Forget working in the details. I want to talk about whether the details work.
It's science fiction, right? Fiction, as in made up. Yeah, but you also have the 'science' part. You want things to be a little out there, imaginative, something the reader hasn't thought of before, but now that you suggested it, "Yes, that's so awesome!" At the same time, you don't want it to enter the realm of, "But that's totally impossible!"
Finding the balance between scientific feasibility and creative license isn't easy. I don't think I know any writers who don't dive in and do some research when they find they need to. There are natural limitations. (For example, check out the letter Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry sent Isaac Asimov in response to the latter's criticism of the television series.)
However, I've come across instances where I feel like authors didn't realize they needed to do a little research. Maybe they lacked the background knowledge. Maybe they just didn't think it through from the angle I naturally look from. Maybe they put more emphasis on what worked for their plot than what actually works from a logical world-building perspective.
Maybe I'm just a science snob.
To be honest, I see this particularly in YA sci-fi. Not saying it's true of all (not remotely!) or most. I hope it's not even true of many. But it's certainly true of some. Some who call themselves geeks, love sci-fi as a consumer, but don't get the whole left-side-of-the-brain engagement going in their writing.
I'm not saying all sci-fi has to be hard sci-fi. We don't need pages of techno-babble backing up the scientific elements of the story. But here are some (very general) scientifically minded questions I try to consider in my world-building details:
- What progression led to the present level of technology in the world? Is it ascending (advancing technology) or descending (lost knowledge due to some event in the past)?
- What limitations are there, preventing all tasks from being dirt simple? If technology makes some things super-simple, but others still require effort, does that distinction make sense?
- If my setting is Earth, but X years in the future, how do elements of our current world influence my story? How have elements of our present degraded over time? (Never forget entropy.)
And here's a biggie:
- What laws of physics (as currently understood) am I going to try to break, bend, or circumvent? How can I justify it? (The justification can be highly fictional, but must be consistent within itself.)
Any other sci-fi buffs out there? Are there ways you see the "sci" in sci-fi getting glossed over too much (in YA or otherwise)? What strategies do you have for keeping your imagination within some confines of scientific consistency? I'd love to hear your thoughts.