British Columbia

'Fantastical' science fiction gets real in new SFU course

We're used to crazy concepts in science fiction: warp drives, zombie diseases, Death Stars. But at SFU, a new course is offering to help sci-fi writers get real with their fiction.

New Simon Fraser University course teaches students to bring a dose of reality to their sci-fi

SFU professor and published science fiction author Irina Kovalyova is teaching a new course to get aspiring sci-fi writers a better grounding in science. (Irina Kovalyova, submitted)

Simon Fraser University is offering a new class this fall about the science behind science fiction and how that science can be — in the words of one famous character — "highly illogical."

The course's instructor is Irina Kovalyova, a senior lecturer in molecular biology and biochemistry and a published science fiction author.

"I think a lot of the science fiction that we see in movies and TV shows is approaching fantastical… but in terms of the science, it doesn't quite compute, as we say," Kovalyova told On The Coast's Stephen Quinn.

"One of the things I really wanted to introduce and pay attention to and teach my students is the plausibility of science. What is actually doable?"

What about suspending disbelief?

Science fiction doesn't need to be dry and technical, but it does help the story when the science is believable, according to Kovalyova. Her course is aimed at non-science students and she hopes to give them a grounding in some concepts that are often portrayed inaccurately in science fiction.

Kovalyova's background is in cellular and molecular biology, and with all the mutants, monsters, and zombies in science fiction, it's easy to think of some non-scientific treatments of these concepts.

While she admits that playing fast and loose with the rules of science can be fun, she also thinks realistic science adds something to a story.

"If you make science plausible and timely and relevant, I think there's interest in that aspect of being true to something that could actually happen, something that maybe can't happen right now but in the immediate future," she said.

As an example of what she considers good science fiction writing, Kovalyova cited American author Michael Crichton, famous for the novels Jurassic Park and Timeline. Students in her course will be assigned to read his 1969 book, The Andromeda Strain.

"[Crichton] introduced a lot of science, real life science and plausible science into his works, and I think that's why a lot of his works seem to be very realistic," she said.

Ultimately, Kovalyova said, her course will be an exploration of the key questions asked by science fiction: What does the future hold, and are we going to be ready for it?

To hear the full interview, listen to the audio labelled: Science fiction writing subject of new SFU course


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