“The classic advice to writers is “Write about what you know.” But if you’re a science fiction writer, you often write about what you do not know: things no one has seen, rooted in a body of knowledge no one person can throughly master.” This is the way the book I’ve just finished reading started: enough to grasp my interest, and keep me going. Chances are, it will work the same magic for you.
As somebody with a keen interest in worldbuilding in speculative fiction, I had the occasion to put my hands on a quite famous text for SF writers, The Writer’s Guide to Creating a Science-Fiction Universe by George Ochoa & Jeffrey Osier. I generally stay away from this kind of resources, to tell the truth – I read enough of scientific articles, about space and astrophysics in the first place, not to need a compendium. And yet, I found this book useful, and what’s more, filling a gap: this is because all facts and doctrine are presented from the point of view of a writer, not of a scientist.
The text covers all things you may need for a solid worldbuilding in a fictional SF setting – from galactic civilisations to life supports in space, and with a part about the basics of physics and genetics written for non-scientist and yet maintaining a rigorous approach. I found especially interesting the section about aliens (my favourite SF subject) and the design of planetary systems.
There are only two limitations I could possibly see – one, an unavoidable one: it’s a bit outdated for what concerns recent discoveries about exoplanets and even some details about the Solar System -but the book has been written in the 90s, so nothing strange about it. The second is about future shocks, the last chapter – that is more about social than physical sciences (politics, economics and so on): while it’s well written, I found it oversimplifying a few issues. But, again, I’m a social scientist, so it’s normal I have a more critical view on these points, especially for what concern complex political scenarios (about which I write for a living). These two marginal points don’t detract from a book that is really a useful resources for SF writers, especially because it helps them put the right questions in focus when designing their worlds. This is worth even more than the single facts, that might well change in time (and some of them do).
Final bonus point: The Writer’s Guide to Creating a Science-Fiction Universe is nice and smooth to read, even for pure entertainment – some descriptive parts sound like pages from a (good) SF book. Can you ask for more?