Author Topic: Bad science and science fiction  (Read 10671 times)

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Offline DaveTheReader

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Bad science and science fiction
« on: June 22, 2008, 07:56:31 PM »

I just listened to an interview with Phil Plait (bad astronomer) talking about Star Wars. He pointed out some of the rediculous ideas in Star Wars such as Anakin Skywalker fighting with a light saber while floating on a boat on a sea of lava. He would be vaporized in seconds. It is a problem when you know more than the audience the book or movie was intended for.

In my case, computers, the way I make a living.
Robert A. Heinlein wrote a book: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I enjoyed the story, but some of the base premises were ridiculous. There was a colony on the moon and they had 1 computer. I read the rest of the book anyway. It was still an interesting story idea. The computer is important, but not central. It could have been a distributed Wintel network and the story would pretty much have held together the same.
I find that when a writer uses a piece of technology as a central part of the plot, it is unlikely to be revolutionary 50 years in the future. The problem then is, should I be reading 50 year old books or even older?
I have only read a few of Asimov's robot series, because the robots are too central to the story. I don't seem to be able to ignore that. A humanoid robot is an autonomous ambulatory computer shaped like a human. A Mars rover is a is an autonomous ambulatory computer shaped like a what? Of course, most robots aren't humanoid. Computers keep my car running. Is my car a robot? The robots used to make automobiles don't look like humans either, but are generally labeled robots. And my Creative Zen:M mp3 player is a computer. It has a computer, a hard drive, a display device, a battery and a case. They don't look like humans or what we traditionally think of as robots or what we think of as computers.

If I only read the books written in the last 10 or 20 years, I run out of science fiction books. Good sci-fi movies are rare.
There are old, sometimes dead, writers who were able to avoid the problem. For example, Philip K Dick has a fair bit of technology in his stories, yet stories written in the 1960's are still good stories. The movie Truman Show seems to have gotten its base ideas from Dick's A Joint Out of Time. And of course there is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Bladerunner), Minority Report, Paycheck and A Scanner Darkly to name a few.

Slightly off the topic of books:
I am watching the new Battlestar Galactica series on DVD. Problems: the vipers make sounds as they travel through space. The pilots, who are flying in the dark, have lights shining in their faces. They would be completely blinded. In reality, you make the cockpit as dark as possible for at least 15 minutes before launch. You shine red light on the instrument panel so that it won't destroy your night vision. It takes about 15 minutes to be fairly dark adapted. About 90 minutes for maximim dark adaptation. I suspect that many people in the US are not actualy aware of dark adaptation. They even use night-lights at home.  Farmers and pilots are a few of the exceptions.
BSG is filled with robots, the Cylon. Some very nice looking robots, but robots none the less. Chrome toasters in the old series?

Dr. Who is completely rediculous, but my favorite sci-fi series. It is out on a BBC book series - I have 2 of the books.
Arthur C. Clarke's 20XX series was quite good and the movies were pretty good as well, without getting too crazy with fantasy.
The difference between science fiction and fantasy. Faster-than-light is fantasy. Sleeping on the way to Jupiter is more future science.

I guess that a complete purist wouldn't be able to read many science fiction books or watch many science fiction movies.

Offline Kurt

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Re: Bad science and science fiction
« Reply #1 on: June 22, 2008, 08:27:58 PM »


Kidding, but only just barely. You really need to approach a book with the context of the time and place it was written in mind. Without doing so, as well as remembering artistic license and suspension of disbelief, nothing in the realm of scifi will be enjoyable. Most authors tried to keep what they wrote scientifically plausible within the understanding of science available to them at the time. Remember though, that "fi" part of "scifi" is there for a reason.
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Offline bjza

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Re: Bad science and science fiction
« Reply #2 on: June 22, 2008, 11:33:47 PM »
I understand trying to enjoy things as a product of their time, but it still seems odd to me from my perspective here in the future that at one time sci-fi writers could easily imagine a robot in every home, a spaceship in every garage, but only one computer per city/colony.

The humanoid robot thing also bothers me, but moreso when the robots think like humans. I've only continued watching BSG because of the writing otherwise and the hope that the re-imagined and all-too-human Cylons have a forthcoming explanation.

But Dr Who is supposed to be ridiculous.

Offline pandamonium

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Re: Bad science and science fiction
« Reply #3 on: June 23, 2008, 12:17:30 AM »
see, the thing about any science fiction that you read is, it's the author's thoughts on society and technology's impact on society.  it's best not to take their predictions too seriously.    it's really hard to swallow the science, sure, but if you keep it in mind that it's not real, it can be a hoot.  and like kurt said, it's science fiction, not science fact.
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Offline MisterMarc

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Re: Bad science and science fiction
« Reply #4 on: June 23, 2008, 02:13:34 AM »


Kidding, but only just barely. You really need to approach a book with the context of the time and place it was written in mind. Without doing so, as well as remembering artistic license and suspension of disbelief, nothing in the realm of scifi will be enjoyable. Most authors tried to keep what they wrote scientifically plausible within the understanding of science available to them at the time. Remember though, that "fi" part of "scifi" is there for a reason.

So true.

I think Science Fiction literature should be judged based on how it uses technology or it's "fictional science" to tell a story or address an issue. It's not about fore-guessing technological advancements, but about using ideas about technology to raise thoughts about ourselves. Examples would be Asimov's robot series, and Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which both address human moral issues through fictional scientific advances.

Though, I would grant that it's cool when people guess it right years ahead of time.

