When you're writing a novel set in the real world you sometimes have to stop and research something. What's the procedure at the police station when you get arrested? How does the control panel work in a power station? Any number of things you need to get right.
But what about a novel set in a science fiction world (or a fantasy world, but anything could happen once you introduce magic)? There is much you have to invent, on top of the characters and the plot. I have no background in science so I find it particularly difficult with machinery of any kind, to make it sound plausible. How does a ray gun work? Or a plasma rifle or laser pistol? What's the difference anyway?
I gave up long ago on faster than light travel, which is essential in most science fiction, and treat it like cars today. Stories don't stop to explain the internal combustion engine every time someone gets in a car. It's just taken for granted. So I avoid the need to explain how they do it when they get in a spaceship and arrive somewhere in a few days.
I've been blogging about scientific research and what the future may be like. I find it fascinating and thought you would too. But it has tripped me up. Very few of the developments actually appear in any of my stories. The Medical Officer uses regenerators to speed up healing and stasis pods to preserve the critically injured. The ship has scanners and there are various weapons, but that's about all. You see I write about personal challenges. My stories use the scope of alien worlds to put people in difficult situations and see how they deal with them, and how they change through their experiences.
I read all kinds of science fiction, including books with sentient robots and neural implants and all sorts of high tech stuff, and I enjoy them all. But I'm not inspired to write 'hard' science fiction at all. So is that a cop out? Should I be studying to put more real science in my novels? Or don't you care as long as it's a cracking good story?
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, and book two Alien Secrets, are out now. Follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz