Why You Should Subscribe to New Scientist, and why you have to put it down

phpthumbScience Fiction writers have a strange relationship to science. To write compelling science fiction, I think a writer has to do some research. Where would Crichton’s Jurassic Park have been without Chaos theory and real-life paleontologists? And you want your ideas to be ahead of the game, so get yourself some subscriptions.

I know, we are poor bastards and we can’t afford very much–certainly not expensive subscriptions.

I don’t think I could get more (Big) bang for my buck than through New Scientist. You can too.

1. It’s weekly. Meaning that when science is advancing, New Scientist doesn’t have to wait two months to come out with an issue. Discover is a monthly, and it’s a nice mag. But it can’t compete with 65-75 pages a week chock full of insightful articles.

2. It’s got short blurbs and longer indepth articles, and these can be read–some of them–online. Let me give you a sample of what’s out right now:

Why the Universe may be teeming with Aliens

Are Daughters-in-Law to blame for Menopause?

A healthy planet? Top 10 articles on the Environment in 2008

The glass universe: where astronomy meets art

Creationists Declare War on the Brain

These are the longer in-depth articles, yes, but the magazine is FULL of shorter articles. Shorter articles stimulate creativity in a way that is beneficial for a creative writer. You want a magazine that has plenty of short articles on broad topics–a whole mess of ’em.

3. It covers a lot of areas: space, environment, sex, health, physics and math, tech articles…. that’s good. Coming out once a week, it allows the magazine to be current on several areas. It allows you to cross-pollinate ideas.

4. It’s cheap. Yep, it’s from Britain, but it’s 36 bucks for 6 months or 24 issues. You can sign up online here for a subscription. Or you can browse the website first. With a subscription you get the magazine delivered to your door in uninterrupted service, and you get online access to back issues 24hrs a day. It’s cheap and it comes to you. If I had to have just one subscription to a science magazine, I would keep this one.

Writers of science fiction should certainly start with the stimulation that comes from reading science magazines–BUT, and this is where it gets interesting, I think they shouldn’t be bogged down in the details. If you are predicting the future, look how fast the present changes. I just did a radio piece talking about dark energy–which is about to be out of fashion, passé, even illusory–but in twenty years?? In fifty years?? It may be all the rage.

Science fiction writers need to be able to extrapolate from data, yes, but they also need to be able to make the Leap. Leaps are about prediction beyond what can be extrapolated. Go someplace wild with the information. Don’t be afraid to be wrong in twenty years, or in two weeks. Make it believable. But not predictable by any physics grad student. Combine fields, combine theories, and then move beyond them. Sure, it’s not real. But that’s the point of writing fiction–to be brave enough to make the leaps that science isn’t allowed to without hard fact.

If science fiction actually does lead the way in technology and science–then we’ve got to lead by going beyond what the best scientists can predict, and certainly past what the public can imagine. That’s our job–to help people imagine a believable, but still surprising and entertaining, future. That’s where your stimulated brain comes in handy……

You can start seeing that future by picking up a New Scientist issue, but you can’t create it till you’ve put the issue down.

One thought on “Why You Should Subscribe to New Scientist, and why you have to put it down

  1. Keyan December 19, 2008 / 9:59

    You’re so right! I’ve been subscribing to this for years, for exactly those reasons – ever since they got their distribution sorted out. Before that, I bought newstand copies from my corner grocery, run by a Russian physicist…

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