Science in Fiction Part Four: Reality and Possibility

In the past three posts of the science in fiction series, I discussed time travel, space aliens, and technological advance. When it comes to writing science fiction, a writer’s main concern is often whether or not their story is realistic or believable. If a writer sticks to the laws of nature and physics, there is no dismissing the possibility that the events of the story could one day happen.

The real science of reality and possibility? If there is a .00000001% chance that something could happen, and there is infinite time in which events are taking place, it is 100% certain that the event will happen eventually. This means that theoretically, anything written in science fiction could possible occur. However, most readers will not take everything they read as realistic. A reader must possess this thing called suspension of disbelief. When reading a story, in particular one of the science fiction or fantasy persuasion, the reader must set aside their knowledge of the life they live, the culture, and in some occasions, the laws of physics. Many people have trouble with this, which is why it is important for a writer of science fiction to follow to the best of their ability the laws of nature that rule our world.

Can you think of any good science fiction books or films that were successful in sticking to the laws of physics?

In my opinion, science fiction can be an extremely difficult thing to read and enjoy if it does not seem believable. However, and to conclude with my favorite quote by Friedrich Nietzsche, “there is no truth; there is only perspective.” If someone believes a thing to be true, then even if it is not true, to that individual, it is true. If a reader’s suspension of disbelief is strong (but not so strong that they lose touch with reality, because that would probably be bad) then they are more likely to enjoy science fiction. If a writer is knowledgeable of the hard science that has been established, they will be more likely to be successful in stretching its boundaries to create an intriguing and enjoyable science fiction novel. 

Peace, Aimee 

Plot Arc and Writer's Block

I do not like confrontation. I dislike conflict. I avoid angry people at all costs. In writing the first draft of my current manuscript, I have noticed this aspect of my personality translating into my writing ability, and I can see how it works and why it’s happening. The hardest thing to decipher is how to get past it.

Most everyone has seen the classic plot arc, a line ascending a page until it reaches the climax, then barreling down toward the denouement. This is an overly simple version, but it works. A better — well, I say better, but what I mean is the one that I use — plot arc archetype is the five act structure, in which the novel is split into five distinct sections with major incidents occurring at certain points along the line. The result is something like this:

What I have noticed in following this structure is that my writing ability, or rather my ability to get the words onto the page without pulling a muscle, acts conversely to this graph. I start off strong, but when I hit that first big plot point, I really struggle to find the right words. I have the image of what I want to happen in my mind, but I don’t know how to express it.

I am at the first major plot point at the moment in my current project, and I’m struggling, getting a page a day, or less, and really straining to push onward. I zoomed through the first 10,000 words over the course of two weeks, but the next 5000 took me the same amount of time as I ascended the slope of the arc. About three more pages and I’ll have reached the peak of that first plot point. Once I finally finish the chapter and get over that hump the words will flow more easily, but that second plot point, more intense than the first, is looming intimidatingly in the distance ahead of me.

That’s what writing is, a series of mountains a writer must climb in order to reach the final goal of a completed project. 

Peace, Aimee

Peace Activity #1

It’s time for the first peace activity! A random drawing! 

The prize is a copy of the novel Life of Pi by Yann Martel, which is my favourite book, a book about peace. It is about a 16-year-old Indian boy who is a Muslim, Christian, and Hindu simultaneously. When the boat in which he and his family were riding to Canada sinks, he is trapped on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with a tiger. Using a peaceful mind-set of nonviolence, he must keep himself and the tiger alive until they are rescued.

Here’s how to enter the drawing:

1 Tweet the link to the Peace Blogfest and paste the link to your tweet in the comments section of this post.

2 Post the link to the Peace Blogfest and paste the link to your post in the comments section of this post.

3 Sign up for the Peace Blogfest.

You can do one of each, which will enter you into the drawing three times, or you can do just one or two of three options if you choose. I will put all of the people into a random drawing for a chance to win a copy of Life of Pi by Yann Martel. The deadline is 19 August. I will announce the winner on 20 August.

…And go!

Peace, Aimee

Peace Blogfest 21 September 2012

In 1999, Jeremy Gilley founded the film project Peace One Day to document his efforts in creating an annual day of ceasefire and nonviolence with a fixed calendar date. In 2001, Peace One Day achieved its objective when the United Nations unanimously adopted the International Day of Peace 21 September.

