If you’re reading one of my posts for the first time, it may be because you’ve joined my new Scott Overton page on Facebook. Welcome! I’ve been posting/blogging on my webpage for some time, and you’re welcome to check out previous posts there as well as some samples of my short stories. Mostly I post about science and science fiction, sometimes about the writing process and the publishing business. I hope you enjoy them.
This week I’ve been thinking about the fact that I don’t see much science fiction that’s actually about space travel anymore. A big part of the reason might be that it’s becoming harder all the time for writers to keep up with new developments.
The publishing industry can be very slow—I’ve seen it take a year and a half for one of my stories to go from acceptance to its actual appearance in the magazine. Believe me, scientific research doesn’t wait!
I wrote a story that I set in a solar system known officially as Gliese 581—it’s a red dwarf star that got a lot of attention because one or two of the planets discovered around it are believed to be in the star’s habitable zone, meaning at the right distance for liquid water to exist on the surface, and therefore maybe Life As We Know It (also known as the Goldilocks zone: not too hot, not too cold). I cleverly placed a human colony on the fourth planet, Gliese 581d, but while I was sending the story out to magazines, another planet was discovered in the system, Gliese 581g, that’s a better candidate for a habitable planet. Fortunately, I’d made up my own names for the planets and my story didn’t have to be changed, but the news could easily have screwed up a story already in the publishing pipeline, and left egg on my face.
There have been lots of other developments like that in recent years, thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope, and numerous space probes to various corners of our solar system (including the Dawn probe that just went into orbit around the asteroid Vesta between Mars and Jupiter last week, and will eventually land on it). These are exciting times, but….
Have you written a story that takes place near Pluto? You think you’re up to date because you don’t call it a “planet” anymore, just a “dwarf planet” since its official demotion? Well, how many moons did you give it? Four, I hope. Most of us knew about Pluto’s moon Charon. But two more—Hydra and Nix—were discovered in 2005, and now the Hubble telescope has found a fourth moon probably only a few dozen kilometers across. Flip a coin before you give Pluto a ring, like Saturn’s—that’s not conclusive yet. Or maybe you should just wait until after 2015 when the New Horizons probe will visit Pluto’s corner of the solar system, and might shake things up even more.
It’s enough to give a science fiction writer a migraine.