Happy Towel Day!

What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything? Well, before we get to that we should maybe revise our question. Science is all about asking questions, after all, and it requires some practice.

Every May 25th people around the world celebrate the life and work of Douglas Adams, one of my favourite authors, and the writer of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This day is called Towel Day, since as the guide will tell you, a towel is one of the most massively useful things an interstellar hitchhiker can have.

Hard Science Fiction = Easy Science Communication

Four years ago I was reading I, Robot by Isaac Asimov in my bedroom. There was nothing new about the fact that I was reading science fiction, but I can still recall this very moment in time – the first time I read something by Asimov. The more I read, the more I noticed subtle uniqueness’s about Asimov’s approach to sci-fi. At some point while reading half of the book in a single sitting, I realized what Asimov’s secret weapon was: he was using science fiction as a covert tool of science communication. I remember this so vividly because it was what first made me want to start writing my own sci-fi.

Isaac Asimov by Rowena Morrill
Portrait of Isaac Asimov by Rowena Morrill

Asimov was a biochemist who wrote an incredibly high volume (his bibliography has over 500 entries) of fantastic books. He is perhaps most known for I, Robot (bearing only a little resemblance to the movie staring Will Smith) – and his Foundation series.

Sci-fi can be used to get people excited about the possibilities of the future, that much I had known. This was more than that. Asimov was sneaking many bits of real science into his writing. His characters were detectives, and they went about solving mysteries in a very scientific manner. He took then-leading-edge scientific knowledge about atomic power and newly discovered chemicals and put them into action (I, Robot was published in 1950, so the science isn’t as accurate as it originally was). His books were Trojan horses, allowing science to invade the reader’s mind under the façade of story telling.

There really aren’t enough novels within this stream of science fiction, often called ‘hard science fiction’. There are some, like the astronomer Carl Sagan’s Contact, and computer scientist Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, but there is certainly room for more.

There so many are others that get the science right, like Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl (which I did enjoy), but hold an “anti-science” perspective. Where are all of the rest of the sci-fi stories that celebrate science with optimism?

If you know of any modern hard science fiction that are “pro-science” (especially anything that packs in some humor), please leave it in the comments!