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Monday, August 31, 2015

Neworld Papers: Is Science Important in Science Fiction?

After having reviewed this book for The Bookplex,  I realized that I had an opportunity to expand on a topic in my review on my blog.   Neworld Papers: The Historian's Tale by KB Shaw is the first in a science fiction series.   As such, it's establishing the background and context of the series.

The novel’s concept isn’t that original.  There is also some plot predictability. I was reminded of the sort of science fiction that I read when I was a teenager. Yet I did enjoy a number of the characters.


Since history was my undergraduate major, I very much wanted to read a book in which a historian is the hero.  Yet when I was first introduced to Fallon I wondered if he could be a hero of any kind.  By the end of the book, I wouldn’t say that he matured but he does seem to be on his way toward maturity.  He is in the process of growing into the role that events have required him to play.  I consider him a realistic character with doubts and inner conflicts.  

Since I read the author's bio, I know that Shaw is writing for the male YA/NA audience who read less than their female contemporaries.  So he crafts novels that  he believes will appeal to his chosen audience.  They have actually always been the demographic group that are assumed to be most interested in science fiction.  

When I started reading science fiction in the 1960's there were few girls or women active in science fiction fandom.   Girls weren't supposed to be interested in science, yet not all science fiction contains any appreciable science content.   The pseudo-scientific explanation of the FTL (Faster than Light) drive that is a staple of  space opera tends to be blessedly brief if the author even bothers to include one. Then the novel would launch into a heroic adventure such as how the space marshal put a stop to the pirates who were ravaging the space lanes. Science fiction that has a priority on accurate science is known as hard science fiction.  Young men who identify as science geeks look down on the readers of space opera.  They consider the hard science fiction that they prefer to be the only genuine science fiction.

In the current publishing environment with a large volume of indie and self-published science fiction being released in addition to the offerings of traditional publishers, hard science fiction is no longer privileged.  It vies with a wide variety of sub-genres for the attention of a larger and more diverse audience than the more homogeneous one that existed in the 1960's.

So when I discuss the science in Neworld Papers: The Historian's Tale, readers should understand that this represents my preference.   I expect to see extrapolation in science fiction based on current science.  I would not describe myself as a science geek,  I am just accustomed to science fiction that meets a certain standard.  The audience that KB Shaw is trying to reach may or may not agree.

I have to say that from a scientific viewpoint I was disappointed. Since the planet where this book takes place was located in a binary star system, I expected to see some description of unusual seasonal patterns at the very least.  Shaw pretty much ignored this aspect.  I think it was a missed opportunity. Shaw could have provided his readers with some unique worldbuilding if he had done some thinking about the impact of a binary star on a planet within their orbit. 

 If this is going to be a series, Shaw will definitely need to make a decision about the size of the habitable zone on such a world.  Another possible consideration for a planet in a binary star system is whether there would be a reliable cycle of day and night. There are a number of factors that could affect planets in this system.  They include the size of the two stars, the distance between them and whether their orbits are long or short.  Yet if Shaw just decided to make this a binary star system to increase the coolness factor of the book for his audience, he may not be interested in adjusting his worldbuilding to include binary star effects. 
On the whole, this was an entertaining novel but I hoped for a more creative approach which would have markedly improved the book.


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