chkno's Guide to Writing Science Fiction

Some advice to scifi authors from a scifi reader.

We are the slow race

Some stories with diverse biological intelligences include a slow race: All the various alien species think and act at approximate human speed, except one which goes dreadfully slow.

Actually, we are the galactic sloths. Human nerve conduction velocity is about 100m/s, or about 1/3,000,000th of the universe's natural information propagation speed c. A human built out of faster materials but otherwise unmodified would experience 1 month per second; one lifetime every 12 minutes.

Consequently, interstellar travel is a much more significant undertaking than we perceive it to be. In a .1c ship, visiting the next nearest star would take 42 years, or 0.6 lifetimes. Going to Gliese 674, the closest star known to have a planet, would take 150 years or 2.2 lifetimes. We contemplate these journeys. To full-speed intelligences, these journeys are 3,000,000 times longer -- much longer than journey's between galaxies would be for us.

Terra-forming is dumb

It's way more work to change a planet to suit its inhabitants than it is to change the inhabitants to suit the planet.

c is the limit

It's fun to think about faster than light travel, just as its fun to think about elves and trolls and magick. But the unique fun of science fiction is telling a story without disregarding physics. Hard scifi (the best kind of scifi) respects c.