Science is a tough sell in the here good ole USA.
Yes, folks, we’re not much for science here in the nation that was first to the moon, that ushered in the age of electricity and mass production, that invented television, the atom bomb, the cure for polio. Here, the average man or woman on the street is just not a huge fan of the real life equivalent of Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Our national science budgets lag behind those of other developed nations. Our national space program is all but defunct. Our science education in elementary and secondary schools produces results that can only be described as a disgrace when compared internationally.
Part of that can be explained by our national distrust of intelligence expressed as “book smarts”. We much prefer “street smarts” or “leadership skills” or even “people skills”, and we reward those forms of emotional intelligence in all sorts of ways from the time a child first starts to interact with her parents. Oh, yes, “A’s” are awarded for understanding your lessons, but popularity, friendship, social status and all the perks that are attached to those things are awarded for understanding your peers. Is it possible to understand and work for both things? Absolutely. Do most kids in school realize the subtleties of this distinction? Doubtful.
And, let’s face it, science and math are hard work, intellectually. Not that philosophy and history, aren’t, mind you, but the former you can avoid until college and the latter you can get through with a little hard studying. You have to get math and science. Something has to click in the old brain. If the old brain just isn’t up to it, well . . . I think I’ll just go watch TV.
Lest you think I’m an elitist snob who reads Scientific American over breakfast and long ago found no challenge in the Discover brain teasers, I am a proud liberal arts graduate of a small Midwestern college. Because Beloit grouped its degree requirements in broad “intellectual areas”, I managed to swap out philosophy courses for any math requirements, but I still had to take two science courses (astronomy and organic chemistry). I only got through astronomy with the help of a study group; through chemistry with a boyfriend/tutor. It was the math that was the killer in both cases. I loved the concepts. (And still do—that’s why I’m a science fiction writer.) And, not to brag, but I graduated Phi Beta Kappa. That stuff is just hard!
So I don’t blame my fellow citizens for being wary of something they find largely incomprehensible, at least in the details. Because here’s the interesting subtext: they love "bad" science. Warp drive, killer bees, UFO’s, supersoldiers, bioengineered nano-viruses, time travel (in any form), experiments gone wrong (in any form), virtual reality—you name it, they’ll buy it, usually on the screen (small or large), but also in book form. And the further removed from “real” science, it seems, the larger the audience. Because they’re not interested in a treatise on physics, complete with diagrams and formulas. They’re interested in a good story.
Now, of course, there is a core audience for science fiction, particularly literary-style, hard SF, that insists on a foundation of good science. Please forgive me, all of you. I hope you are capable of enjoying, from time to time, a jump through the hyperspace of imagination without your critical calculator, because it can be fun just to enjoy the story, or the characters, or—dare I say it—the special effects! Many real scientists were fans of the original STAR TREK, cheesy effects, impossible science and all. And today, some of the kids who watched the show are grown up and crazy enough to try and make transporters, warp drive and, of course, communicators, happen in this lifetime.
The audience for “bad” science, and, by extension, for the more accessible forms of science fiction, including science fiction romance, is much broader than we tend to think. Screen writers like J.J. Abrams and others have tapped into that audience with LOST and FRINGE, V and EUREKA and CAPRICA. And, of course, nearly every science fiction movie that hits the big screen can be put in the “bad science” category; SPLICE and INCEPTION are only the latest.
The challenge for those of us writing science fiction romance is hooking that audience—the one watching EUREKA because it’s funny and smart or FRINGE because of the relationships between the characters or CAPRICA because it’s fascinating to see how the accidental stranding of a teenager’s avatar in a cyborg body could lead to the development of artificial intelligence for a whole race. They're not watching for the details of tech design or AI theory. It’s not such a leap to think that audience would be willing to follow the story of two lovers caught in the crossfire of intergalactic war or on the run from hunters from another planet or struggling to find each other across space and time.
That audience will forgive you for a little bad science just as long as you give them what they're looking for: a good story.