Science consultant puts the “Science in Science Fiction”

After reading Jane’s timely, important, and somewhat discouraging post from Monday about “Copyright, eReserves, Fair Use, and Georgia State“, I was a little hesitant to post the more “feel good” information below…but, we all need a little “feel good” these days (plus, I was able to use the word “melange” in the post, and not while referring to the Spice from Frank Herbert’s “Dune” either), so with that said…read on.

I recently ran across a May 1, 2011 posting on the “Points of View” blog (part of the enriched online version of the “Physics McKinnon, the science consultant, on the Stargate setToday” journal, published by the American Institute of Physics) by Mika McKinnon, who self-identified as “a disaster researcher, entertainment science consultant, and irrepressible educator.”  Ms. McKinnon served as the on site science consultant for four seasons of Stargate: Atlantis and Stargate: Universe.  Her blog post, titled “Putting the science in science fiction”, is a brief but entertaining, thoughtful, and funny mélange of anecdotes, lessons learned, insights, and advice that I recommend to anyone interested in the popularization of science, popular culture and science, or science fiction (especially fans of the Stargate programs).

I find it deeply encouraging (from a few perspectives) just to know that jobs like this, and scientists like Ms. McKinnon, exist.  In explaining the purpose of her role on set, Ms. McKinnon quotes Stargate writer Carl Binder as saying, “The accuracy of your science is what grounds the fiction, allowing the reader or viewer to suspend their disbelief.”  Ms. McKinnon goes on to state, “A science consultant serves as an illustrator to the authors, adding richness and depth to the world beyond the story.”  One of the most telling stories that is related in her post deals with Ms. McKinnon’s first, nervous, experience of directly engaging with fans of the Stargate franchise; she recounts, “The fans were as passionate as I expected, but far more relaxed.  Curiosity focused on scientific concepts rather than technical detail, and scenes from episodes illustrated ideas from forgotten science classes.  Fiction allowed me to engage their passionate interest in the show to build scientific literacy.”

In thinking about Ms. McKinnon, her interesting professional position, and the intersection of entertainment-based science fiction and actual science, I was reminded of (WARNING: shameless plug for interesting books in the Kresge Library) of the following books in the Kresge Library:

Fantastic voyages : learning science through science fiction films, by Leroy W. Dubeck, Suzanne E. Moshier, and Judith E. Boss (2004, 2nd edition, New York: Springer).  QC30 .D83 2004
Catalog record: http://libcat.dartmouth.edu/record=b3265408~S1

Physics of the impossible: a scientific exploration in to the world of phasers, force fields, teleportation, and time travel, by Michio Kaku (2008, New York: Doubleday).  QC75 .K18 2008
Catalog record: http://libcat.dartmouth.edu/record=b4291905~S1

If these books look interesting, and you’re willing to pay a visit to the Baker Berry Library, you might also look into (the slightly dated, but still well regarded):

The cosmic dancers: exploring the physics of science fiction, by Amit Goswami (with Maggie Goswami) (1983, New York: Harper & Row).  Baker Berry Q162 .G67 1983
Catalog record: http://libcat.dartmouth.edu/record=b1523911~S1

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