Since Peace Day 2007, 4.5 million children in Afghanistan have been vaccinated against polio, and the Taliban signed a ceasefire agreement that allows UNICEF to enter the country on the 21st of September. According the UN, there was a 70% reduction in violence on the day. Peace One Day’s goal for 2012 is to see a reduction in violence across the whole world. If it is possible in Afghanistan, it’s possible anywhere.

Last year, I hosted a three day blog event with a focus on art and connection with other people from various walks of life, and I was in awe at the participation. This year, I have decided to host a peace blogfest again, but in a simpler way, hoping to get more participants and to spread the word about Peace Day even more.

What does peace mean to you?

World peace? Inner peace? Peace through community relations or tranquil personal relationships? Peace by feeding and clothing the poor? Peace by teaching children not to bully? Peace through the arts, through education, through holding open doors for strangers, through smiling just because you can?

On International Peace Day Friday 21 September 2012 share your view on peace.

You can do this any way you would like. You can write a blog post about your experiences or your opinions. You can share a poem or short story that reflects your view on peace. You can do anything! Tell us what peace means to you!

I will also be hosting Peace Activities on the 21st of each month leading up to Peace Day, except for the first one, which will be announced tomorrow.

Science in Fiction Part Three: Technological Advance

In order for a story to incorporate the technological advance aspect of science fiction, it must be set in the future (or in a sort of alternate universe situation, which usually means there is an event in the past that either did not happen or something new that did). An author setting their story in the future has both a lot of room for imagination and a lot of room to influence readers.


Having an idea for a useful or intriguing or perhaps destructive technological advance does not constitute a premise for a story. When writing this type of story, it is important to have a message behind the devise. If a writer uses the advance technology successfully in their story, they can say something profound about humanity and where it is heading. Both the reasons why this invention was created and how people react to it in the futuristic setting of the story will reveal the writer’s views on human nature.The technology utilized in the story will first reveal to the reader what that type of invention will do to humanity, and then it will answer deeper questions, in particular: WHY would we feel the need to use this invention? What does this invention say about human nature?


While I would have discussed H.G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine in the time travelling post, I find it is more appropriate to discuss it here because the character travels into the future, does not touch the past, and the concept of what is occurring in the future has a greater impact than the fact that he is time travelling at all. That being said, a time machine is a technological advance that has obviously not been discovered yet, and one over which many writers have pondered. In the future, the time traveler discovers two new races of beings that have developed from Homo sapiens: the Eloi, who have developed into small and dull beings because they no longer needed strength or brains to survive, and the Murlocks, who are brutish, nocturnal cavemen. Both species have lost the need to be intelligent, their IQs diminishing as they evolved over thousands of years, which reveals to readers the destructive qualities of technological advances that protect humans from dangers and challenges that require critical thinking.

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a scientist discovers a way to create new life… not in the natural way. This technology, while not the main focus of the story (his monster is), reveals the possibilities that sprout from human intellect. Frankenstein created a being with emotions and desires, using his mental prowess and technology he invented.

Sometimes technological advance in a story is actually invented one day. While the cameras from George Orwell’s 1984 had already been invented, they had not been used for the purpose of security on the streets and spying on people, as they are now. The book was, at the time, a dystopian future in which the government became totalitarian, using cameras to watch people 24/7. Looking back on it now, it seems like a warning, since cameras are perched on street corners all over the world.

The film Soylent Green is another good example of a dystopian future in which new technologies controlled by the government harm humanity. With an overpopulated world and the majority of people on earth living in overcrowded slums, the elite must find a way to provide nourishment for the billions and billions of people living in poverty, but without enough room on the planet to use agriculture. Even though it’s a classic film that I’m sure many people have seen, I do not want to give any spoilers, so I will not discuss it further… However, I will say that the technology in the movie reveals both the compassion for human life and the selfishness of humans in danger, as well as what happens to humanity’s respect for the deceased when life is threatened.

