The Science Behind THE LOST PLANET: guest post + giveaway

January 28, 2014 2014, giveaway, guest post, middle grade, sci fi or futuristic, Uncategorized, Wendy 53



The Lost Planet by Rachel Searles is a such fun middle grade sci-fi adventure! This story is action-packed, with great world-building and interesting characters, and I sped through the book in a matter of hours. I appreciated that the novel is age-appropriate, but the language isn’t dumbed down at all, and it’s a book that’s easily enjoyed by adults and older readers as well.

The science and action are also awesome. The author is married to a rocket scientist, so when the opportunity for a guest post came up, I immediately asked if she would share her science research for the book with us. I knew that this must have informed the story and YOU-ARE-THERE feeling in a major way, so I’m very excited to hear what she has to say.

Please join us in welcoming the author to the blog!

~ Wendy

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Science fiction spans a wide range when it comes to how much actual science is used in the fiction, from the technical “hard SF” novels of Arthur C. Clarke to the more character-focused “soft SF” represented by works like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. But no matter the subgenre, what sets science fiction apart from fantasy is that most of its imaginary elements are largely possible within the laws of physics. And that means one thing for the science fiction writer: research.

In writing The Lost Planet, I started out with the same basic understanding of space that most readers have—solar systems, galaxies, the universe at large. But basic knowledge isn’t enough to write a good science fiction story, and if you screw up the details, it will show. You want to strand your hero in the middle of an asteroid field? Great, except that you should know even the densest asteroid belt is so huge that the distances between each space rock can span thousands or even millions of miles. You’d have to aim very carefully to hit one of them. Better study up on your celestial objects and pick a better hazard zone.

Way back in my early drafting days, I knew I needed a better grasp of the setting I was working with, but I wasn’t about to start reading up on quantum physics and string theory. Instead I started with a copy of Astronomy for Dummies. While this book had a lot of information I already knew, it also taught me the facts about things like light years, quasars, and the infamous black holes. Did I use all these things in my book? No way. But I got a feel for the almost impossibly vast immensity of space, and the potential pitfalls that could await my characters. The thought of being stranded in a tiny spaceship, looking out and seeing only blackness and distant stars for light years all around, still gives me the chills in the worst way.

When it came to moving my characters through space, I turned to the pros. I needed to know not only what the current scientific theories on faster-than-light travel are, but also how this has been handled in other works of fiction. One of the resources I used for this was the Wikipedia entry on hyperspace, which lists the mode of space travel used for everything from Asimov to Stargate. Wormholes, jumpgates, warp drives—I read through all of these to see which concepts sounded most plausible to me, and what would work best for my kind of story, and patched different ideas together to create a system of bending space in measures of cambers that my characters would use in their race through the galaxy.

The Internet was useful for more than just its Wikipedia articles. Sites like and the National Geographic space page were great places just to get inspired, or to browse for articles that might spark a tumble down the research rabbit hole. “You mean there are rogue stars just tearing through the universe, not held in place by any gravitational force? I must know more!” I stored these tidbits away like a squirrel hording nuts, saving them for possible future plot ideas. Other saved articles in my research file include stories about bioengineers attempting to grow meat for consumption in a lab, and a woman who was able to regrow her severed pinky tip with a pig-derived bio-powder. You never know!

For constructing strange new alien worlds, sometimes the best research was just browsing through pictures of some of the bizarre places and creatures that exist on our own planet, and then extrapolating them into something even bigger and more fantastic. I’ve drawn inspiration from photos of the Crooked Forest in Poland, a grove of strangely twisted pine trees, and Colombia’s Caño Cristales, a river that explodes into a range of psychedelic rainbow hues once a year due to the algae that grows on the river bottom. It’s fun to imagine how things that are unique and special on our world might be banal everyday sights on another planet.

At the end of it all, one of the biggest takeaways for me in my research and fact-checking was “Thank goodness for the invention of the Internet.” Sure, you’ve got to be careful that your sources are reliable, but how lucky are we to live in a time where all the world’s information is right at our fingertips? It’s way too easy to take for granted the instant accessibility that barely existed twenty years ago, and I tip my hat to Asimov and all the other science fiction writers who didn’t have this resource at their disposal—and to whom it probably would have sounded like something out of one of their own science fiction novels. Now, I wonder what futuristic-sounding development might come next…

RSearlesPhotoRachel Searles grew up on the frigid shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where she spent her childhood studying languages and plotting to travel around the world. She has lived abroad in Munich and Istanbul, working as a cook, a secretary, a teacher, and a reporter for the Turkish Daily News.

She now lives in Los Angeles with her rocket scientist husband and two cats, and spends her free time cooking her way through the Internet and plotting more travel.

Her debut novel The Lost Planet will be released on January 28, 2014.

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Win a copy of The Lost Planet!

Thanks to our friends at Macmillan, we have an ARC of this fun space adventure to give away to our readers. All you have to do is leave fill out the Rafflecopter form and leave a thoughtful comment below telling us why you’re interested in the book! Earn extra entries by tweeting daily, sharing on Facebook, etc.

