I enjoy reading. I imagine that is a key facet of any decent writer – they have to enjoy reading so much that they absorb everything about the written word as they go. They drink in books, magazines, papers, web sites, and other writing formats and they make them part of their being.
This is also one of the reasons that I research my works before I write them. My recent short story that I was going to work on got bogged down as I researched details and discovered that my intended portrayal of a specific modern day situation would be more difficult and unrealistic than I had first imagined. Instead of plunging ahead down a fact-deprived or implausible path, I temporarily shelved it while I re-think the premise (and it’s a great premise).
The Vergrinn War are set in a norse-esque world. Not Sweden, or Finland, or Norway, but someplace geographically, culturally, and climatically similar. Because of this, I researched the native wildlife in those countries before listing the kinds of animals that Amundr and his father would hunt. I researched the kind of trees that exist there before I stuck one in the middle of the plot in Book One (and the prologue of Book Two). I did some research on medieval bows while working on Book Two. I spent hours researching slings, sling bullets, and their historical usage for something in Book Three (I think it was a great idea – let me know if you agree).
I say all of this because I was (re-)reading Star Wars Legacy of the Force: Bloodlines yesterday and a basic scientific fact slapped me upside the head and made me ask “How did that ever get in there?” Let me share it with you:
The Millennium Falcon is approaching Coruscant. “They picked up the Galactic city beacon at 750,000 kilometers” and continued along. They get clearance to land. Han says something. Leia says something. Han says something else. Leia says something else. Han says to drop to sublight. Leia acknowledges and they do so. They engage the sublight engines and are now 500,000 kilometers from Coruscant.
What’s wrong with this picture? Oh yeah, they were traveling faster than the speed of light, yet they only covered 250,000 kilometers during their whole exchange (and Han noticed something that was happening every five seconds during this time as well). That’s a pretty major scientific screwup. The speed of light is right around 300,000 kilometers per second, so if they are not currently traveling at sublight and have to “drop” to sublight, they would have had roughly 0.8 seconds for their multiple back and forth exchange to take place.
I don’t mean to sound petty, because this particular author is one of my three favorite Star Wars novelists (Aaron Allston, Michael Stackpole, and Karen Traviss), but somebody just dropped the ball here.
As soon as I say this, some of you will point out that my writing is not perfect, nor is it 100% consistent with medieval Norse life. That’s true, but I have intentionally set my stories in a fictionalized world and try not to dump science on folks. Sci Fi writers have a harder line to follow because they must, by nature, focus on science while bending it according to whatever theoretical principles make sense in their chosen universe. Unilaterally ignoring the speed of light seems a little odd, though.
What are some of the screwups you have caught in your favorite authors’ works?