Science (Fiction) Good & Evil

There’s science fiction and there’s “fictional” science. Imaginative fiction of all stripes uses “made up” science on occasion. Whether it’s a magical incantation that halts time, an elixir that enhances strength, a complex machine the propels characters into the past or portals to other worlds built by alien civilizations and discovered by archeologists on earth, fiction is full of solutions to scientific questions that real science has yet to answer.

Although usually associated with hardcore science fiction, creative (or fictional) science is all over paranormal, supernatural, horror, futurist and urban fantasy stories. Adding the gloss of a scientific explanation is a great way to write your way out of an all too real trap. A character’s invented scientific explanation for the impossible (improbable or even silly) enables the writer to jump what I like to call a credibility gap. This is really hard to pull off in a naturalistic setting, but it’s just plain fun & games when you’re writing vampire fiction!

I’m deep into my fourth Candy’s Monsters novella. It’s my Jekyll & Hyde. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, the good Dr. Jekyll creates a drug that enables him to act on his evil (violent and transgressive) tendencies, while maintaining his good persona. His “science” enables him to split off the bad half, but the whole enterprise backfires. The reader is invited to believe that the vials of specialized chemicals that he combines to affect his change work. But beyond the cool color of the liquid he ingests, there’s not much in the way of chemical details.

Today, a writer could opt to frame the “fictional” science in terms of altered DNA. But I’m more interested in neurology. When the current issue of Smithsonian Magazine arrived this week with a cover story entitled “ Born to Be Bad? The New Science of Morality” I was thrilled. It’s not exactly where I’m heading, but the article is exploring similar territory.

More and more behaviors and behavioral disorders are now discussed in terms of neurology and neuro-biochemistry. For most of the 20th century, these disorders were diagnosed as psychiatric or psychological illnesses while in Stevenson’s time, it was all about moral choices and judgments.

The article sent me to a shelf of books about criminality that I collected and read a few years ago. The one that stands out the most is “Guilty by Reason of Insanity, A Psychiatrist Explores the Minds of Killers” by Dorothy Otnow Lewis, M.D. Her collaborator in studies of seriously scary killers was a neurologist named Jonathan Pincus.

I didn’t have to thumb the pages to remember the thing that startled me most in the book. It was when Dr. Pincus was able to ascertain the presence of serious lesions in the brains of killers by observing their gaits as they walked. These injuries, in key portions of the brain, were then confirmed with MRIs. They were old injuries from childhoods filled with accidents, abuse and violence — the environmental influence on the neurological.

This, of course, made me wonder about the people responsible for those childhood injuries and dangerous lives. Neurology, DNA, drug use… and in end moral choices about good & evil actions — and all of this is grist for the “fictional” science mill.


  1. The implications of the studies disturbs me a little (possible fodder for future stories). Imagine a world where they (the infamous they) could have the ability to “fix” these blemishes on the brain. In our efforts to produce the “perfect” people where would these fixes end?

    • Candy

      Yes, that’s one of the key scary notes in the forward march of real science. The FIXES always come with a price and the price is high — loss of those outliers who change the world.

      When I went back to the book written the a psychiatrist with her neurologist colleague, I went straight to the issue of environmental impact. The injuries to brains that cut off the consciousness of guilt, empathy and all the other things that make us human (and can turn people into ruthless killers) can be caused by accidents (like falling out of a tree when you’re a kid) but the implication was that child abuse, with repeated blows to vulnerable skulls and the vulnerable brains inside, cause people to lose parts of their “human-ness.” If we could stop that, it would be amazing.

      Still the best story fodder seems to be in the land of the “fixers” who know no bounds and, often with the best of intentions, muck around where more caution is needed. The quest for perfection is futile and pointless. Perfect is boring. Right?

      • “Who watches the watchmen?”

        Depending on how it plays out, perfect can be interesting. It all depends on who’s idea of perfect we are running with.

        But I am also a lover of chaos, so my perfection would be quite entertaining.

    • Candy

      Chaos is certainly an element in creativity. It’s the balance of chaos and discipline that moves the creative idea onto the page!

      LOL… gotta have both. Yin & Yang, Action & Stillness….

  2. I’ve finally taken the plunge and completed my first science fiction short story. It’s neither hardcore sci-fi nor fantasy, so I really like your ‘fictional science’ category! I’ve read loads over the years but almost always veered away from writing any, mostly out of cowardice.

    • Candy

      For years I’ve danced around the “hardcore” Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, but in the end I’ve found that I use many of their conventions and ideas in my mysteries, psychological suspense thrillers, etc. Good tools in the writing tool box — like the idea of creating a “scientific” explanation for something impossible, is a good tool in other genres too.

      Have fun with it and congrats on you first science fiction short story!

  3. I have tried this more than once, and I try to make the science at least possibly credible. I think it is wrong tom use it obviously to get out of a trap; if I am going to do that, I try to introduce it as early as I can, so it is established well before it is needed. I prefer to use it to get around something that might otherwise seem implausible, or to add something to the plot. I have tried to expand on some of these thoughts on my blog at

    • Candy

      I agree in the “trap” aspect. The science — created or based on the real thing — must be established prior to the point in the storyline where it’s needed. I’m working on that right now. Seeding the real science where it will support the fictional leap later in the story. Will check out your blog.

  4. Hi to all and a Very Happy New Year. My genre is crime fiction/ historical fiction. My latest book THE CROW WOOD MURDERS will shortly be published on AMAZON Please send me your comments which will be much appreciated.