"I cannot live without books: but fewer will suffice where amusement, and not use, is the only future object." -- Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Balticon 2014: Using Social Science in Speculative Fiction

Got up early for a panel discussion on the use of Social Science in Speculative Fiction.

T. Jackson King, an anthropologist (tjacksonking.weebly.com) and Barry Nove (barrynove.us), a social worker led the discussion.

I loved their ideas like:

  • Read the articles and research from the field of anthropology to get ideas for building "new" worlds based on existing but little known cultures like various sects of Tamil's Hindu communities and learn how they perceive the world and some of their rituals.

  • Social work uses the scientific findings from all fields of research and in that research you can find alternative perspectives on everyday life.

By reading the works from these fields you can get ideas that add depth and dimension to your characters.

Barry Nove said as a social worker you interact with a wide diversity of people from different religions and ethnic groups and they vary in their social behavior. For example, strict Jews do not allow women to be in a room alone with a man, so the door must be kept open. So, when conducting an interview with a woman from a strict Jewish faith, she may get up and open the door without explanation or apparent reason.

Some religions would be offended if you offered to shake a woman's hand. Some ethnic groups have food taboos.

But, Nove also said that in life and in writing, "Conflict is essential." He said it may not always be wise to "rescue" someone because the outcome could produce worse results than intended. Each person has a good side and a bad side. Conflict and destruction may produce new, evolutionary outcomes.

What we perceive as normal today may not have been "normal" in the past nor in the future.

Nove, also a genealogist, suggested researching family histories, not just yours but those of others for ideas.

As an idea for other characters, Nove suggested that you include hidden minorities.

Nove and King agree that diversity among characters will attract a wider readership. Include people with disabilities, various ethnic characters, etc. Or to turn this idea around, write your novel for specific audiences like the LBGT community, for example.

King suggested get out of your comfort zone, travel and talk to people from other cultures.

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