Pushing Tech

How scientifically accurate does science fiction need to be?

When I was looking for an agent, I noticed that many of the agencies would accept science fiction, but only a small subset were interested in “hard science fiction” – stuff that is as technically accurate as the author can make it at the time. The “fiction” part comes in when they extend science from what is to what could be. Arthur C. Clarke, Robert L. Forward, and Larry Niven are great at this. They manage to blend what’s known with plausible future tech.

Solar Prime needed a good power source and already had a solar energy vibe to it, so I started researching. Turns out photo-voltaic panels – the kind you see on your quirky neighbor’s house – are horribly inefficient and pretty pricey. Efficiencies peak out at about 25% for what’s commercially available. Space-based systems can push that number up along with the cost. Even so, it’s hard to find anything claiming better than 40%, and those are only using a small portion of the spectrum.

I didn’t want the truth to get in the way of a good story (well, I hope it’s good), so I decided to follow Neal Stephenson’s (nealstephenson.com) lead. He created a completely fictional coding language (Finux, or maybe Finnux) that was similar to Linux but gave him a break from all the readers that would point out his Linux errors. Ergo, Black Grass. 

The fictionalized blades of grass shown on the cover are made of “unobtanium fractally deposited on a wishonium matrix.” Voila, a tiny, robust solar panel that is over 90% efficient. Aided by artificial intelligence, these little blades track the strongest emitter.

That’s normally the sun or moon, but can also be a mobile heat source – like people.

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