Launch Pad

For the past few years, astronomer and SF author Mike Brotherton has been running the Launch Pad Workshop, a program bringing interested SF authors to Wyoming (where he's on the faculty) to learn about modern astronomy. The idea is to teach writers the real facts about the weird and wonderful things going on in astronomy these days, so they can write better stories about astronomical objects and ideas, and reach a wider audience through fiction. This year's workshop just ended, and Brotherton has links to some of the presentations, and blogs about it from the attendees.

I really like this idea, which is one of the cleverest ways of meeting the "broader impact" requirements of many granting agencies that I've seen. In the branch of the wavefunction where I have infinite free time or a strong affiliation with the JQI or JILA, or Perimeter, I would totally be trying to put together an equivalent program for quantum physics. You'd need to do it someplace where there's a big program in quantum research, because lab tours are the closest quantum physics comes to the "look through this big telescope" thing astronomy has to offer, but I think there's some of the same potential for outreach through fiction. In an even more ideal world, it might be possible to connect this up with the Science and Entertainment Exchange and get some good quantum physics explanations to people who do mass media, not just writers of print SF.

Alas, I have neither the free time nor the institutional affiliation needed to make this happen at present. I'm doing a lot of scrambling to stay on top of (or at least out from under) the stuff I've got going on now, so attempting to organize a workshop in addition would be kind of foolish. If anybody wants to run with this idea, though, and things a talking dog might be helpful for the program, I'd be happy to help...

More like this

A few years back, I became aware of Mike Brotherton's Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop, and said "somebody should do this for quantum physics." At the time, I wasn't in a position to do that, but in the interim, the APS Outreach program launched the Public Outreach and Informing the Public Grant…
Over at Jeff Vandemeer's blog, Rachel Swirsky has a series ofm guest posts (start here if you prefer direct post links) about the recently completed Launch Pad workshop. this is a NASA funded workshop bringing a group of writers together for six days of lectures on modern astronomy from working…
Over at, David Levine describes a really cool event he went to just before Worldcon: a crash course in modern astronomy for SF writers: The idea behind Launch Pad is Gernsbackian: getting good science into popular fiction as a form of public education and outreach for NASA. SF writer and…
We'll be accepting applications for The Schrödinger Sessions workshop at JQI through tomorrow. We already have 80-plus applicants for fewer than 20 planned spots, including a couple of authors I really, really like and some folks who have won awards, etc., so we're going to have our work cut out…

Brotherton has a nice page of online resource links, but no recommended texts (that I could find, not having dug into every cranny).

Can anyone suggest printed titles intended for the same audience as this workshop, but easier to get to than Wyoming?

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 27 Jul 2011 #permalink

Pierce, I did a post for some books from my self that I use for writing science fiction:

If you're interested in astronomy textbooks, there are a lot of good introductory texts I can recommend. Two are Horizons by Michael Seeds and Cosmic Perspectives by Bennett et al. If you want a book for majors, calculus based, I'd suggest Foundations of Astrophysics by Ryden and Peterson or one by Carroll and Ostlie called an Introduction to Modern Astrophysics.

I have had some queries from other kinds of scientists about similar programs, and queries by others wanting to do Launch Pad in London or on the east coast. I know there are some similar programs for police procedures. It would be great to have one for physics (quantum or otherwise), medicine, biology, etc.

We had a couple of screenwriters this year at Launch Pad, and I'm very open to any creator who has the potential to reach large audiences with more and better astronomy.

Any proposers interested in more information can contact me at my webpage.

Mike -

Thanks much! (Titles added to my look-for list.)

I gather, then, that nobody has yet written/published a reasonably hard-headed "Space for SF Writers" manual. Am I the only lazy wannabe who'd buy it?

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 27 Jul 2011 #permalink

You're welcome. As for the suggested manual, I've thought about it, Pierce. Putting together a couple of books on my list (the Gillet Worldbuilding book and the Starflight Handbook) will get you close, along with an astronomy textbook. There is a lot of good stuff on the web now as well, so don't resist it too much.