Open to U.S. and Canadian residents aged 18 and older, or 13 and older with parental permission; see entry form for complete details. Good luck!


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Our thanks to Macmillan for supplying the giveaway copy, as well as to the author for stopping by the blog today.


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a Rafflecopter giveaway


53 Responses to “The Science Behind THE LOST PLANET: guest post + giveaway”

  1. Julie

    This grabbed my eye. I’m a science girl and the fact that you put so much time and research into this makes me want to read it all the more.

  2. Rachel

    Really liked reading about the research process for this one. I read as much MG as YA, so this is definitely something I’ll want to try. I’m always looking for more serious MG sf (as opposed to super-wacky, which is just not to my personal preferences — most of the time, anyway, I don’t rule anything out).

  3. Amy

    I don’t usually read middle grade books but i love the cover and synopsis for this!

    • Wendy Darling

      Ah, a few comments below you’ll see that my co-blogger Kim hadn’t read a middle grade book in ages, but was so impressed by this guest post that she acquired, read, and loved THE LOST PLANET within 24 hours! So I hope you’ll have good luck with it, too.

  4. Kate

    Would love a copy of this book to review on my blog, where I frequently post reviews about middle grade novels. I’m especially interested in this one because I think fantasy texts that engage with quantum physics and those big questions about our existence are especially appropriate for the topic of spirituality in children’s literature! Sounds fabulous!
    Kate recently posted…Wardrobes, Gardens, and Hot Air Balloons: The Spirituality of Children’s Literature (Part I)

  5. Tanja

    This is such an amazing guest post. I was never a science geek but whenever I’m reading sci-fi stories I admire those people as they manage to fit all the details nicely. It seems to me that this story is like that. Great guest post. Thanks for sharing :)
    Tanja recently posted…ARC Review: Alienated by Melissa Landers

    • Wendy Darling

      I’m not much of a facts and figures person either, but I am fascinated by science and space. I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  6. Kelly

    If only all authors were as dedicated when crafting their stories. Great guest post, I love seeing an author’s thought process. I’ve only just recently discovered how awesome some middle grade titles can be. Definitely adding this one to the list.
    Kelly recently posted…Horde By Ann Aguirre: Lazy Review

    • Wendy Darling

      Agreed. I always find the writing process interesting to read about too, or at least I do when there’s something interesting that’s being said! Everyone’s methods are so different.

      Middle grade can be so, so good, but it’s hard to find the good ones. I read mostly YA, but it’s really MG that takes my heart when I find the right book. I’m glad you’re discovering more great titles to read!

    • Wendy Darling

      No kidding. And sometimes I spend time musing over how flying/swimming is the same artistically, especially when I see manta rays. I love watching underwater documentaries, it’s fascinating, and you’re right, just as alien as stuff in space sometimes.

  7. Lucy

    What a fascinating guest post! I’m impressed with all the research that went into this book. I like character driven stories with an interesting setting and it sounds like this fits the bill. Thanks for bringing Lost Planet to my attention, Wendy! It sounds like tons of fun.
    Lucy recently posted…The Fault in Our Stars Official Movie Trailer

    • Wendy Darling

      I know, and she lives in our fair city, too! Well, Venice, but that’s close enough.

      I really enjoyed this one, I hope you do too, Lucy. The research really grounds the action in a believable way.

  8. Neyra

    Science was never my best subject o.O but I love the research that goes into all things logical. Plus, who can resist the allure of space? We’re just one tiny planet amongst many. It would be awesome, but I’d be afraid too, to be stuck in a tiny ship surrounded by nothing but blackness and stars millions of miles away *shivers. Great post, I love it! Thanks for sharing Rachel, and ladies thank you for posting :)
    Neyra recently posted…Review: Permanent by Kim Carmichael

    • Wendy Darling

      That feeling of loneliness when you’re contemplating the vastness of space definitely strikes a chord with me, and you see that emotion in the book as well. I didn’t even mention the cool android–SO much to appreciate about the book!

      Thanks for stopping by, Neyra.

  9. Jane

    I like sci-fi and/or fantasy books with a strong grounding in science. looking forward to this one

  10. Kim

    I love everything about this guest post. I’ve been looking forward to this MG for a little while now and it’s so lovely to see the depth and thought the author put into her research. I’m excited.

    I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump. :( This might be the perfect bit of action, fun, and sci fi that I need!

    • Wendy Darling

      Yay! I find that a lot of middle grade adventures feel too determinedly zany to me, like “Oh, we’re going on a space adventure! Isn’t that awesome? You’re gonna love it! C’mon!” in a way that skews very young, or they zip back and forth between scenes without much internal narrative, and this isn’t like that at all. It’s very thoughtful and allows you to discover the story and character arcs gradually, so it’s a good pick for adults who don’t read that much MG.

