Here’s the problem with either writing sci-fi or (if you’re Margaret Atwood) “speculative fiction.” Often you have to be an expert in technologies, societies, and minutiae that not only don’t exist, but are be ridiculously improbable.
Take space travel. Space travel is ridiculous. It involves literally incomprehensible amounts of space through an environment that is notable for having no environment at all. A lot of empty space is oddly known for being full of things, like lethal amounts of radiation or micro-asteroids. One doesn’t travel through space as much as one escapes from space or dies trying.
However, you want to get the characters from point A, where they start, to point B, where there are various aliens there who want to know more about this Earth thing called “kissing.” How does one do that?
Authors have to make up various forms of travel, ranging from a speedy spaceship to wormholes, to Keebler Magic™. Not only does the writer have to do this, they have to make it plausible. Well, maybe not plausible. Just not distractingly wrong.
Which means sci-fi authors are bullshit artists.
Hey, I am not being pejorative here. I myself am a spectacular bullshit artist. It comes from years of practice. Indeed I learned it from school, honing my ability to act like I was paying attention and not thinking about X-Wing fighter battles.
I was TOTALLY thinking about X-Wing fighter battles.
To be totally fair to me (something I am very interested in being), it was 1978. I could either think about the Dewey Decimal System, or a flight of X-Wing fighters screaming over the surface of the Death Star, red and green laser bolts exploding in all directions.
What I am trying to say is f**k the Dewey Decimal System.
Screaming back to the topic at hand: being a bullshit artist. A sci-fi author not only has to create memorable characters and exciting situations; they also have to place them in environments that either don’t exist, or are very unlikely to be able to exist in for very long.
In the incredible, wonderful, great book “The Martian” by Andy Weir, the main character spends well over a year on Mars. He should have had severe testicular cancer by the time his stay was over. Mars is not only cold, it is also thoroughly baked in the Sun’s radiation with no real atmosphere to stop it. His flimsy little HUB couldn’t have kept out the 60/24/7/365 bombardment of radiation punishing every square centimeter of an entire planet.
This does not detract from the fact that it is an excellent book.
Sci-Fi, like many other metaphors, don’t bear close scrutinization. Which means if someone wants to nit-pick, they’re going to find SOMETHING to attack.
And that’s fine, if someone wants to waste their time on meaningless details. It is dependant on the author to craft characters and a story that distracts the reader from the tech behind the curtain.
So don’t sweat the tech too much. Sweat about the characters and the story.
And seriously, Melvil Dewey can go f*ck himself with a live fish.