How do authors develop the scientific ideas found in science fiction stories? The science in a SF story should be possible. That is, readers are easily convinced that the hardware (for example, a hyperdrive) could exist and that a described technique for its use (warp speed achieved through use of dilithium crystal) is reasonable. The ways authors find an idea for use in a story is the subject of this article.
In my own case, I began with three story problems. The first was how do I explain that when aliens appear, humans tremble and collapse in their presence? This response in the presence of an alien being is well-documented in literature and modern mythology. In the Hebrew Scriptures humans often collapse in the presence of an angel; for example, in Daniel 8:17-18, when the angel Gabriel approaches him, Daniel writes, I was terrified and fell prostrate. Reports of alien abductions often contain similar mention of paralysis or disorientation. I used this human response in my story and explained it scientifically by suggesting that human incapacitation occurs because of the overlayering of the alien universe with our universe when an alien appears in our space-time. In my story aliens bring their nine dimensions with them when they appear, making three-dimensional beings physically sick.
The second story problem was how can beings fight using thought alone? The idea was that in their own nine-dimensional universe, thoughts are physically potent. Beings from a multi-dimensional universe need only think to make things come to pass. But what science could support such a WYTIWYG (what you think is what you get) universe? The physics of our universe support our life, so it is reasonable to suppose that the physics of a universe of nine dimensions would support the lives of spirit beings living there and the actualization of their thoughts.
However, this solution creates another story problem: if a being living where thoughts became real suddenly had a bad thought (like monsters destroying their civilization), such a thought must come true, being supported as it is by the physics of that universe. Therefore, beings living in such a place must be morally pure so they were not subject to any evil designs or dark thoughts that would change their universe from a heaven into a hell. We’ve seen this idea in literature before. In Milton’s Paradise Lost a good angel (Lucifer) goes bad and is cast out of the heavenly (morally pure) universe.
The third story problem that needed a scientific solution was the need to find a means for human beings to fight aliens who possessed these kinds of powers. The science fiction solution to this problem lay (in my mind) in abstract algebra. Scientific literature I had read mentioned that our dimensions of left=right, back-forth, and up-down have been described in the laws of physics by about 20 constants. (Brian Greene explained this idea in the elegant universe which I read and loved.) If we had a machine that could constantly monitor these fundamental constants of nature in some sort of field around us, we could know if the numbers were changing or new numbers were being introduced. If we could project such a field around us (in which these 20 constants were maintained), then a person inside such a field could stand in the presence of an alien who was warping our space-time with values from his own antithetical universe. In the end my story used bosonic field equations as a means of determining the presence of deformations caused by the introduction of additional dimensions into our space-time.
This personal illustration exemplifies what I believe is the means through which science fiction authors develop fictional science. Exposure to current scientific thought in the dumbed-down literature scientists create for non-scientist is one place to look for ideas. By extrapolating from these ideas, we can speculate on where scientific and social issues may take a society.
What will happen with the fusion between man and machine (cyberpunk), how will warfare be changed (military SF), what might an alternate/parallel universe look like, how might science effect intrigues or quests. In my case I’m interested in the idea of magic and the supernatural. My novel The Beginning of This, The End of That involves the idea that the supernatural is really just the natural world of dimensional beings whose reality is supported by a physics we are only beginning to imagine.
If that were so, if the supernatural were really just something natural to another dimension or another universe, what perspective would it provide when looking back over human mythology or forward to a prophetic future?