The Smart Core Manifesto

“There is no definition of science fiction that excludes fantasy, other than prescriptive definitions so narrow that, were they applied, this encyclopedia would be reduced to ten per cent of its present length.”
— Peter Nicholls, The Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction

This book is for that ten per cent.


Science fiction is like opening a book on astronomy, only to find that nine out of ten of its pages are about horoscopes.

Why do we turn new readers or viewers loose on the ever-expanding world of science fiction with no clue whether they’re going to pick up a book or go to see a movie that opens their mind to the possibilities of mankind’s adventure in the universe or fills it with unicorns and vampires?

The smart core manifesto carves out space for a fiction of scientific advance that places clearly defined limits on the encroachment of fantasy.

In this book Robert Maas argues for a new definition of plausible science fiction freed from its traditional subservience to time travel, psychic powers, and superheroes. A science fiction that better reflects the world we live in. A science fiction that unshackles the human imagination without dulling its intelligence.

Special features include:

  • The definition of smart core
  • How smart core permeates speculative fiction
  • How science fiction uses real and bogus science as a genre signifier
  • Reality and rationality in science fiction
  • Fantasy in science fiction
  • The James Bond test (is science fiction as plausible as techno-thrillers?)
  • Arthur C. Clarke’s third law in the real and fictional worlds
  • The history of smart core
  • Gernsback, Tremain, Campbell, and the golden age
  • The failure of science fiction
  • Smart core and the new wave
  • How smart core relates to hard science fiction
  • The future of smart core
  • The ten values of smart core
  • What is permitted and what is excluded, from space drives to mind swaps

Non-fiction : 44,000 words : 112 pages

Amazon search code: B07FCNMFXB
Buy at Amazon US : $5.99 (free on Kindle unlimited)
Buy at Amazon UK : £4.99 (free on Kindle unlimited)

Large format paperback
Amazon search code: 1983360058
Buy at Amazon US : $7.99
Buy at Amazon UK : £6.99


Science fiction as bogus science

Want to learn to write science fiction in one easy lesson? All you need to do is write something like:

Rogers lifted his gravity gun menacingly. ‘You wanna be pancake, boy?’

This is obviously science fiction. ‘Gravity gun’ is a genre signifier, and the phrase ‘pancake’ suggests something that flattens the victim in the way that no known real world weapon does.

But it’s also lazy and cheap. If you wanted readers to think you were clever, you’d need to expand it into bogus science:

Bob stared into the barrel of the gun. He gulped. He knew that if Rogers pulled that trigger, a pulse of superstring tachyons would be emitted, exactly the same particles that accumulated in the heart of a black hole. When they hit him they would interact with the baryonic molecules of his body, opening for a brief instant a gravity doorway into the heart of the galaxy that would smear his atoms across the nearest solid mass between himself and the virtual galactic core.

Trash, of course. Meaningless paradiddle based on worthless quasi-scientific keywords and phrases. But it’s a rationale, you can’t prove it wrong, and therefore this fantasy device is suddenly nuts and bolts hard science fiction, and you’re a visionary thinker.

Many science fiction writers get their ideas from the pages of popular science magazines, and that makes them visionaries, too.

This is the game that science fiction plays, and for the most part it plays it with even less thought than I just did. Moreover, nothing in this example invalidates the text from calling itself smart core, which does not make a judgment call on the quality of the concept involved so long as it is rationalized as a thing of science.

In Star Trek, scriptwriters would insert the word “TECH” when they wanted the in-house boffins to come up with a quasi-scientific rationale to facilitate the plot.

Scotty complains: ‘It’s the dilithium crystals, captain. They’re drifting out of sync.’ What he means is: ‘The gasket’s blown. And there’s not a garage for miles.’ The speech ramps up fraudulent tension, which is why so many science fiction devices come with author-devised arbitrary limits. There always has to be the risk of the vehicle breaking down on the final lap.

Conversely, science fiction’s bogus science is liberation to the writer. There are no science fiction experts. No government unit is hiding secret real world anti-gravity technology from you so they can claim your device won’t work like it should. Science fiction visionaries know as little about artificial intelligence or xenobiology as I know about the mating habits of unicorns. Still, show me one and I’ll point out where the horn goes.

In the hinterlands of idle undergraduate speculation, one of the most productive ways to bore each other in student bars is to babble about what life might be like in the fifth dimension, or how there may be infinite other universes concurrent with our own.

Generally my eyes tend to glaze over the moment any of them introduces the word ‘quantum’ into the discussion. If that’s the way you try to pick up girls, it just means you haven’t discovered hang-gliding yet.

But let’s step back and tick these off on our possibilities list. Creatures of the fifth dimension? Infinite other versions of you, some of whom, right now, are physics undergraduates in student bars? Universes like individual soap bubbles in a vast foam of spacetime? Quantum — oh, but my eyes just glazed over.

Non-fiction : 44,000 words : 112 pages

Amazon search code: B07FCNMFXB
Buy at Amazon US : $5.99 (free on Kindle unlimited)
Buy at Amazon UK : £4.99 (free on Kindle unlimited)

Large format paperback
Amazon search code: 1983360058
Buy at Amazon US : $7.99
Buy at Amazon UK : £6.99