Reading the book The Tourist Trail by John Yunker reminds me about how scientific research can be conveyed through works of fiction. In The Tourist Trail, the character Angela studies penguins and the descriptions of her work convey a lot about how actual scientists conduct studies on penguins.
Now, one of my favorite fiction books that incorporates a lot of archaeology and anthropology research into its world is the The Clan of The Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel.
What are some of your favorite works of fiction that incorporate research into the narrative or world-building?
The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure is almost the reverse - Hans Magnus Enzensberger took a bunch of math and turned it into a story. I've never forgotten Fibonacci's series after reading the book. It's been years, and is aimed at Middle School students, but it's still a fun read.
Just about every well-written story I've ever read. But I am a science fiction and fantasy wonk, so that's pretty much a given.
But as to genres that pretty much have research as a prerequisite, science fiction is right up there, possibly first on the list. If your story-telling world has been shaped by the science in your fiction, you'd better have the science at least feeling right, or all you're left with is some Star Wars knock-off space opera.
Another one, either something of a sub-genre of sci-fi, or else coming at it from a completely different angle, is alternate history. If your story takes place back in time, it's necessary to know about it, and for my money, the more tiny details that bring you into that world, to help reinforce that suspension of disbelief that is necessary for such reads, the more gripping the experience.
For an example that sort of ties those two together, I recommend the Island in the Sea of Time Trilogy by S.M. Stirling, a story about what happens when a random event causes an ellipsoid of matter surrounding the island of Nantucket to be transposed with its Bronze Age counterpart, taking along a US coast guard training ship.
That series has a corollary, The Emberverse series. It concerns what happens to the world left behind by the Event that switches Nantucket for its Bronze age equivalent, wherein something diffuses all high-energy physics on earth, rendering electronics, internal combustion engines, and gunpowder, along with all high-energy chemistry and processes, inutile. Again, lots and lots of research has to go into world-building on that scale, even if we're talking about using a setting in history, recent or ancient, even if it's just a jumping-off point for something fantastical.
This is realistically just an example. It would be easier to list the genres that don't require research.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein
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