Other good science fiction film is Artificial Intelligence (with Jude Law and Haley Joel Osment). The book Free Radicals by Michael Brooks describes the history of many inventions and the mindset (and mental oddities) of their inventors. What other books or films have you read or seen that use technological advance or futuristic settings?


The thing about technological advances is that they are completely up to the writer. It is possible to expand on something that has already been invented, pushing the limits in order to reveal the impact, be it positive or negative (it’s usually negative), that it has on society, so the writer must have some knowledge of current inventions and how they could be improved. However, most of this is speculative, discovering what something could be. This means that the “real science” behind technological advances in science fiction is not engineering but psychology. A writer of dystopian future fiction should have a purpose in their story which concerns the psychological or social impact of technological advance.

During the Industrial Revolution from 1750 to 1850, new innovations, in particular textiles and steam power, brought thousands of new jobs to the West, as well as more efficient technologies in agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation. In 1752, it is rumored that Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity, and we began running electricity through our homes in the late 19th century, with the help of scientists such as Michael Faraday, Andre-Marie Ampere, George Ohm, and that guy that invented the light bulb. Karl Benz invented the first automobile in 1879, and cars began to be sold to the public in the early 20th century. The next world-changing innovation was the synthetic material we call plastic, brought to the public in the 1920s.

New technologies are developed every day, and the speed in which we invent things is increasing. Less than 200 years ago, we had no electricity, and today we can hardly go one day without it. Textiles, electricity, vehicles, and plastic are all significant achievements that brought new and more efficient ways of living to humanity, but they are all extremely dangerous to our health and safety, as well as to our psychological and philosophical view of human nature. Who knows what inventions could be created tomorrow? And what effect will they have on the way we live our lives?


Some technological advance scares me. Nuclear weapons scare me. I love the internet, but it is enormous, foreboding, and a bit scary. Those remote-less television sets where you just sit on the couch all day and speak to it in order to change the channel and the volume scare me. Those sensors that measure and display to everyone on the road how fast you are going, those scare me, but only because I don’t particularly want to be pulled over. I know how much over the speed limit I’m driving, thank you; no need to display it to the world… There are some things I think are good, though, like solar-powered cars and spaceships and water filters, but there are more scary things than helpful things, in my opinion.

When it comes to technological advance in books, it is almost always used in dystopian futures. As I scanned my bookshelf for examples to use in this post, I found probably four or five books with technological advances about six set in a dystopian future. I am willing to keep an open mind, though all of the books I’ve read and films I’ve seen have all appeared to me to be warnings for humanity about what our selfish desire to expand our technologies can do to hinder our compassion for one another.

Science in Fiction Part Two: Space Aliens

Extraterrestrials are a significant part of science fiction, both in literature and on screen.


Using other creatures’ (besides human beings) bad qualities can reflect human qualities and reveal either negative or positive characteristics of human nature to inspire change in either behavior and thinking or things like the environment and politics. Note: it’s usually bad qualities. 

Aliens are also used, mainly in film, as a means of initiating the end of the world. Reasons for this may be the fear people have of things outside their knowledge and comprehension. Being clueless as to stopping the invaders is terrifying, and yet, it can also be seen as humans using outside forces as an excuse for not taking the blame for their own destruction. This is oftentimes solved by the aliens having a mighty good reason for invading--or in fact a selfish one. Oil reserves, for instance. 


Doctor Who is another wonderful choice for this topic. I discussed it in the time travel post, but I think it has more to do with space than time. The Doctor comes from the planet Gallifrey, which had been in a war with the Daleks until the Doctor ended it, becoming the last Time Lord in existence. The Daleks are not natural creatures, however; they are genetically engineered to be emotionless and xenophobic, mindlessly continuing the existence of their race with no regard for other creatures’ desires. The main purpose of the Daleks is to take a stance of juxtaposition to the human race, who the Doctor considers to be the most special species in the universe because of their capacity for emotion. To contradict his own viewpoint (or to add another) the Doctor appears to house more emotion in his brain than any other human in the show. At over 900 years old, and the last member of his species, he is incredibly lonely, which adds so much more meaning to his actions. While this show is basically made just for entertainment, the main theme that runs through the show is the connection between people (and between aliens).

