Best "the SCIENCE(!) of science fiction"-type book or resource?
January 6, 2021 7:16 PM   Subscribe

Specifically, Battlestar Galactica/Blindsight/The Expanse/Alien(s)-esque spaceship science fiction

For an upcoming Alien RPG campaign I'm thinking of running, I'd like to spend a bit of time shipboard and doing cool spaceship stuff, maybe even spaceships shooting at other spaceships, and going to different planets and such. It would be good if this spaceship stuff was at least semi-realistic, because I think that could be a lot of fun.

The anticipated players of the game are all huge Warhammer 40K fans so as well as being a spoopy Alien-esque story, I'd like it to have some shooty-explodey times in it as well.

Years ago I read The Physics of Star Trek by Lawrence Krauss, which I think had a bit of this sort of thing in it, and it was all very enjoyable, but very tricky to track down a copy these days (I'd rather avoid Amazon if it can be helped).

Would love to hear your recommendations.
posted by turbid dahlia to Science & Nature (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Looks like you can get the Krauss book used from Powell's.

I read The Science in Science Fiction (ed. Peter Nichols) back in the '80s and thought it was great. In fact, I've been disappointed by almost all other writing that I've dipped into since--it's for the imagination of writers, rather than just knowing science facts, was its distinguishing characteristic. It's obviously going to be dated now, but less so on the physics and spaceflight (which is what it focuses on) than you might expect. The real problems will be the references (it's after the first Alien movie but predates everything else you mentioned) and the risk that my faulty memory is way overrating it.
posted by mark k at 8:25 PM on January 6, 2021

Best answer: There's Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku.
posted by einekleine at 10:16 PM on January 6, 2021

Best answer: I'm not sure how much science it has but the Colonial Marines Technical Manual seems like a good resource if you don't have it already. There seem to be copies on eBay.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:02 AM on January 7, 2021

Best answer: The Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual has served this exact function for me in many campaigns, not just Trek—and is actually damn interesting all on its own. It might be my favorite nerd book.

GURPS Space is pretty crunchy, very setting-agnostic, and of course well-researched. A great source of ideas.

(And you're right, keeping the spaceship stuff semi-realistic IS a lot of fun. I've often considered doing an Alien(s) campaign, and I bet it'd be even MORE fun in that context.)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:51 AM on January 7, 2021

Best answer: I think The Science of Discworld was the best of this type of thing. It's not written as a pseudo-manual, and explicitly (and amusingly) says that Discworld is a fantasy and there is no science. Then it introduces a plot, where a group of wizards try to create a world like ours, making natural laws with magic and letting it run. As the world evolves - which is very clever and funny - there are chapters explaining what's going on. The section on simulating evolution with microchips was the most staggering thing I'd read in years, and worth the price of the whole book. I can't recommend it too highly.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 9:06 AM on January 7, 2021

Best answer: Maddie Stone writes a newish newsletter called The Science of Fiction. Not really a resource you can read cover-to-cover, but worth signing up for in my book.
posted by jeffjon at 11:04 AM on January 7, 2021

Best answer: Atomic Rockets has been my go to for scratching this sort of itch for too long to think about. Should probably come with a rabbit-hole warning, à la tvtropes.
posted by protorp at 1:27 PM on January 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all excellent suggestions, thanks everybody.

mark k, The Science in Science Fiction sounds delicious and it's great to see fellow Aussie Peter Nicholls getting a shoutout. I'll scour the shelves of Archives Secondhand Books before I head home today (we just got put on lockdown again).

einekleine, I have read Kaku's book (again, years ago) and it's good but a little too "high-sci" for these purposes. A recommended read, however.

EndsOfInvention, I have a PDF of the Tech Manual, it has good stuff in it for sure, and has been mined by the writer of the upcoming Colonial Marines expansion for the game, but that's not out until March/April at the earliest. It does talk a bit about the ships and is probably sufficient, but a "primary source" (kinda) is more what I'm chasing.

CheesesOfBrazil, some good recommendations there, I'll try and track them down at Archives. I do love a good ship blueprint!

AugustusCrunch, Discworld is not something I ever got around to exploring but just knowing the bare bones fundamentals, you've certainly sold me on those Science of Discworld books even if they're not immediately applicable to this purpose. Thanks!

jeffjon and protorp, two great online resources there that I will explore forthwith!

Cheers everybody!
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:40 PM on January 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

You might be interested in the anthology of shorts 'The Hard SF Renaissance' [review by 'The SF Site']

Each short story has an blurb about the author and insights into the circumstances that the piece was published.
posted by porpoise at 8:27 PM on January 7, 2021

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