Internet Research Resources for Science Fiction Writersby Greg Knollenberg
The Internet Writing Journal, January 1999
Science fiction writers can find enormous amounts of useful material on the Internet from story ideas to verification of science facts. Although science fiction is fiction, editors at publishing houses and magazines look for accurate science fiction theories and facts to support the fictional premise. They do not want to see the incorrect use of basic science facts or "wrong science." With the Internet, beginning and established science fiction writers can find resources about numerous science fiction topics to aid them in creating a fiction story based on sound scientific theories. In addition, the Web is also an excellent resource for breaking science news, often before it is in print, which can give a writer a timely idea for a SF story. This article will help you find some of these science resources and guide you to resources from which you can dig deeper into the Web for more specific information.
Finding Science Resources
Science resources can be found using sites that specifically categorize and link to science websites or by using the major search engines. For more information on searching with search engines read the article, "Effective Use of Search Engines." An excellent website which provides numerous links to science related websites is SciCentral. SciCentral's science links start from several main categories: biological sciences, health, engineering, government agencies, physical and chemical sciences, Earth and space, women and minorities and institutions. From there, the science navigation site divides into more specific sections. SciCentral also provides links to news headlines and articles in its "research highlights" section. Discover Online, the website for Discover Magazine, contains a section called Web Picks, where each week new science websites are reviewed in several categories including biology, mind and brain and astronomy. My Virtual Reference Desk and the Librarian's Index each contain a large collection of categorized science links. Internet Sleuth contains searches of numerous science-related databases and websites. The Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) website also contains a useful collection of resources for authors. In addition to science specific directories the special science sections of search engines are also great starting points including: InfoSeek, Excite, Yahoo, and Looksmart.
General Science Resources
Earth & Sky is an excellent site based on the daily radio program by the same name. Each day a new question or subject is addressed, such as: what is a blue moon anyway?, the carbon cycle, how do bees make honey?, the edge of the universe, The Doppler effect and many others. The answers given to each question or topic highlight basic science principles. Writers can keep science facts straight by referencing the archives available here. On a similar note, the WhyFiles is another useful reference for science fiction writers. It provides the "science behind the news" or articles on the actual science involved in subjects from recent headlines. Recent features have covered mad cow disease, water on the moon, political polls, El Nino, cloning and many other timely topics. Discovery Online and Nova, which both provide television programming, have compelling content on their online versions. Cutting-edge science can also be found online. For example, the study of emerging diseases and finding cures for them is a popular topic in the media today and in popular fiction. Websites provide information on current outbreaks, horrifying deadly diseases such as Ebola, mad cow disease, cholera and steps in treatment and prevention. Some excellent disease-related website which provide news of outbreaks and medical advances against diseases include the Center for Disease Control ("CDC") website and WHO. Frequent the news related websites below for more sites that keep their visitors informed of the latest developments and discoveries. Resources for specific science fields can also be found online such as Web Elements, an online version of the periodical table, Tornado Project, which provides information on tornadoes and Volcano World, a resource that covers volcanoes. Some great specific resources include ArchNet (Archaeology), BioMedNet (Biology, Medical), HealthFinder (Medical), OnHealth (Health), Phys (Health), The Weather Channel (weather), Space.com (Space), Launchspace.com (Space), Aquatic Network (Oceanography), The Chemist's Helper (Chemistery), Physlink.com (Physics), Earth Science Virtual Library and the @science Twitter. The websites of the magazines, government sites and organizations mentioned in the sections below are also excellent resources. General research resources such as Infoplease.com, Microsoft Encarta and Britannica Online may also be good reference resources for basic scientific principles. For information on general research resources read "Jump Starting Your Online Research" from the June, 1998, issue of The Internet Writing JournalTM.
Having trouble coming up with a great storyline? Online news articles on recent breakthroughs and discoveries can help jump start your imagination to come up with that exciting new story premise. Science Daily provides daily news of new science research. EurekAlert provides science, medicine and technology news. Some other excellent science news sites include CNN Science News, Fox News Science & Technology, UnSci (Research News), Science Magazine, Space News Online, Reuters Health News, Discovery Channel News, Science, Space & Robots and Physics Today.
Another excellent resource for science fiction writers is the multitude of science magazines which highlight scientific discoveries and breakthroughs, provide interviews with scientists and contain in-depth science articles. The major print magazines all have online versions of their publications. Some of these include: American Scientist Magazine, Discover Online, National Geographic Online, Nature, New Scientist Magazine, Popsci.com (Popular Science), Popular Mechanics, Science Magazine, Scientific American and Smithsonian Magazine. Specific publications for different science fields are also online such as: Archaeology Magazine, Current Archaeology, Air & Space Magazine, Astronomy.com, Astronomy Online and Sky & Telescope.
Newsgroups and Newsletters
Other ways to keep up with science changes is to watch where the scientists and technologists surf and post messages. You may also have the opportunity to question or enter into discussion with an expert on a particular topic. Some science related newsgroups include bionet.anounce, sci.chem, sci.math, sci.misc, sci.physics, sci.enviornment, sci.space.news, sci.geo.geology and sci.bio.ecology. Newsletters such as the Scout Report and Netsurfer Science provide reviews of science-related websites. Some science websites also have email newsletters which provide updates on the site or brief news releases. Other newsgroups and newsletters can be found on Liszt.com, Newjour and Dejanews.com.
Government Resources and Organizations
All the science-related government websites have excellent resources. Some of these sites include: NASA, which provides in-depth coverage of all its experiments and missions: past, present and future; National Hurricane Center, which provides data and newsbriefs on tropical storms and developing tropical storms; U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which provides tons of information on food product, drugs, biologics, cosmetics, toxicology research and related subjects. Other government resources include CDC, WHO, NOAA, U.S. Geological Survey, Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation.
The major non-profit science organizations are also online. NOVA is a fantastic resource providing a different website for each of its NOVA television shows. These graphically pleasing websites cover subjects such as crocodiles, the doomsday asteroid, coma patients, ice mummies, UFOs, pyramids and sharks.. EnviroLink provides online environment resources, including news and an online environment community with members from all over the world.. Some other excellent resources from organizations include: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Astronomical Society, American Health Organization, American Medical Association, National Speleological Society, Paleontological Society, National Audubon Society, National UFO Reporting Center and National Wildlife Federation. For more science organizations check InfoSeek, Yahoo and Wikipedia.
If you have an Internet connection, you have access to an extraordinary amount of scientific theory. You also have access to the latest cutting-edge research online, where the latest development might help you fit together a piece of your story or spark the idea for a new story altogether. There are so many great science sites online that after you explore the sites mentioned in this article you will want to continue your own searches, and begin to build your own library of bookmarked sites which you can reference on a regular basis. Remember, always doublecheck any information you obtain from a site with which you are unfamiliar with another recognized source before using it. Before long, you'll be through with the research phase of your next short story or novel. Good Luck!
**Greg Knollenberg is the CEO of Writers Write, Inc.