Saturday, January 26, 2013

Science, Research and Space Pirates

If I were one of those (very cool) authors who do a whole ton of research for a novel, I would have bibliographies at the end. Instead, I'm the type to rely on only a few sources for inspiration and/or fact-checking. Google and Wikipedia have certainly been good friends of mine for this purpose.

For Poor Man's Fight, I talked with a high school physics teacher (don't laugh, the dude's brilliant) to double-check myself on some of my zero-gravity stuff. I frequently went online to fact check things I remembered from my astronomy classes in college (well, really just "intro" and the accompanying lab). Very little drives me more nuts when it comes to sci-fi than the way Hollywood can't understand the difference between "interstellar" and "intergalactic;" these words actually mean something, dammit.

(I also crowd-sourced a few small details with friends via my personal Facebook page. The debate over whether a particular can of whup-ass should be opened with A) a knife to the face, B) a crowbar, C) a blowtorch or D) surprise strangulation turned out to be a great way to liven up a Thursday night.)

Ultimately, I wouldn't call my novel "hard" sci-fi. I tried hard to create a setting and rules that make sense, but it's not like I did a whole lot of math and I didn't plumb the depths of current theory about space travel and technology. I have a lot of admiration for authors who do that, but in the end I knew the focus of my story would be elsewhere.

There's one thing I really wanted to get right, though: space pirates.

I hold a bachelor's in history, and I'm a genuine nerd. I care about these things.

While I wanted to retain the freedom to innovate and adjust, I wanted my space pirates to work like real, historical pirates. I've always been fascinated by the subject. Since the first book I read about pirates as a kid in elementary school, I had known that Hollywood tended to get pirates all wrong. The "Pirates of the Caribbean," as it were (the archetype, not just that specific film series) did not fall under the iron-fisted leadership of a single uber-pirate. They ran as democracies, and by and large they hardly cared about what anyone's race was.

I figured in the wake of putting out my novel, I should plug my favorite book on the subject. Empire of Blue Water by Stephan Talty is a fascinating book about Henry Morgan and the pirates of Port Royal--which, incidentally, was pretty much the polar opposite of what Disney presents in its films. It's a history book, but it largely reads like a novel; there's not much in the way of dialogue, mind you, but Talty knows how to pace and knows how to keep his readers immersed. If you enjoyed the pirates of my novel, I highly recommend checking it out.

There were, of course, other works I looked at over the years regarding pirates, but nothing so much that I felt any need to cite it in my novel like an academic work. Still, I definitely wanted to give Talty a shout-out when my book was finished. Give it a look. You won't regret it.

1 comment:

  1. Elliott, I agree completely, I try to focus on the story first and foremost, and include enough of the science so that the reader is grounded. But I try not to overdo it discussing Fermion Loops and Density Correlations..! -)

    I'm reminded of what Harrison Ford said to Mark Hamill while filming Star Wars.. when Mark kept fussing with his hair, trying to make sure his style matched between scenes, Harrison told him, "Kid, if they're worried about your hair, then we have bigger problems!"