An Astronomy Workshop for SF Writers?

Hey, SF writers, check this out:

Science fiction writer Mike Brotherton is also a professor of astronomy at the University of Wyoming, and is thinking about the feasibility of doing two-week workshop for SF writers about science (and particularly astronomy), possibly to be funded by NASA. But in order to pry the money out of NASA, he needs to able to show there’s a market for this — which is to say, that SF writers are interested in taking a couple weeks to learn more about the science that fuels their fiction. So he’s created a survey to poll SF writers about their interest/ability to do this. The survey is here.

Speaking as an SF writer who has also written a book on astronomy, I think this is a marvelous idea; I assume that SF writers are more literate than the average bear about science and scientific concepts, but there’s something to be said about a “hands-on” immersion into the field, particularly for SF writers who are not working scientists or science journalists/writers. As Brotherton himself notes: “People continue to learn from stories after college, and future scientists are often inspired to adopt their careers by an early interest in science fiction.” To the extent that we use current science in our work, or extrapolate from it, it’s helpful for us to get it right. Because if we don’t, who will?

The survey is open to all writing levels, so whether you’re beginner or an established novelist, you can take the survey and give Brotherton data to use to make his case to NASA. Naturally, feel free to pass this information to other SF writers you know; the more data Brotherton gets, the more useful this survey will be.

16 thoughts on “An Astronomy Workshop for SF Writers?

  1. Sounds like a worthy activity. I know I could go for a ‘refresher course’. Added my two cents to the survey.

  2. and then maybe they could do a “physics for sf writers”, and a “biology for sf writers”, and a “geology” and an “anthropology”, and a “plurality of worlds” etc, etc. oh oh oh.

  3. Heh, this would be the reason I love having an astrophysicist as a step-father. It makes for some interesting (and sometimes amusing) discussions over holiday dinners. The best response yet was when I asked about the SF theory of black holes, dark matter, and bending dimensions and some other hoohah, and the good rocket scientist (as we call him) responded, “all the words you used are real ones, yet it makes no sense.”

    Good to get a critical, reality-based response to the particularly farflung notions in SF, sometimes…

  4. So, John, are you going as one of those people who not only get free room, board, workshop fees and travel expenses, but also as “small honoraium?”

  5. Well, as I professionally write about science as well as science fiction, I don’t think the workshop is aimed at me. So it’s doubtful I would attend at all. But I still think it’s a fine idea.

  6. I think the idea for the workshop is wonderful, but I think it’s a horrible idea to have it funded by NASA. There are two reasons.
    1) The government has no business whatsoever funding workshops for writers, whether science fiction or anything else. Every government program boils down to the question: Is the government justified in taking hard-earned money from MY paycheck to do this. The answer here is clearly no.
    2) Many of the readers of this blog are probably supporters of increased funding for Space-related programs. How is it going to look for NASA arguing for money when their opponents say, “NASA doesn’t need more money – They already have enough to spend holding workshops for writers.”

  7. Johnny G. Ray:

    I wouldn’t gainsay your ability to say you wouldn’t want your tax dollars at work for this particular workshop, as there are likely several hundred programs currently funded by the government that I would prefer not to have my tax dollars funding, almost all of them I would suspect far more expensive than this one would be. I do recognize that short of not having the federal government fund anything, there will always be programs someone somewhere objects theri tax dollars being used on.

    As to the second, I think it’s going to look fine. NASA recognizes that part of its mission is education and in its budget apportions a certain percentage toward programs of that sort (for FY 2007, it’s requesting $153.3 million — which, one should note, is a 5.6 decrease from the previous FY amount). The vast majority of that (more than $130 million) properly goes to educational initiatives for elementary, secondary and higher education, but some small amount ($2.5 million, FY2007) goes for “informal education,” which one suspects this would fall under.

    I would imagine that if properly managed the overall cost for this program would be very low; I can’t imagine that even if all the participants got a free ride the cost of the program would be more than a small percentage of an already small portion of NASA’s education budget.

    Given that nearly every person who becomes a scientist/engineer ingested science fiction as a child, and sf continues to be very popular entertainment, one can make a reasonable argument that tutoring the writers of the same could increase science literacy, because of course SF writers are going to turn around and use that knowledge in their fiction, screenplays, and other writings — cheaper than reaching and educating on an individual basis the potential audience of people these writers have.

    So overall, I’d say this is an easily justifiable program, both in terms of its own potential and as part of NASA acknowledged educational mission.

  8. I’m thinking of taking up writing smutty romance novels… what kind of a workshop can I get for that? And is there any chance it could involve Kira Knightly?

  9. Sounds Great! Should be much more efficient than trying to teach oneself the necessary science to write effectively while keeping up with writing, not to mention the day job.

  10. It would be useful if only to get rid of the omnipresent literary fallacy that the moon rises every night shortly after the sun sets.

  11. “I do recognize that short of not having the federal government fund anything, there will always be programs someone somewhere objects theri tax dollars being used on.”

    For a classical liberal such as myself, statements such as this are part of the problem. Once you get away from (what we regard as) the core functions of government – defense, the judiciary etc. – and start funding everything and anything, statements like this become inevitable and self-perpetuating. When you limit yourself to the core functions, there IS almost universal agreement that the functions should be covered. (Although still not universal, because pacifists oppose the military, anarchists oppose everything).
    It sounds like we have different governing philosophies, and since I’m not one of those libertarians who thinks that everyone else is ipso facto stupid – I think we can simply agree to disagree. Nice blog.

  12. Johnny G Ray:

    “For a classical liberal such as myself, statements such as this are part of the problem.”

    But even you can’t avoid saying it — even with “core” programs such as the military, you have to allow that there are some people who will still object. It doesn’t matter where one draws the line; there is always someone on the other side of it.

    Glad you like the blog!

  13. What’s way cool about this is that not only did my wife say I could go, she thought she’d want to go too. And usually she just has to keep herself awake during my descriptions of my stories. She says it sounds like a festival for control freaks. Amen!

  14. What’s way cool about this is that not only did my wife say I could go, she thought she’d want to go too. And usually she just has to keep herself awake during my descriptions of my stories. She says it sounds like a festival for control freaks. Amen!

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