The novels of Ursula K. le Guin are excellent examples of aliens used effectively in literature. Her novel The Left Hand of Darkness documents the journey of Genly Ai of the planet Terra to the planet Gethen, where he falls in love with Estraven. The beings of Gethen are androgynous, cycling through a mating season and only taking the form of one sex during their “kemmer.” Genly Ai, who is 100% male 100% of the time, is conflicted over his feelings for Estraven. This book, while about aliens, comments on the human right of equality between men and women. It is considered a feminist work. Le Guin’s other works that I have read include The Dispossessed (which discusses anarchy) and The Lathe of Heaven (which isn’t about aliens).

On a quite different side of the literary spectrum from le Guin’s works is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a comedy in which the earth is destroyed to make room for a super-space highway. This premise is a satire on humans destroying homes to make room for roads, on the obvious side, but on the less obvious side, it reveals the naivety (bordering on stupidity) of the human race when faced with things bigger than our current capabilities of knowledge.

Other good examples include the film Contact (with Jodie Foster), War of the Worlds, Super 8 (which is SO GOOD), as well as Star Trek and Star Wars (duh). I have not read many books featuring aliens; can you think of any good ones?


Many people believe in aliens, claim to have seen them, or even claim to have been abducted. There are hundreds of conspiracy theories, but there is also a lot of real research out there. Photographs pop up on the internet practically every day, though they are probably not authentic. I personally never knock it ‘til I try it, so I’m keeping an open mind considering the existence of extraterrestrials.

But when it comes to the real science, it is a bit tricky. The planet earth is thriving with life. So much life, it’s amazing when you look out at the stars with a closed mind, thinking we are the only one in this vast (expanding) universe. On earth, we are carbon-based beings, meaning we are made of carbon atoms and must consume carbon atoms to survive. We humans breathe oxygen, but other living things on this planet breathe other elements. Trees, for an example of which everyone is aware, take in carbon dioxide. Because a creature does not need to breathe oxygen in order to become life, the opportunities for life in the universe besides on earth is expansive. There could be living beings out there that thrive on methane, for instance.

As a matter of fact, the moon Titan, which circles Saturn, has an atmosphere that contains methane, and it houses methane lakes. This is THE ONLY OTHER OBJECT WE HAVE FOUND SO FAR that contains any type of liquid. Everything else we have observed is either gaseous or completely solid. It has also been suggested that Titan contains solid water, aka ice, and because it is extremely cold there (-290 F, -179 C) this water will remain frozen until the sun becomes a red giant, at which time the earth will be too hot for us to survive. Titan is perhaps our best bet for finding life besides us in the Milky Way. The conditions there are similar to those theorized by scientists as to what the earth was like in its pre-biotic days.

This is an example of the possibility of life other than earth in the universe, and thinking about the moon Titan begs the question: could there be other planets with prebiotic conditions in our galaxy? The chances are quite low, since the sun (and other stars) must be the perfect distance so as to be not too hot and not too cold to sustain life; but the chances that a planet in another galaxy, far across the universe, is suited for life is high. And remember folks, the universe had been around for millions of years before the earth was even formed. Perhaps beings similar to us came around, lived, built cities and spaceships, left their mark in the skies, and came to an end with the burning up of their own sun (or their nuclear bombs) before our galaxy was even born.


When I pick up a book that has aliens in it, I am a bit wary; I have only read a couple books like this. I'm not sure what it is, really, but aliens (except for the Doctor) are kind of a literary turn-off to me. A successful alien story, as I've found in my own reading experience, fits into one of two categories: humor or profundity. The plot and language of the alien story is usually either ridiculously hilarious (as in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) or it is harrowing and revealing about humanity (as in the works of Ursula K. Le Guin). The only work of science fiction I have ever witnessed that has a nice balance between these two is Doctor Who. I am currently writing a story that has aliens in it, but it is about the human beings rather than the aliens, revealing how we should be open-minded and peaceful toward extraterrestrial life because they are most likely peaceful. Why else would they come to earth if not to befriend us or teach us? We do not have much space technology, and therefore we are not a threat to the universe, so there is no reason for them to attack us. I believe there is no reason for us to be afraid or hostile. 