Offline Kurt

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Re: Bad science and science fiction
« Reply #5 on: June 23, 2008, 06:00:28 AM »
If anyone is interested in scifi and its roots, i recommend the following:

http://www.amazon.com/Modern-Scholar-Exploration-Literature~-Audiocassettes/dp/1419388754
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Offline Zookster

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Re: Bad science and science fiction
« Reply #6 on: June 23, 2008, 06:53:12 AM »
If anyone is interested in scifi and its roots, i recommend the following:

http://www.amazon.com/Modern-Scholar-Exploration-Literature~-Audiocassettes/dp/1419388754

Hey Kurt, as a big Sci-fi fan, have you read Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan?  Not having met you I cannot be sure, but I absolutely loved that book, and also the others from Morgan, and I think you would....
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Offline carrotflowers

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Re: Bad science and science fiction
« Reply #7 on: June 23, 2008, 11:35:44 AM »
BSG series creator Ron Moore actually noted in one of the episode podcasts that he had the lights shining on pilots' purely for a visual effect, despite the fact that it was unrealistic and impractical for pilots to have lights shining on their faces. He thinks it's purty.
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Offline musteion

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Re: Bad science and science fiction
« Reply #8 on: June 23, 2008, 11:52:38 AM »
see, the thing about any science fiction that you read is, it's the author's thoughts on society and technology's impact on society.  it's best not to take their predictions too seriously.    it's really hard to swallow the science, sure, but if you keep it in mind that it's not real, it can be a hoot.  and like kurt said, it's science fiction, not science fact.

Yes.  Although sci-fi has been rather prescient at times, I don't think that's the purpose of it. Sci-fi is all about the ideas... the big "what if's" of our day. I think it's supposed to say more about now than later.

Offline DaveTheReader

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Re: Bad science and science fiction
« Reply #9 on: June 23, 2008, 03:50:29 PM »
BSG series creator Ron Moore actually noted in one of the episode podcasts that he had the lights shining on pilots' purely for a visual effect, despite the fact that it was unrealistic and impractical for pilots to have lights shining on their faces. He thinks it's purty.
As a pilot, I find it very disconcerting to see a blinded pilot flying a plane. I watched an episode from season 2 last night. The pilot, the driver, was blinded by the light shining in her face, while the passenger sitting next to her did not have a light shining in his face. The astronauts walking on the moon didn't have lights shining in their faces. I guess that you put the good and the bad on a balance scale and decide whether to continue watching. So far, I am still watching. The Cylons are pretty good.

Offline DaveTheReader

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Re: Bad science and science fiction
« Reply #10 on: June 23, 2008, 03:53:55 PM »
see, the thing about any science fiction that you read is, it's the author's thoughts on society and technology's impact on society.  it's best not to take their predictions too seriously.    it's really hard to swallow the science, sure, but if you keep it in mind that it's not real, it can be a hoot.  and like kurt said, it's science fiction, not science fact.

Yes.  Although sci-fi has been rather prescient at times, I don't think that's the purpose of it. Sci-fi is all about the ideas... the big "what if's" of our day. I think it's supposed to say more about now than later.
When the author or director gets many of the details wrong, doesn't that make you a bit suspicious about the big ideas?
Which brings back the question about whether there is much value in reading 50 year old science fiction?

Offline roger

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Re: Bad science and science fiction
« Reply #11 on: June 23, 2008, 03:56:44 PM »
BSG series creator Ron Moore actually noted in one of the episode podcasts that he had the lights shining on pilots' purely for a visual effect, despite the fact that it was unrealistic and impractical for pilots to have lights shining on their faces. He thinks it's purty.
As a pilot, I find it very disconcerting to see a blinded pilot flying a plane. I watched an episode from season 2 last night. The pilot, the driver, was blinded by the light shining in her face, while the passenger sitting next to her did not have a light shining in his face. The astronauts walking on the moon didn't have lights shining in their faces. I guess that you put the good and the bad on a balance scale and decide whether to continue watching. So far, I am still watching. The Cylons are pretty good.


Watching a black screen wouldn't be all that great. 

The X-Files had a similar conundrum when they were always walking through dark tunnels and rooms.  The solution: the actors would shine their flashlights at careful placed balls of aluminum foil to suddenly light up the actors face now and then.
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Offline DaveTheReader

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Re: Bad science and science fiction
« Reply #12 on: June 23, 2008, 03:57:26 PM »
Maybe that is why bookstores typically group science fiction and fantasy together.

Offline roger

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Re: Bad science and science fiction
« Reply #13 on: June 23, 2008, 03:58:00 PM »
see, the thing about any science fiction that you read is, it's the author's thoughts on society and technology's impact on society.  it's best not to take their predictions too seriously.    it's really hard to swallow the science, sure, but if you keep it in mind that it's not real, it can be a hoot.  and like kurt said, it's science fiction, not science fact.

Yes.  Although sci-fi has been rather prescient at times, I don't think that's the purpose of it. Sci-fi is all about the ideas... the big "what if's" of our day. I think it's supposed to say more about now than later.
When the author or director gets many of the details wrong, doesn't that make you a bit suspicious about the big ideas?
Which brings back the question about whether there is much value in reading 50 year old science fiction?


Only if you are trying to learn your science from scifi.  I read Ray Bradbury for the stories, I read Phil Plait to learn about Mars.

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Offline Kurt

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Re: Bad science and science fiction
« Reply #14 on: June 23, 2008, 04:11:42 PM »
If anyone is interested in scifi and its roots, i recommend the following:

http://www.amazon.com/Modern-Scholar-Exploration-Literature~-Audiocassettes/dp/1419388754

Hey Kurt, as a big Sci-fi fan, have you read Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan?  Not having met you I cannot be sure, but I absolutely loved that book, and also the others from Morgan, and I think you would....

I have not read it. I will add it to my library requests, thanks :)
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