Science Fact-ion
February 19, 2014

Science Fact-ion

What do the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (more commonly known as NASA) and science fiction (more commonly known as sci-fi) writers have in common? Well, recently they have teamed up to create sci-fi novels, something that I am calling science fact-ion because it combines science fact with science fiction. The Wall Street Journal reported about this paring recently. As that article says,

“Fact-based science fiction may sound like a contradiction, or a poor marketing strategy, in a literary genre that typically celebrates flights of fantasy. But Tor [a major sci-fi publisher] and NASA say both stand to gain. Novelists get access to cutting-edge research and experts in obscure fields. A NASA official says that shaping science fiction offers ‘an innovative way to reach out to the public to raise awareness of what the agency is doing.’”

Turns out that NASA held a retreat for sci-fi novelists in October 2012 that they called “Science Fiction Meets Science Fact.” The whole point was not to inculcate the sci-fi writers with NASA propaganda but to help them to write more sci-fi with more accurate science. The retreat also served to inspire participants. One such participant by the name of Heather Graham found just such inspiration by chatting with NASA experts.

Other authors have continued their relationship with NASA as well, particularly in the form of detailed fact checking. NASA officials, scientists, and engineers have been coordinating with sci-fi writers to ensure that the stories are more credible. One engineer said he mostly checks for the details of what things are called, how things work, and makes sure the calculations make sense.

Relationships between NASA and artists are not novel (forgive the pun; I just couldn’t help myself). If this seems a bit out there for NASA, the truth is the agency has coordinated with creative people in the past. For instance, NASA “commissioned art work celebrating its accomplishments from luminaries like Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol. The agency has consulted on Hollywood films, including “Armageddon,” “The Avengers” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” Two years ago, NASA teamed up with hip-hop star, who wrote a song about space exploration that was first broadcast on the Mars Curiosity rover and beamed back to earth.”

The Wall Street Journal article identifies several upcoming stories from sci-fi writers that grew out of this relationship with NASA. How cool would it be to write a story and have NASA scientists be the first readers? I mean, that is more than just cool; it is totally incredible. Every writer researches for his or her books whether that novel is realism, romance, historical fiction, horror, suspense, fantasy, or sci-fi. To have access to the experts—and I do mean THE experts—in the field would really just rock my world.

Don’t get me wrong; I am a really good researcher. When I write fiction, I have all the background information prepped and even spend time during the drafting process further researching. I know all about my subject and become the expert. But I do almost all of this via reading. To have a real human expert with whom I could talk and from whom I could learn would be a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Like, it would be life changing, I think.

And to be a NASA scientist and have a creative experience about the sci-fi world would be just as exciting, I would think. What NASA official doesn’t want to grab young readers and help them to see the beauty in the world of science, be that science fiction or science fact? Many scientists come to the field through their love of sci-fi.

I am totally jealous of this opportunity between NASA and many sci-fi writers. I just know that the books that come from it will be mind blowing to the sci-fi readers of the world. And the experience that the NASA scientists have will be equally as incredible. I can’t wait to see more of this science fact-ion.

Image Credit: PathDoc / Shutterstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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