WEBSITES WE LIKE: "Atomic Rockets"

Republibot 3.0
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If you're an untalented hack writer like me, or if you *want* to be an untalented hack writer like me, then I can not stress the importance and indespensibility of THIS SITE strongly enough. It's the Atomic Rockets site, home of actual real science for hard science fiction stories. Seriously, it's great.

Now, I can and will play all sides of the hard SF vs. soft SF thing - sometimes the science is simply not important to the story you're telling, and sometimes it is, and more often it's somewhere in the middle - but I do go on record as saying that I like a little 'science' in my science fiction. I think we'd be better respected as a genre if we emphasized that a bit more, and who knows, we might even be better, or at least smarter people if we tried it. That's not to diss the soft SF crowd - there's room enough in the genre for Star Trek, and even a need for it on some levels, and Mr. Bradbury's body of work is inescapably beautiful - but, y'know, for me, personally,...I instantly tend to respect SF more, and take the author's ideas more seriously if they take some notice of the way the world actually works, as opposed to people just sitting around talking about their feelings, or just making up "Sir, the Singularity is Exploding and Cascade failure in the doubletalk device means our macguffin will only work for a window of thirty nannoseconds" crap as they go along.

The daunting part of this, however, is that science is *really hard.* And it's frequently done in a really boring fashion. We've all read 50s SF by 'masters' of the genre that are about as dry and boring as an instruction manual about how to eat toast, with endless yammering about electronics or orbital mechanics or what have you. You say that stuff is bad, and I'm right there with ya', brother.

But you know what? It doesn't have to be that way.

"Voyage" by Stephen Baxter is a brilliant, brilliant hard SF novel that doesn't dwell on the technological aspects. It tells a very human story in entertaining fashion, but the tech angles all work, they feel consistent, there is a veracity to them that adds to the story. His "Time Ships" is similar, though it's all about quantum mechanics. In Babylon 5, the relatively-hard SF techology used by the Earth Alliance folk provided a nice contrast to the more Federation Standard Magical tech used by the more advanced races. The real-world zero-g maneuvering used by the fighters in B5 and the new Galactica provided a nice, and very cool alternative to the 'airplanes in space' way such things are normally done.

Science is cool. Science is your friend. Furthermore, science provides interesting avenues your story can go down that you might not have thought up if you're completely ignoring the way the world works. For evidence of this, I suggest the first five or six "Beowulf Schaefer" stories by Larry Niven.

But it is daunting, and that's what makes "Atomic Rockets" so cool: They have *EVERYTHING* you need to write hard SF stories, arranged in easy-to-understand categories, with friendly explanations, trenchant insights, and some great overviews as to how this sort of thing has been used in the past. And several hack authors - like ourselves - have used this as an invaluable reference to help them put together short stories and novels. (I've read one of these - "The Humanist Inheritance" - and I'd love to interview it's author, Matthew Lineberger, if you're reading this!)

So before you make your space ship a generic starfleety thing with doubletalk artificial gravity, why not take a look at the *real* ways artificial gravity can be generated ; before you give your people generic phasers or plain ol' .45s, why not check out some feasable options here and rather than using some kind of generic warp drive, why not check out the alternatives

Because Drama comes form complications, and complications arise from the natural limitations of the environment you're working in. Having a believable technology allows you to explore avenues of drama that might not be accessable if you use the more conventional generic TV way of doing things. If you don't believe me, go read "The Cruel Equations." I'll wait here 'til you're done. And it's just cool: SF is, among other things, about our sense of wonder, and it's hard to get your sense of wonder all engorged if spaceships are indistinguishable from sea ships, and if every planet is just like earth, where's the awsomeness in that?

And even if you *don't* have any interest in writing stuff, the site is just endlessly entertaining for days on end because its material and overviews are just inherently fascinating. This is a smart site for smart people, and unlike most sites, it'll actually make *you* a bit smarter - or at least better educated - for having visited it.

Strongly, strongly, strongly reccomended. Check it out! Now!