SF written by scientists that had a personal impact


Active Member
Feb 29, 2024
'The Black Cloud' by Fred Hoyle, in 1957 highly praised by Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer and astrophysicist, who called it one of the best SF books he had read. Carl Sagan himself of course wrote the well-received 'Contact' in 1973. The brilliant and prolific Arthur C. Clarke wrote many wonderful books but I found 'Rendevous with Rama' tremendously exciting. it had a sense of reality, that made me imagine that it really was 'first contact' but I have to say that although I enjoyed the sequels I found them slightly disappointing. The imitable Isaac Asimov is known for many great works, but again from a purely personal view the collection of robot stories in 'I, Robot' 1950, and the introduction to the Three Laws of Robotics' is one of those most fondly remembered. I have a copy before me and the wisecracking remarks between Donovan and Powell - the 'Holy Space! and 'Jumping Jupiter!' are of a different era and recall the early sci-fi magazines in the US. I would be interested to hear other opinions.
Again with Cordwainer Smith, I was a schoolboy and blown away by Norstrilia - his shorter stories merged into a longer book (I know there's a term for this but I can't think of it!)
I also loved "Rendezvous with Rama" When Oumuamua came around I realised that Clarke just had a better telescope than the rest of us. :)
By the way, worth noting that the image they present us with is not a photo but an artists impression we are told to believe.

But seriously what I love about Clarke's work is that he tended to work within the realm of technical possibility.
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I really adored Three Body Problem, even though it gets derided a lot for being light on characters/emotion. Cixin Liu managed to really capture a general social feeling well, which was attractive even in spite of a lack of strong individual characters.
Perhaps Ursula le Guin counts.
She never finished her doctoral studies, but she did get a master's degree in medieval literature.
More importantly, her father was the great cultural anthropologist Alfred Louis Kroeber, and her mother had a degree in psychology. Such parents undoubtedly influenced her writing. Her books sometimes verge between science fiction and psychological prose. Many of the books in the Hainish cycle also read like strange experiments in sociology and cultural anthropology put to paper. Can anarchists form their own society? What would human society be like if people were asexual most of the time? And what would happen if there were many more women than men? How does slavery affect human relationships? To list all her experiments would be too long. However, I am happy that they were done on paper only.
I am not sure what the initially poster meant by "that had a personal impact" beyond being liked by the reader. However, there have been a fair number of good science fiction writers that have also had careers as scientists, as one might expect a far higher proportion than for other genres of fiction.

Fred Hoyle mentioned above was probably the most eminent and would almost certainly have received a Nobel Prize for working out how heavy elements are synthesised if he had not also espoused the theory of continuous creation. Of course he wouldn't have been so interested in how elements are synthesised if that had not been a problem for the continuous creation theory! Fred Hoyle certainly had a personal impact on me as his were some of the first science fiction novels that I read.

According to Wikipedia "Gregory Benford (born January 30, 1941) is an American science fiction author and astrophysicist who is professor emeritus at the department of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Irvine." Again his expertise shines through much of his work and makes anyone whose has wasted nights using expensive physics apparatus feel at home.

Similarly, David Brin has a PhD in astronomy and Alastair Reynolds has one in astrophysics.

If computer science counts, Vernor Vinge was another superb writer with a successful academic career. Charles Stross also followed a post graduate course in computer science and worked in programming. Other programmers include Dennis E. Taylor and Daniel Keys Moran.

Julie E. Czerneda states that she started writing by writing biology textbooks but I don't know at what level.

Going even further away from science, there are also many professional engineers such as Michael McCollum.
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