Tag Archive: Science


Some years back, I evaluated a manuscript for a publisher. It was a Civil War historical mystery novel, and the Civil War is not exactly my area of expertise. Yet I sent the chief editor seven pages of notes on the book’s historical inaccuracies and plot holes. The editor later told me that, while reading through those notes, she turned to someone else in the office and asked “Who is this guy, Sherlock Holmes?”

It remains one of the funniest moments of my editing career, because it really wasn’t that difficult to do. Almost all of the notes were things that were easy to research. The author had the days of the week wrong in reference to the Battle of Fort Sumter. The date of Easter for the same year was wrong by a month. Currency values were closer to 1980s instead of 1860s. The depiction of proper police methods felt more like Dragnet at times instead of a period when investigative police was a rare thing.

The one and only reason why what I did was unusual was that I’m a knowledge junkie. If I don’t know something, I still have a pretty good idea where to look it up. I have lists of experts to contact, on anything from astrophysics to horse care, from the history of international law to how to sew a dress. My browser’s bookmark bar is a mostly-organized collection of links leading to various topics that I collect, thinking they might be useful someday.

The comparison to Sherlock Holmes is true, but only in this respect: I observe, I collect, and I don’t like being bored. None of that is especially unusual. Anyone can do it.

And if you’re a writer, you should do it. That doesn’t mean that if you want to write a book, you have to become the Phantom of the Library, haunting the stacks and shunning the light of day. Rather, it means you should always keep an eye out for things that are useful. Scratch the surface of almost any topic, and you’ll find something that makes your writing-sense tingle.

Here are some tips to get yourself started.  Continue reading

Science fiction authors have a tough job.

There have been a bunch of breakthroughs lately in different tech sectors. These range from coding improvements to new technology that interfaces with the human body, to stuff that many people thought outright impossible. Sometimes it’s mind-boggling. Other times it’s happening so slowly that you have to really step back and realize how different things have become.

My friend Lori took some time to introduce me to some of her favorite westerns the other night. In a scene in Shane when the characters (several homesteaders, plus the titular Shane who is helping them out) stop at a general store, the female lead (Marion Starett) pauses to examine a Mason jar in wonder. “My, my, my,” she says. “What will they think of next?”

Well, contemporary audiences no doubt got a kick out of that one, separated from Marion by almost a hundred years of technological development. The telephone, the phonograph, the automobile, the airplane, the rocket, the computer, cinema and television — all these were in her future, and in their past, in their present. The answer to her question was long, complicated, and unbelievable to her contemporaries.  Continue reading

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