Hard SF from Alastair Reynolds
“I really struggle to pinpoint whether I became a scientist because I like science fiction, or did I gravitate to science fiction because I identified strongly with scientists.”
This quote from scientist and science fiction writer Alastair Reynolds is my excuse for writing a post on science fiction. And it’s SF – never sci-fi.
Science and Science Fiction can become indistinguishable. The kit I am writing this on was the stuff of SF only a few decades back. The screen is mere centimetres thick but bigger than the first colour TV I watched; the keyboard and mouse don’t seem to be connected to the computer at all. And as for the internet… I am sure that to some it still is like something from a SF novel.
I have always loved science fiction; I grew up reading the hard core type written by Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov.
Clarke’s “The Star” and “The City and Stars” are just awesome, I read them first when I was a teenager and can still remember their impact.
Asimov’s “The Gods Themselves” is based on the quote by Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805): “Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.” (“Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.”).
It starts with a description of an isotope plutonium-186 that cannot exist in our universe, and examines the conditions that would be required for it to be stable.
I looked for ages for someone to take their place. I don’t like science fantasy, and much of the SF I’ve tried has been long on the fiction and short on science. I’m happy for the story to involve some way to travel at near light speed. But I want to see the time dilation effects considered. Similarly, if the story describes an explosion in space, there is going to be no flames and certainly no shock wave – what is going to propagate it, the ether!
Enter Alastair Reynolds: he writes great stories, and bends scientific laws only when absolutely required. And even then makes some rational explanation. Although his description of the way that starship engines work is priceless. They take in interstellar dust and “subject it to some frankly unimaginable physics”! Brilliant.
I’m sure it is no coincidence that like Asimov and Clarke before him he started life as a practicing scientist, in his case at CERN.
His first novel Revelation Space is full of interesting characters, and has a fascinating and suitably scientific story. It touches on neutron stars, nanotechnology – a favourite theme – and long, long dead civilisations. A complete story in itself is also forms part of a longer story arc, with elements and people re-appearing in later books, notably Revelation Ark.
This is science fiction for the scientist. Beware, if you like it, it is addictive.