Science in Fiction Part One: Time Travel

I have only seen maybe one episode of Star Trek and only two of the six Star Wars films, so I will not pretend to be an expert in science fiction. However, I am obsessed with Doctor Who, LOST, and the book The Time Traveler’s Wife, plus I’ve read some of Stephen Hawking’s stuff, so I will pretend to be an expert in time travel.


The use of time travel in fiction can aid the writer in revealing a message about philosophical arguments that have been going on for ages, particularly that of fate versus free will. While the answer to this question as portrayed in the work is strictly the author’s opinion, if the time travelling aspects of the work reinforce the theme successfully, then the answer is valid. The second main contribution to theme that time travel can provide is that history affects the present and the future in profound ways. The sequence of events leading up to the present (whether they can be altered or not) will always influence the future.


The novel The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is not the ordinary man-in-time-machine cliché of time travel. In the book, a man is plagued by a genetic condition that forces him to skip around on his own life timeline at random intervals, though it can also be induced by stress. The time travelling adds to the love story aspect of the book by requiring the time traveler’s wife to learn to be strong and independent, as she never knows when he could simply disappear to spend time with the child version of herself or the version twenty years older. She develops a thick skin because she knows that his disappearing at this point in time is necessary for a significant event in her life to occur some time in the past or the future. Though she lives her life in the normal sequence, her husband’s skipping around creates its own sequential story, and they reinforce each other with their durability and the strength of their love, which binds them through time.

The TV series Doctor Who is a prime example of time travel in action. The Doctor travels in his time machine, called the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) to any point in time. Cautiously avoiding the 1980s, The Doctor has visited the creation of the earth, the destruction of the earth, and hundreds of times in between, as well as before, and after. The adventures his companions experience always help put their own minuscule lives into perspective as they witness events that occurred millions of years before their birth and events that won’t occur for millions of years after their death.

In LOST, another television series (2004-2010), time travel plays a significant role in the revelation of the plot. There is no mention of time travel until the fourth season, where an individual’s consciousness escapes their mind at one point in their life, and they go limp while at another time they wake up. This phenomenon was caused by the island on which they were stranded being out of sync with the rest of the world by about a day, though in many instances, the characters were able to move the island through time utilizing electromagnetism. (Note: if you have not seen the show before, this probably sounds like the most screwed-up plotline you have ever heard, but I assure you that you will not regret watching it.) In the fifth season, the characters end up trapped on the island in 1977, and they decide to blow up the electromagnetism station to prevent the incident which caused the island’s strange properties, but as it turns out (*SPOILERS!*) them blowing up the station was what caused the incident in the first place. Though the time travel does not occur until the fourth and fifth seasons, it does fill in many of the plot questions brought up during the first three seasons. Watching closely, there are little to no plot holes, though there are dozens of characters who are involved.

Other examples which I do not have enough room to discuss here include the Back to the Future film trilogy, the film The Butterfly Effect, and the short story A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury.


Theoretically, it is scientifically possible to travel into the future, but probably not the past, unless worm holes exist. But let’s take this one step at a time. As Stephen Hawking said, time is relative, which means time does not progress minute by minute at the same interval for each and every atom, and therefore, person. You see, time is a dimension, just like the three we can see: height, width, and depth. Right now, you are moving through the dimension of time, just as you move through the dimension of height when you, say, raise your hand. The speed at which you raise your hand determines how long it takes your hand to get there. If you move slowly, it takes longer. Common sense. But if you think about it, since time is the “fourth dimension,” you can move faster through time in a similar way.

Take the twin paradox, for instance. If a set of twins are on earth, and one takes off in a spaceship that goes faster than light (faster than the speed of light is the only way this would work in a noticeable way) and the other stays on earth, the space twin will travel faster through time than the earth twin. So when the space twin returns, he will noticeably younger than his earth twin (and everyone else, really). It’s kind of a difficult concept to grasp, but this is the theory. Unfortunately we do not have the technology to go faster than the speed of light, so we can’t do this presently.

