Two years ago I tried writing a science fiction story called War of the Seven. I still may go back and try to finish it, but I let the story languish after about two pages. The reason? There’s a moon base in the story, and I got hung up trying to figure out what could be realistically observed on the earth from the moon. I was mortified that I’d make reference to a geographic feature on the earth’s surface, and some uber-nerd would call me out one day and tell me it would be impossible to see whatever it was I had described in my story.
So the story died.
About a year and a half later I stumbled on this cool web page: Earth and Moon Viewer It actually lets you see what would be in sight at a certain time from the sun, the moon, or any number of satellites. Well, now that problem is solved for Seven. Bereft of excuses, I hope to re-attack it at some point and maybe submit it to one of those periodicals I mentioned in my last article. But this got me thinking about some other websites that could possibly be good source material for those of us who don’t have PHDs.
NOTE: I’m not saying that as a writer that you should always use anything like what I’ve listed below. Part of the fun of writing is creating without restrictions. But adding elements of realism to a story can buy you an allowance from your audience when you start making stuff up. Take a look at the Dune series. You should get college credit for reading that, and its one of the best sci-fi novels out there.
Here are a few resources I’ve dug up recently:
- Physics.org Interstellar Space tag
I’ve only recently found this, and it is amazing. Articles posted here cover a vast array of topics that can provide realism to any science fiction story. A recent article (just found it this morning) describes unusual findings in the “collision zone”, which is “where the solar wind, an outward rush of charged particles and magnetic fields continuously spewed by the Sun, runs into the flow of particles and fields that permeates interstellar space in our neighborhood of the Milky Way galaxy.” That’s the kind of background material that I think can really color a science fiction novel.
- Google Sky
This is your astro-geography lesson for when you’re describing how the alien fleet came from the direction of the Horsehead Nebula, in the Constellation Scorpius, only to find out it’s actually in Orion. You just made a million lightyear mistake.
- NASA’s Image Access Home Page
This site allows you to access NASA’s images of the solar system. This includes not only the planets, but the sun and all the various moons. There’s links to solar systems and galaxies as well. Use these to augment your descriptions of alien worlds.
- Ion Engines
Another great NASA page. How often have you heard something referred to in a Sci Fi movie as an “ion engine?” I’ve heard it plenty, so it was a big surprise for me to find out that they’re very real. Now, we’re not going to be entering hyperspace any time soon with these, but by incorporating some of the principles of real world ion engines into your story, you can make your science fiction yarn a little more plausible, and likely more relatable for your audience.
- Glint of Starlight Could Reveal Liquid Oceans on Exoplanets, by By Lisa Grossman September 3, 2010 , Wired.com. This is an article written for Wired.com. It goes into the science of looking for water on other worlds. Potentially good background material.
Got any good links? Let me know.