors come up with that don’t or can’t exist. Warp Drives and Worm Holes and Time Shifts Oh My!
Your average reader is going to overlook your bolognium if, and only if, it makes perfect sense within the story being told. For instance, Star Trek had to speed through space with the greatest of ease, so Warp Drive was invented. Unless you’re an ubergeek, particle physicist, or my oldest niece (both uber geek and plasma physicist), you’ve accepted the term Warp Drive and equate it with faster-than-light speed, or FTL. Captain Kirk (I’m old school) tells Sulu “ahead, Warp 5.” and we assume the Enterprise is going to flash by the screen with that goofy 60’s special effects noise. They have to get around the galaxy – let’s face it, we’d die of extreme old age waiting for the Enterprise to go from here to Pluto, without FTL travel.
We accept things like that because they’re necessary to tell the stories, and they’re set far enough into the future to allow us the possibility of believing something was invented between now and then that allows the Enterprise to travel like that, and makes it possible for humans to no longer require bathrooms.
Things like this in novels work only when the author understands his or her invented bolognium fully and completely. In soft Science Fiction (my preference) you can get away with simply labeling something and not delving into the mechanics. You need to go from here to there in under a week? “Engage FTL drive, Frank.” “Aye, captain.” If you do delve into the mechanics, be prepared to get called on it if you flub it up.
But – put something more complex in there . . . say, Time Travel and Alternate Universe theory . . . and you’d best have a full and complete two-handed grasp on that bolognium sammich! And I do, honest. I had a revelation before starting this novel and finally, fully understood the whole of this as-yet-impossibility. You may have read my Barney and Wilma post on the blogspot blog.
Trick is, I’ve come to a point in the tale where I must have a much more detailed grip on the condiments that go into this bolognium sammich, and it slowed me down to second gear. Nearly freaked me out, I might add. One minute I’m flyin’ through dimensions and orchestrating time – then I pause to use the bathroom and come back and can’t remember where I put the remote!
It’s all good, though. I found it between the couch cushions and the novel is up and running again. Gotta get it done before the Penman Shipwreck begins in January. That’s when I start my new novel, Ether. Plus there’s querying to be done, edits, revisions, agent searches . . . I’d like to schedule a nap some time around February, if at all possible.
So – fellow Science Fiction penners – what’s your particular bolognium? Do you write soft SF and serve up lunch, or go for the Hard stuff because you’ve spent years studying particle physics and string theory and think the rest of us are dweebs? 😀