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Where’s the Science in Fiction

A couple of months back I wrote a back called Vitalis: Genesis. It takes place few hundred years in the future (give or take), and presents readers with a thriller / horror / scifi glimpse into the life of researchers on Jupiter’s moon, Europa. About the same time a movie was released called The Europa Report.

First of all, I hate when that happens. I released my book, Wanted, years ago and it turns out a movie popped up around the same time with the same name. Grr. Even further back I wrote some fantasy novels that featured a dual-wielding dark elf and a big and burly barbarian that used a magical hammer. I was just a guy throwing words on paper with no clue what I was doing, but shortly after R.A. Salvatore released The Crystal Shard unto the world and people loved the crap out of it and propelled him into bestseller status. Seriously. WTF?

To be fair, I really enjoyed Mr. Salvatore’s books too. For a while. I got tired of them and really annoyed with the essay he began each chapter or section with in his Homeland series. But that’s just my opinion, it in no way means his writing is anything less than top shelf, nor does it mean anybody else should turn their nose up at his books.

The point is obvious: get to the dinner table early or you’re left with scraps.

But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the science in science fiction – or lack thereof. I did watch The Europa Report (after publishing my book) and I’ll be the first one to say it sucked me in and kept my attention. It was a little odd, but it worked, from a storytelling point of view. From a reality check perspective it was more or less about as wrong as wrong can get.

Europa, my friends, is frozen on the surface. Scientists theorize that there may be a liquid ocean beneath the surface, but that would be hundreds of kilometers down. In the movie the ice is only inches thick in some places. A minor flaw and it’s understandable how they might fudge things a bit since the characters were supposed to drill through the ice.

Atmosphere, gravity, and temperature. Europa has all of these. Not a lot (roughly 1/13th of Earth’s gravity and atmosphere, which mostly comprised of oxygen escaping the ice). Temperature is considerably warmer than absolute zero the movie mentions – although still cold enough to insure death by exposure would probably happen inside of ten minutes if not sooner.

So water, oxygen, and a temp above absolute zero thanks to tidal heating from friction and the gravity of Jupiter. What more do we need for life? Well, we just don’t know. That’s why they made the movie, to search for life and offer a possible explanation. My book, Vitalis: Genesis, starts on a similar premise but the life that they find comes from elsewhere. And when it arrives it changes things in a big and scary way.

So is Vitalis: Genesis any more likely than the Europa Report? Probably not even though I feel I did a better job of laying down the base layer of science to support it. But then I go all futuristic sci-fi on things and introduce concepts and technologies we haven’t discovered yet. As a writer of science fiction and fantasy that’s my job. To propose possibilities and to entertain. And you, my faithful readers? Your job is sit back and enjoy. Maybe even to wonder a little (or a lot). Entertainment mixed with something to make you think? That, to me, sounds like a damn good time.


To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

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