M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Getting the Science Right - Stephen A. Benjamin's Worst Writing Fear

My Worst Writing Fear:
Getting the Science Straight


 Stephen A. Benjamin

  I am a veterinarian and a biomedical researcher. The goal of scientific research is to decipher the workings of the natural world. Accuracy in the collection and interpretation  of experimental data is the fundamental basis for scientific discovery and advancement.
So, what is my greatest fear as a writer of fiction, science fiction to be exact? The fear of getting something scientific wrong. How can I get something wrong if I am writing fiction? Good fiction is based on reality. Are the characters and their actions realistic; do they evoke emotion and caring in the reader? Are the settings well-drawn and believable? In any genre, if the reader cannot buy into the characters, the setting , or the action, they will suspend belief and, potentially, their reading.

  But science fiction is fantastical adventure, whether  set in the past, present, or future. It bears no relationship to “reality,” does it? Tell that to Jules Verne or H. G. Wells, nineteenth century writers who accurately predicted many of the scientific advances of the twentieth century. Did they get some of their predictions wrong? Of course they did. Verne, in Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea, amazingly envisioned and described the  SCUBA apparatus in 1870, yet, in the same novel predicted that humans could never harm the vast diversity of creatures that lived on earth. Don’t we wish the latter prediction was true?

  If greats like Verne and Wells could make errors, why is that a fear for me? Scientists can and do make mistakes in carrying out experiments and drawing  conclusions. Mistakes, when recognized, can be important to teach us what is correct. Yet, I am still afraid to make scientific errors in my fiction. An example: In the beta version of my recently published novel, The Galactic Circle Veterinary Service, a friend and colleague, also a veterinarian, picked up two errors: one the misspelling of a horse’s bone, the other the wrong term for a dog’s anatomical structure. Well, shoot, who but a veterinarian would even know? Doesn’t matter. I would know. I learned such things in school and there is no excuse for getting them wrong. I was embarrassed even though those errors never saw the light of day.
  I approach my writing as I approach a scientific research problem. I exhaustively investigate what is known, then use that to predict what might be. If I don’t get the current science right, what I propose for the future doesn’t work, for me at least. In Galactic Circle, a future plague has a basis in what we know now about microbiology and biochemistry. Even the alien life-forms affected must fit within a logical and consistent biological scheme of the universe, or the disease can’t work, and my story is less believable.

  So I fear someone reading my work (especially other scientists) and finding the error that makes them say, “Boy, did he get that wrong.” The old saw says, “Write what you know.” I’m supposed to know science and medicine. If I make basic  mistakes with current science, it tells the reader that I don’t know my subject. Might as well put the book down now! 

  My science fiction is based on good science. I will continue to research my subjects ad nauseum before I prognosticate the future of that science. And I’ll continue to make sure that someone reads my books who can catch my inevitable errors before they go to print.


Author Bio:
Stephen A. Benjamin

  Stephen A. Benjamin received his B.A. from Brandeis University and his D.V.M. and Ph.D. in pathology from Cornell University.  He has served on the faculty of two medical schools (Pennsylvania State University and University of New Mexico) and one college of veterinary medicine (Colorado State University).  He is currently Professor Emeritus in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University.

  Dr. Benjamin has been a teacher, researcher, and administrator, and his interests have spanned the areas of toxicology, radiation biology, cancer research, and veterinary medicine.  He has authored or co-authored over 100 scientific publications and book chapters.

  Fiction publications include his science fiction novel, The Galactic Circle Veterinary Service, which draws heavily on his medical background, and a short story, Just Desserts, a supernatural humor piece. Both were published by TWB Press, Lakewood, CO. Benjamin has an author page on Facebook.

  Dr. Benjamin lives in Colorado with his wife.  Besides writing, he enjoys travel, fishing, camping, golf, skiing, cooking, good wine, and five lovely granddaughters.


The Galactic Circle Veterinary Service

His family threatened by his world’s tyrannical theocracy, a young veterinarian is forced to run an interstellar veterinary service as cover for espionage in advance of a galactic invasion. Watched over by a xenophobic and sadistic government spy, he offers medical services to the alien life-forms he meets. Treating werewolves for mange only scratches the surface of his adventures as he makes human and alien allies to help him free his parents and his world from oppression.

You can read samples of The Galactic Circle Veterinary Service 
on Amazon, Nook, Smashwords
and at TWB Press.


Patricia Stoltey said...

You make a great point here, Stephen! It works for authors who write crime fiction, too, especially police procedurals. It's not good to make mistakes the readers are very likely to catch.

I bought my copy of The Galactic Circle Veterinary Service at the NCW book fair and hope to get it read very soon.

Stephen A Benjamin said...

Thanks, Pat. GCVS is doing very well at this point. Maybe I was able to avoid any fatal errors. :)