Brenda Cooper

The Importance of Science to SF

I am writing this from a coffee shop in DC.  One of the reasons I came here at this time was to participate in the March for Science right here in the capital.

The March

I ran into three friends, fellow writer Brenda Clough and her husband Larry Clough, and another fellow writer, Chris Cevasco. What a small world. Brenda introduced me to Michelle Lighton (who they had just met), and she and Larry gifted me and Michelle with their signs as they attended the rally but had to leave before the march started. Here are the signs and some quotes from me and Michelle in the New York Times.

We were wet and cold and yet everyone was smiles and enthusiasm. The signs were great. The march was quiet (I suspect it’s easier for many scientists to think of and create great signs than to scream loudly). It touched me to do the walk here, in the seat of so many debates and decisions.

We walked past the EPA building, and people chanted “Save the EPA!”  I can’t believe that phrase should even make sense, much less that we might have to fight tooth and nail for it.  That’s like saying “Save the blue in the sky” to me.  But then, I’m old enough to recall the bad smog days in California, and I read enough to know what China’s air looks like.  Air should, of course, look like nothing.  And the EPA does so much more than that. We need them. But end rant, for the moment.

Why I Showed Up

I’m not a scientist.  Some SF writers are actual scientists, but I understand science at the level of an informed reader. I do read a lot. As an SF writer, I’m dependent on the work of scientists. The world building in my next book, Wilders, was partly based on Half Earth by biologist E.O. Wilson and the sequel is informed by Carl Safina’s book How Animals Think and Feel.  There’s more, but it could take a page to list all of the research I’ve done for these two books, about half of which is straight science reading.

As a writer I take what I learn from science and engineering and expand and extend it, and wrap character and feelings around it. When I’m done, it’s not science. But it’s based there.

It doesn’t stop there, though. Scientists sometimes take our ideas and make them happen.  Many inventions have been attributed to Star Trek.  Second Life talks out loud about its based on concepts in Neal Stephenson’s excellent book, Snow Crash. I could make a list.  But mostly I want to make the point that there is a loose but valuable circle of ideas that moves from scientist to science fiction writer to scientist to science fiction writer….

It felt important to march. It’s a way to be counted.  There are so many ways we can all show our resistance to backward policies, and it’s so important to do so. We cannot get tired or confused or give up. Politics has never mattered as much as it does now, and moving forward with policies based firmly on peer-reviewed science has never been more important.  The lives of many plants and animals, many people, and maybe even of all of us are at stake.