Updated: Wednesday, 23rd July 2014 @ 8:26am

Putting the 'science' back into 'science fiction': Professors and writers team up at The University of Manchester

Putting the 'science' back into 'science fiction': Professors and writers team up at The University of Manchester

By Nicholas Watmough & Kirsty Plowman

Top Manchester scientists are teaming up with best-selling authors and filmmakers to try and put the ‘science’ back into ‘science-fiction’.

The University of Manchester’s Dr Geoff Ryman and Dr David Kirby began their campaign to encourage artists to use plausible science in their work at a university symposium on Wednesday.

Dr Ryman is himself a leading science fiction writer and creative writing lecturer, while Dr Kirby is a senior lecturer in science communication studies at the university.

“Scientists aren't there to ruin the entertainment; we want to stop science from hurting people's ability to enjoy the art, books and film”, says Dr Kirby.

He says that one of the campaign’s ultimate goals is to build a database of scientists and artists that people can use to get in touch whenever they need scientific advice for their story or script.

“Bad” science can spoil the fun for audiences. He says: “One movie where the science is particularly problematic is an Arnold Schwarzenegger film, called ‘The Sixth Day’, where cloning is represented in an outlandish, outrageous way that really ruins the enjoyment of the film.

"It makes so little sense. There's another called ‘Volcano’, where, obviously, a volcano erupts underneath Los Angeles; it's just crazy, and stupid.”

But the manager of Manchester’s Forbidden Planet comic shop, Alan Bound, is unsure: “Take the ‘Avengers’ movie that’s coming out; radiation would kill you or cause disease, not make you into a big green monster like The Hulk, but nobody minds!

“However, with the internet, people have access to so much hardcore information that they wouldn’t have had in the past. Websites get set up outlining scientific mistakes in films and comics, and people rally around them.”

Dr Ryman, editor and author of 2009’s celebrated sci-fi anthology ‘When It Changed’, understands firsthand the importance and fighting for credible fiction.

He says: “It’s my experience that scientists can find it difficult to understand the needs of scriptwriters or storytellers.

“There is a way of working that ensures that scientific authenticity can be maintained and a gripping story gets told.”

Haroon Musataq, manager of the Travelling Man comic shop in Manchester, agrees that despite his favourite books being works of fantasy, the accuracy of science in art is very important, as it can stimulate further discovery.

 “I do think that fiction is a brilliant way to teach people stuff, and is also a brilliant way to make people interested in science; when they hear about something like nanotech or light particles, that’s something special,” he says.