Just how much science should science fiction have?

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Just how much real science should science fiction use? The iceberg theory of science fiction may hold the answer.

Molecular biologist Jeremy Ellis and sci-fi author Scott Sigler, who have collaborated on some science fiction projects, responded to a reader question from PeteRR, on how much of the scientific details an author should share with the readers. The answer for them, they say, is only as much as is absolutely necessary:


A great deal of the research content doesn't make it into the story. If it did, it would be more textbook/lecture than thriller novel. The rule of thumb is you share only what is necessary to communicate the idea to the reader, so that it feels real. Too much exposition and you bog down the story. However, that's just my method; many authors revel in detailed explanations of the science, and some fans eat that up. Go with what you would like to read, and you'll be fine.

Dr. Jeremy Ellis

Scott is dead on here. Do the ground work, but only reveal as much as needed for the story. If you have any significant amount of exposure to your audience you are bound to be asked about it one way or another. It is sad the amount of work we do that does not get explained to the reader, but there is hope that it will see light in future expansions on those story lines.


So, how much science should science fiction have? (With apologies to Ernest Hemingway) I'm going to suggest that one way to answer is with a modified iceberg theory.

The iceberg theory, popularly attributed to Hemingway, advocates a minimalist style, leaving much of the story to be inferred beneath the surface, with only the most necessary details being explicitly told. So too can the science in science fiction be used, with the research occasionally being directly explained in the text, but the bulk of it acting as an underpinning for the plot, characters, and settings.


What do you folks think? Tell us in the comments now.