      • Kim

        Alright, so yeah. I just literally spent my evening reading this book and I’m so glad! I really enjoyed it. This is the first middle grade book I’ve read since I was an actual child. As an adult who doesn’t read much MG, can confirm: a good pick :) I am keeping my eyes out for #2. I really hope there will be one.

        I just really loved Chase. I’m not used to reading about characters so young! He was crying a little in the beginning and it broke my heart. I had the urge to just want to hug him the entire time. It will all be okay, Chase! Don’t crrrrryyyyyy.

        This never would’ve even gone on my TBR without having seen it on yours. Also, with the Classics readalongs coming up, you have renewed my interest in MG. Thank you, Wendy. :)

        • Wendy Darling

          Kiiiimmm. This makes me happy! Both that you enjoyed this particular book (yay, space!) AND that you are rediscovering how lovely MG books can be.

          I loved Chase too, as well as many of the secondary characters. I’m sure he’d love a cuddle from you, as long as no one’s looking. Boys, you know. ;)

  11. Rashika

    I am really tempted to read this book now. All that research makes me excited. As someone who LOVES astronomy this really appeals to me at a spiritual level :P Plus I would actually understand what’s going on since we actually just studied astronomy.

    (don’t mind me)

    This guest post was AMAZING, Wendy. I had so much fun reading it. I am really glad you shared it.

    • Wendy Darling

      It sounds like you need to read this for sure! I’m interested in space/astronomy as well, although I am very much an amateur and cannot keep facts and figures straight to save my life. I just think it’s fascinating, and I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that we are able to explore it. WE SHOOT PEOPLE INTO SPACE. It is magical.

      And yeah, the rocket scientist thing is cool. He works for a major, major company as well. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post!

    • Wendy Darling

      It’s a great book, but yeah–definitely MG, so maybe not so much up your alley, Rachel. I really enjoyed it, though, it’s hard to find MG that appeals to me-the-adult.

  12. kimbacaffeinate

    I love this trend in MG books. My nieces are this age and total Dr. Who fans thanks in part to Matt Smith, but it has expanded into their reading. I love that you tried to keep it grounded in facts but also opened it up to possibilities. Lovely post and good luck!
    kimbacaffeinate recently posted…The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

    • Wendy Darling

      Yes, we seem to be seeing more MG scifi novels recently. I think this was more well-rounded than the last one I read (The Planet Thieves by Dan Krokos), which I liked but thought could have been better in some ways. This one is more original/inventive as well.

  13. Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

    I loved the SF juveniles by Heinlein as a child, so I am always on the lookout for great MG SF that doesn’t dumb down the language or mess up the science. (I know Heinlein got some things wrong, particularly regarding life on Mars and Venus, but they didn’t really know that at the time he was writing.) Wendy, I’ve rarely disagreed with you on the merits of a book, so if you say this one is both fun and awesome, it’s definitely worth a look. And now that I’ve read Ms. Searles’ discussion of the research she did, I’m sold. She obviously worked to make the science believable and realistic based on current knowledge, and that scores highly in my book. Thank you for the recommendation and for the giveaway!
    Lark @ The Bookwyrm’s Hoard recently posted…Worlds I Would Hate to Live In (Top Ten Tuesday)

    • Wendy Darling

      The research really is such a great basis for the adventure, Lark–great scifi books are often grounded in terrific world-building or research, but it’s also very well integrated into the story here.

      I’m honored you trust me so much, and would love to hear what you think of the book when you get to it!

  14. Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings

    Wendy, you know how picky I am about my science fiction so I absolutely LOVE this post as it reassures me that so much fantastic research has gone into this book. I hope you review it soon as I’m curious to see what you thought of it and whether or not I’d enjoy the story. As far as the actual scientific elements go, though, I’m sold! ;)
    Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings recently posted…Mini-Reviews: Everbound & Evertrue (Everneath, #2 & #3) by Brodi Ashton

    • Wendy Darling

      I think you’d be pleased with the world-building and science in this book for sure, Keertana! I know you don’t read too many middle grade books, but if you’re ever in the mood for one, this is a fun one to try.

    • Wendy Darling

      Ooo Candace, you read lots of middle grade and I bet you’d enjoy this. Oh, and your kids, too, hee hee. It’s got a lot of action to keep your interest, but there’s good characterizations and emotional character arcs, too.

    • Wendy Darling

      I think good scifi is really hard to get right for sure. Not only do you have to have really great world-building, but it has to feel organic to the story and lived in–and this one does all those things.

  15. Julie

    This book would be great for my eleven year old son….although I might sneak a read too!

    • Wendy Darling

      I really, really liked this one, Carina–I’ll be on the lookout to see your reaction, too! Middle grade books that are great for both schoolkids and adults are rare, but every once in awhile a good one comes along. :)

    • Wendy Darling

      This is the PERFECT book to give boys who may not necessarily be into reading. I’m glad you’re going to give it a chance! I hope he enjoys it.

    • Wendy Darling

      I know, right? I was really excited when I read that, and the book did not disappoint. It’s super fun, and feels really grounded in science and tech in a way that is really seamlessly integrated into the story.