. . . I hear you ask. Just because Bill Shatner did it is no reason for actors to race willy-nilly to their word processors and start spewing stuff about the future and technology and science and stuff. And what is science-fiction, anyway? What is it for? Does it have a purpose or is it just fun? Is it’s job simply to scare us into thinking that Mars Needs Women and titillate us into thinking that Venus Needs Men? What is good science-fiction and what do you have to know about to write it? Acting doesn’t seem to be high on the list.
At the core of all good stories are the characters who go through the story and take us with them. If the characters are recognizable we identify with them. We care about what happens to them. The more complex they are the more there is to get to know, the more we want to get to know. If their moral choices are difficult and ambiguous we struggle to decide what is best to do right along with them. This is true for any form of literature.
But with science-fiction we add one more level. We take human beings and say, “What if …” What if we could travel between stars and visit other planets? What if we met other beings who weren’t human at all? What if our technology continued to get more sophisticated and powerful? Would it be good for us or bad? In order to write about this stuff you need to know something about science. Physics, astronomy, ballistics, chemistry, geology, medicine, the more you know the more textured and complex your future civilization can be. The more recognizable it will be even if it is separated from us by thousands of years and thousands of light-years.
And in writing a sweeping, galaxy-wide epic like Dancing with Eternity that deals with the clash of ideas, the end of war, social change and dislocation … it helps to know quite a bit about history, philosophy and religion.
But if your story is going to be engaging, exciting, moving, funny or just plain fun you need to know about people. That’s something that actors work at all the time: getting to know how we behave, what makes us do and say all the marvelous, impulsive, silly, brilliant, stupid, transcendent, ingenuous, and machiavellian things we do.