The twin paradox is an example of how we could travel into the future (the space twin travels faster through time than the earth twin), but there is another way. Worm holes. Now it took me a while to understand this concept, but Stephen Hawkings’ book A Brief History of Time, explained it well, using the analogy of two mountains. If you are standing on top of one mountain and wish to reach the peak of the mountain next to you, you would have to climb down mountain A and then back up mountain B, which would take a while. But what if there was a bit of space-time that connected the tops of the two mountains? You could probably cut your time in half by walking strait across (or whatever fraction; I’m not good with math). Don’t take my word on this, but a worm hole might be able to work both ways, back and forth between the two mountaintops. But no matter; we haven’t found any yet.


Time travel is one of the most intriguing concepts in science to me. I have attempted to write a novel with time travel in it (with a similar concept as I mentioned from LOST, with their consciousness leaving their body at one point in time and entering in another) and I must say, it is extraordinarily difficult. I have put the project on hold for now while working on something different because it was beginning to get a bit too complicated with all that back and forth in time business, but I am planning on coming back and finishing it eventually because I adore the story. I believe that writing about time travel takes a lot of hard work, and though it may take a while (and a lot of brain-draining intellectual thinking) to write a successful time travel story, the end result is usually spectacular. 

Peace Day Blogfest 2012 Pep Rally

LastSeptember, I hosted the Peace Day Blogfest to celebrate International Peace Day, 21 September. This year I am hosting the Second Annual Peace Day Blogfest, but with a simpler format (only one day instead of three) and with more activities to both promote the blogfest and the day, and to encourage peaceful action and thinking.

On 21 June 2012, I will officially announce the Second Annual Peace Day Blogfest and post the sign-up sheet and instructions. In addition to the blogfest, I will be hosting Peace Activities on the 21st of each month leading up to the day, except for the 21st of June’s activity, which will begin on the 22nd of June because the blogfest announcement obviously takes precedence.

So here is the tentative schedule:

June 21 – announce Peace Day Blogfest 2012
June 22 – Peace Activity #1
July 21 – Peace Activity #2
August 21 – Peace Activity #3
September 21 – Peace Day Blogfest

Stayed tuned for the announcement! 

Here is the TED talk by Jeremy Gilley, founder of the Peace One Day organization that instated the day. 

Here is the Peace One Day website where you can find all the information you need to know about the day and how it was instated. 

Peace, Aimee

The Great Night by Chris Adrian

“He fell backward, as if through a mile of air or a lifetime, to land on the soft grass with a noise like his name [Huff], feeling like he was saying his name properly for the first time because he knew who he was and what he was all about and what he really wanted, which was precisely this. He had nothing left, not will or energy or expertise, with which to venture from the bush and offer to his friends and co-conspirators, though he heard them rehearsing the last song ensemble and unsupervised: People, they sang. People who eat people are the loneliest people in the world!- Chris Adrian, The Great Night (334-335)

If you know me at all, you know that I am a Shakespeare fan. This novel is a clever retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which three young people, Molly, Henry, and Will, become lost in present-day San Francisco Buena Vista Park on Midsummer’s Eve. Unbeknownst to them, it is the secret home of a faerie kingdom, where Oberon and Titania (recognize the names?) reign as king and queen.

On this night, the anniversary of Titania having locked up the treacherous Beast, the faerie queen’s sorrow over the loss of her son has driven her over the edge, and she releases her control over the trickster Puck. The lonely Molly, Henry, and Will are caught up in the mayhem of the faeries’ Midsummer celebration and the impending doom of the kingdom, as the Beast approaches.

Author Chris Adrian slowly reveals the heart-breaking events of the three young adults’ lives and weaves the wrenching emotion of Titania’s loss with the chaos of the goofy midget faeries, who are continuing their preparation for the Midsummer celebration despite their awareness that each and every creature in the park will be dead by the end of the night. Adrian's elegant language brings a strange kind of charm to the story, sprinkling magic onto each page, as well as allusions to works with similar themes, most notably the film Soylent Green. Though there are dozens of characters, from the four main ones to the hectic faeries of the court to those who populate Molly, Henry, and Will’s backstory, each and every one plays a significant role in developing the story, and each deliver emotional force on every page.

Audacious, hilarious, and moving, The Great Night is a magically imaginative work that delivers a profound message about living and loving in the face of imminent death, something of which we all experience. As soon as I finished the last page, I immediately flipped back to the beginning and started reading it again.