What Makes for a Good Foundation for Writing Science Fiction by Gerhard Gehrke – Guest Blog and Giveaway

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This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Gerhard Gehrke will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

What makes a good foundation for writing science fiction?

Neal (Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash) Stephenson’s father was an engineer and his mother a scientist, and he himself studied science at Boston University. Isaac Asimov (Foundation) has a PhD in Chemistry. Stanisław Lem (Solaris) was a medical doctor. Besides a Master’s Degree and other educational achievements, Margaret Atwood (Oryx and Crake) is an inventor of a robotic writing device.

If you’re an aspiring science fiction writer, examining the education and life accomplishments of your favorite authors can make you feel under-qualified. I read through their bios and find scientists, doctors, inventors, mathematicians, and physicists. I dropped out of college to start a service business, yet still have the desire to write science fiction. Is this a lost cause?

Not if you research what you’re writing. This should be a necessary step for any writer, as you will inevitably touch on something of which you do not have all of the facts. The most obvious source for information is the internet. Research is deceptively easy here, yet there’s the caveat that what you find might be incorrect. Check your sources, find confirmation, and take notes.

More rewarding is developing contacts whom you can question on their area of expertise. I’m writing a decline-of-civilization story currently, and I have a scene that involves cracking a safe. There are YouTube videos to watch for some of the basics. I’ve also read “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character about Richard Feynman, which covers his breaking into everything with a combination at Los Alamos during the development of the atomic bomb. But I also have a friend who picks locks and worked at a safe company. This third source added the most color to what could be a procedural scene and added points that contribute to my story’s authenticity.

Besides direct research, keeping up with current scientific discoveries is key. Even a non-scientist can follow the latest developments. My favorite source is listening to the Science Friday podcasts from NPR. This can become a springboard for further investigation on any topic that interests me. I’ve gone on to read about how sow bugs can drink out of their anus, fundamental attribution errors, exoplanets, and the development of sulfa and antibiotics. These are just a few items from my truck’s notebook where I put down things I hear about to read up on later. While I read both paper books and e-books, the time I spend idling in traffic is put to good use. Besides Science Friday and other podcasts, I download audiobooks. These can be either purchased or borrowed for free from many libraries. Besides, talk radio makes me want to plunge an awl into my ears.

Curiosity would be the third component to writing science fiction, as it contributes to the first two, but also will spring out of life experiences not associated with staring at a computer screen while trying to write. I find being outside, hiking, looking at bugs, etc. to be such a wonderful way to learn about the world. Have an appliance that you need to replace? Try fixing it. I learned about microwave ovens by dismantling one and looking it up in the book The Way Things Work. Lots of pictures help. I discovered how to change a simple fuse and kept the oven working for years at the cost of one blown fuse a year. I finally retired the beast after it started to give me electric shocks.

Your imagination and creativity are your own. But science fiction requires a level of plausibility that needs to be backed up by the writer’s experience, education, and research.

(And an education counterpoint: William Gibson (Neuromancer) did horribly in school and just wanted to write science fiction. Frank Herbert (Dune) didn’t finish college.)

MediaKit_BookCover_ABeginnersGuideToInvadingEarthWhat would you do if you found a dead alien on a lonely highway?

Was it an accident, sabotage, or murder? And why is everyone blaming Jeff?

The extraterrestrials aren’t waiting for answers. They want revenge. And Jeff isn’t ready for company.

His only hope is an outcast mechanic from another world and a woman who might do anything to get off planet, including selling out her own kind. Jeff has to get to the bottom of why there are so many alien bodies piling up and who is really responsible.

A science fiction adventure novel, A Beginner’s Guide to Invading Earth tells the story of a reclusive ex-computer programmer who is the unwitting central figure of a plot to keep humanity from ever making first contact.

Enjoy an excerpt:

First contact with the humans wasn’t going as planned, as was obvious by the rank smells that choked the air of the alien visitorsʹ craft. But no one called them aliens where they came from.

Seven little Greys, short bipeds with large heads and big eyes and delicate limbs, sat in the flight seats of their ship’s crew compartments and listened as the Mission Commander lectured them from the Command Module. The harangue lingered in the air, not as words or even sounds but as a smell, a ripe one replete with pheromones and scent packets that the Greys used to speak with one another. A new string of curses from the Commander’s glands smelled of licorice. The Mission Commander composed itself. It wiped sticky sweat from its hairless frontal lobe.

The lights and displays in front of the seven crewmembers blinked and flashed. No one would so much as touch a button until the Commander was finished addressing the crew.

“I’ll hear no more of it,” the Commander said. “We’re on the human world. We go forward. Probability calculations for success show at 100%. The computer will be trusted.”

About the Author: Gerhard Gehrke studied film at San Francisco State University. He wrote and produced several shows for community television. His Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror short stories have appeared in several publications, including an Editor’s Choice-winning short story at AnotheRealm.com. A Beginner’s Guide to Invading Earth is his first novel.

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  1. Thanks for hosting!

  2. Which is your last year favorite book character?

  3. Thanks for having me today. (and I put the last comment in the wrong place. Blame it on not enough coffee. Or too much.)

    BTW when you read, do you prefer silence? Music? Can you read in public, like at a coffee house?

  4. Great post. It was very helpful.

  5. Great post, thank you for sharing! It’s been fun following the book tour!

  6. I have enjoyed the tour and learning about the book.

  7. kim amundsen says:

    Nice excerpt i enjoyed it.

  8. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block and, if so, how do you overcome it?

    • Tough question with a long answer, but the sum-up is to take a break, get away from the keyboard, and do something else for a bit. Then after the batteries recharge, get butt back in chair and try again.

  9. Thank you Long and Short Reviews for having me today!

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