Category Archives: Research

Search, Re-Search, and Research some more

So there’s nothing like a new story idea to help you realized just how little you really know.

After reading ‘The Aeronaut’s Windlass,’ the latest book from Jim Butcher, I find my imaginations wandering seaward.  I kind of want to write a couple of scenes that take place on a boat, but by god to I not know a damned thing about boats!  I mean, nothing!

On the upside, thanks to the advent of the internet, all of the information I could possibly need is available to me, if I’m willing to do a little bit of digging, but the truth is, I don’t even know exactly which questions I should be asking.

I think that’s why so many writers try to build up a collection of people they can call and ask questions too.  People can tell you the things that you  won’t find in a book, or on a webpage, and they can catch you if they find you asking the wrong question.

Still, I look forward to the day when I can flip a switch and bring up diagrams and a list of terms to appear on each of my walls while I work.  Endless streams of knowledge….

Oh well, I’d better get back to my scene.  It’s absurd, I’m sure, and anybody who has spent more than a day at sea will probably pronounce it drivel, but hey, you gotta start somewhere.

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How much realism is too much realism?

So there’s a science fiction story that I kind of want to work on that involves a crew living in a stellar system where a large number of the planets and moons have been terraformed.

Brief sidenote, I found out recently, the reason our solar system is a solar system is because our sun’s name is sol.  So if you’re in another stellar system you apparently either have to call it a stellar system, or use whatever name it has.  I’m currently planning on their sun Luyt, thus making it a luytar system, but I digress.

Anyhow, one of the things that’s frustrating me is determining the weather on these worlds.  I mean, in order to have them survivable I’m just basically going to pretend like humans come up with some kind of system of custom building atmospheres so if you live closer to the sun, it reflects and refracts a lot of the light, and if you live a long way off, they build up the greenhouse gasses to keep as much heat as possible in the atmosphere.  I’m willing to make that leap, or more accurately I’m wiling to assume that my readers will take that leap of faith with me.  But even so,there are questions that need to be answered, like what would the sky look like on a world that has to block out that much sunlight?  Probably opaque and light colored?

But let’s forget about that, the big question, the one that’s driving me nuts, is what life would be like on a moon.  First off, it’s going to spend half its time behind the planet it’s orbiting.  It won’t necessarily be hidden from the sun for all of that, but for some of it, certainly.  Especially if it’s orbiting, let’s say, a gas giant.  And what would the weather and seasons be like?  The earth tilts back and forth creating the seasons, right?  So what would a moon do?  it would tilt even more because of its planet, but it would also be moving closer and farther from the sun as it circles the planet.  Would that make it notably hotter and notably colder, or is the only important question how much sunlight it’s getting?

Part of me wants to ignore these things.  I certainly haven’t read anything about it in any other books I’ve come across, and even if i do figure this out, I’m honestly not sure if it will play a part in the story i want to write, but dammit, it could be incredibly important!  And how the hell do you find something like that out?!

Research

Why is it that someone who wants to tell lies for a living has to spend so much energy trying to find out the truth?

Ugh!  Research!  I have to admit, research has gotten a  hell of a lot easier with the invention of the internet.  For those of you out there who never had to do any research before the invention of the internet… oh, god, you lucky little bastards!

Basically, whenever we had to research papers, the first thing we needed to do was schedule an outing to the library.  Some of us, myself included, had encyclopedias at home, but any time after elementary school our teachers were quite particular that we have a bibliography with four or five books in it.  So we went to the library and spent half an hour looking through a card catalog to get a list of books that might have what we wanted in it.  Of course, half the books we found weren’t available, and the other half were only nominally related to the subject we’d been assigned….

Trust me, it sucked.

But while the internet puts nearly limitless resources into your hands, the search engines of the world have not quite figured out how to sort through it all.  Or perhaps they have, but I haven’t quite figured out how to explain my requests well enough.  Probably a combination of the two.

Sometimes when I’m watching television or a movie there’ll be a scene where someone powerful will glance over at his or her assistant and tell them, ‘find out everything you can about her,’ or ‘get me the name of every corporation in the state that produces stool softeners for pregnant women,’ or demands some other random piece of bizarrely specific information.  One scene later they’ve got the list in hand.

Sure, what they do with the information is interesting, but what I want to know is how their assistant got all of that!  Is there a website somewhere with lists like that sitting around waiting for someone to ask?  Is there a guy you call?  My god, how do I get an assistant like that!