It turns out that liveblogging generates a lot of material! So I’m going to split up each day into several entries.
First our instructors gave us their perspectives on the workshop.
Mike Brotherton: “I’m not going to be able to teach the world astronomy. But I can teach you people, in a week. Either give you a step up from what you learned in college, or some of you may not have a lot of math and science background, but we can give you a place to start, contacts, places to get information and feedback. All of you are getting audiences. You may be reaching hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands. Robert Sawyer, who was here a year ago, had a TV show. We’re hoping to bring more information to the public through the work you guys do, writing science articles, writing, teaching, editing. I don’t expect all of you to go writing far-future or near-future science fiction with lots of astronomy. Some of you will. This will hopefully help it be more accurate, or inspire it. Fiction, science articles, get out there. People may stop reading text books, but they still learn. People will sometimes remember what they read from entertainment stories even more than they remember things from educational contexts.” (Quotes this length will be approximate, not literal transcriptions.)
Jim Verley: Not only will kids be able to read the great fiction or non-fiction you write, but they’ll also be educated. You’ll hopefully inspire people to go into science or the stem disciplines. The country is falling behind on those measures, but you have the opportunity to inspire a lot more people than just thirty in a classroom. We also want the science fiction to be accurate so we won’t be laboring under misconceptions.
Kevin R. Grazier: As a scientist and science educator, I think some science educators get too hung up on what, and not enough on why or how. We were talking on our way up here about the second episode of Voyager where people get stuck at the event horizon of a black hole, because everyone knows that you get stuck there–but if they knew why, then they’d know there’s no drama there. So we’ll be covering the why.
After the introductions, Jim Verley handed out a quick test to see how much we knew about astronomy coming in. “Don’t worry,” he reassures us, “You don’t have to put your name on it.”
This wasn’t as fearsome as I’d feared… some of the basic questions like “what is a day, in astronomical terms” are easy enough for an interested lay person. At least, I thought it was easy–but maybe my answer was wrong!
Mike Brotherton goes on to ask the attendees to introduce themselves, adding, “People tell me they can’t come to Launch Pad because they write fantasy, but there are reasons and opportunities to bring science into fantasy. If you’re writing about werewolves, you need to know the phases of the moon.”
I’m not going to transcribe the intros, but a couple people put in similar sentiments about the importance of science in all fiction. Carrie Vaughn said, “And also, with fantasy, the more real world information you can include, the more firmly grounded the reader feels.” Cecilia Tan added, “For erotica, things like sex in space come up a lot, and as an editor, you’re always working on believability.”
Mike Brotherton points out that in Harry Potter, they had a scene in the astronomy class. If they’d had just a bit more real astronomy in it, kids would have known it and loved it. You put phases of the moon in a Harry Potter book, suddenly kids across the world know it, adults grow up to know it. Missed opportunity.
The other class members have an impressive array of backgrounds. We’ve got people who write non-fiction articles, non-fiction books for kids, fantasy novels, erotica novels, Buffy the Vampire novels, hard-science fiction short stories and novels, non-fiction about science fiction, who write movies and tv and video games (including the man who wrote the dialogue for Spore… oooh, shiny), comic books, graphic novels, who fact check for magazines, who edit anthologies and novels and articles, who publish anthologies and novels and articles, and teach writing or teach science, who try to launch commercial projects to the moon… lots of variety, although the preponderance of us have written science fiction or fantasy at some point.
Mike ends up by talking about another project of his that merges science and science fiction, DIAMONDS IN THE SKY–an anthology of free science fiction stories (free to the reader; the writers were paid quite well) available on the web. Each story illustrates a principle of astronomy. Some astronomers use these stories while teaching their classes. It looks neat, and I look forward to reading through it.