The second annual Science in My Fiction Contest is on and bedeviling writers! This year, in addition to asking writers to base their short story submissions on recent scientific developments, all contest entries must also be stories set off-Earth.
At a stretch, nearly any scientific advance made on Earth could be applied to the far-future, and authors of speculative fiction should ideally always practice that kind of literary yoga. But while some technological leaps are more obviously applicable than others, many things are taken for granted on Earth to the extent that we need to be reminded that they require re-thinking for all other settings.
Because of the contest’s secondary requirement, I’ve been tweeting daily links to recent space travel and far future-relevant scientific developments. Not everyone follows me on Twitter, however, so I’ve decided to bring a few examples of SiMF Contest-ready science to the blog for helpful discussion and speculation.
Wherever else in the galaxy humans are ever able to settle, we will first need to travel there. Everything we take with us may become lighter than feathers once outside Earth’s gravity, but before then, it must be launched. Every ounce of weight correlates to the amount of fuel required for lift-off. Once weightless, all cargo still has volume and mass, so we must also account for how much room is required to store it when it’s not in use, without cramming in the crew like so much ballast. These issues are tricky for short missions and incredibly problematic for long missions, but some far future dilemmas may have answers rooted in ancient arts. I give you Textiles in Space!
Essential items like food, water, tools, and people are not the only things we send to space. On short journeys, of course we include materials for science experiments, and satellites to be put in orbit, but we also allow astronauts a few small personal items. For example, several flutes recently circled the Earth. On short missions, these little things are of arguable worth in space, but on long missions they could become hugely important – psychologically, if in no other way. But again, every item aboard ship takes up valuable ‘real estate,’ and so the size of allowable personal items must be carefully reconsidered for long-term space travel. Fortunately, we humans are capable of placing remarkably high significance on our virtual possessions. Talk about space-savers.
Astronauts are scheduled to within an inch of their sanity. Every moment is carefully planned to ensure that the science gets done, all maintenance is performed, and everyone sleeps and exercises enough to protect their health. Even their so-called ‘free time’ is scheduled in advance. But people are people, no matter how far off-Earth we may travel. Even if we take great pains to send no trouble-makers into space, it’s only a matter of time before somebody starts some shenanigans. Why? Well, rules are all well and good, but rule-breaking is powerful stuff. Eventually, every long space mission will have to deal with man-made mischief. Perhaps if we designate time for it on ships’ calendars we can mitigate the damage…
Those are just three examples of obvious or easily ignored science that could be useful for writers speculating on the future. I’ll bring up more like these as the contest progresses, but in the mean time, what are your off-Earth science suggestions for SiMF contestants?