Sci Friday: Scientist Fiction

Heinlein, de Camp & Asimov

~post by Tommy

Science Fiction has counted among it’s collection of authors some of the greatest writers of all time. Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Atwood, and many more have pushed the boundaries of mankind’s imagination and made Science Fiction a wonderfully complex and unique genre. However, there have been authors who bring more than the outlook of a writer to their work. Some of Science Fiction’s best and most interesting names have also been scientists, and have used their scientific background to ground their works in scientific fact.

One of these scientist authors was Isaac Asimov who was a respected professor of bio chemistry at Boston University in addition to being one of the great Sci Fi writers. He is most well known for his books on robotics and artificial intelligence, which is fairly far afield of bio chemistry. Asimov imagined a future in which man had turned to robots and he pondered the ethics of robotics as well as the future of mechanical technology. His science bore little if any influence on his visions of the future, even in his other well known series: The Foundation Saga. In the Foundation novels, Asimov takes a broad look at the future of mankind from a sociological and anthropological standpoint and he covers thousands of years of history over the course of seven novels. Again his focus shifts away from his work in the fields of science and becomes more about the history of the Foundation and the ways that humanity evolves among the stars. Despite a background in chemistry, Asimov turned away from his science of choice as a writer and brought us a solid foundation in the field of robotic science fiction.

Another writer with a science background is Robert Heinlein, who was a naval and aeronautical engineer for the United States Navy. Heinlein is of course often times recognized as the dean of science fiction writers and remains one of the most controversial names in the genre today. Heinlein was a proponent of military service and his political views were the main inspiration for much of his writing, but he also inserted quite a bit of his knowledge as an engineer into his work. Much of the design work for his mobile infantry in Starship Troopers is physically feasible, if not when he wrote about then later in the future. Several of the awards and recognitions that he was given in his lifetime were for his quality of scientific research and the fact that he put it on the page next to his fiction. With Starship Troopers and Have Space Suit Will Travel, he put on display his ability to work fact and fiction together. Other times, most notably with Stranger In A Strange Land, he allowed his political and social views drive his fiction, views which often got him in trouble. Unlike Asimov, Heinlein used his chosen science as a springboard to his fiction writing which makes for some very believable, if often times incendiary, sci fi.

carl sagan
The last of the writers I’ll mention today is Carl Sagan. Sagan was of course a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Cornell, creator of the mini series Cosmos, a large proponent of the SETI project, and the author of the science fiction novel Contact. Sagan was first and foremost focused on his science. As an advocate of SETI and the host of Cosmos, Sagan explored the idea that humans were not alone in the universe and presented his audience with the reasoning behind his theories. As a science fiction writer, Sagan wrote only a single novel, Contact, that was inspired by the theories and dreams that he had as an astronomer. For Sagan, fiction was merely another area in which he could explore astronomy and the nature of space travel and aliens, and this brilliant scientist brought us a sci fi novel that will never be forgotten.

There have been many other scientists who have taken up fiction: Gene Wolfe, L. Sprague de Camp, and Michael Crichton are just a few, but sadly this space is to small to explore all of these large imaginations in a single go.


Sci Friday is a weekly post focusing on all things Sci Fi. Booksellers Tommy and Marie are you intrepid leaders on this journey through awesome new books; the best and worst of what’s come before; Sci Fi film adaptations and more. Check back next Friday for more!

5 thoughts on “Sci Friday: Scientist Fiction

  1. Science fiction is easily my favorite genre. The majority of my writing is post-apocalyptic science fiction. I love it because I feel that everyone has an idea of where society is headed (whether they realize it or not) and these stories are a great way to toss those ideas around.

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