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Why Getting The Science Right In Science Fiction Is So Important
#1
If anyone sees this occurring on other scifi stories, please post them in this thread. Its informative for the rest of us to know where writers make little mistakes in their novels, so we can be aware of them.
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As I have mentioned to Chris, getting the science as accurately as possible is very important, when writing Science fiction. And really for more than one reason. Getting things right enhances the credibility of the story line. It shows the reader that the novelist is going out of his/her way to research things properly. But also equally important is that years later, the unnecessary mistakes made earlier in one's career will not come back to bite the writer in the 'backside', and embarrass him/her.

Here is a perfect example as to what I mean. I'm currently going through T.R.Harris' "The Human Chronicles", which are also on Amazon, and quite popular from what I have been able to ascertain.

I am on the second of the series, "Alien Assassin", and in chapter 26, there is the following:

"Giodol activated a monitor at the far end of the table. "It's a mining colony, primarily for uranium. Not more than 20,000 beings inhabit the various settlements located underground. The planet has become a disposal dump for spent fuel rods and other nuclear waste material for the sector. It's quite hot in that regard."

Now, today this may not elicit much raised eyebrows. However, in the near future, the reader is going to get a real laugh, at the expense of Mr Harris, for his failure to understand how uranium, fuel, and nuclear waste, is going to be handled.

For one thing, spent fuel rods, if that is how they will be configured, will be recycled. Today, this is possible, in the form of breeder reactors. Why waste good nuclear material, when breeding is the closest thing to getting something for nothing. Even people with an over active sense of entitlement will have no trouble realizing this. Too bad the current Eco-wacko, anti-nukes, folks have managed to force the closing of breeders.

And even with such things as Helium 3, and fusion reactors, I'm pretty certain that fission energy will still be around, because potentially it can be rendered quite safe, and contained within a small package. Energy is still energy, and using lots of energy is going to be the norm in the future.

But here is the reason why Mr. Harris will be embarrassed over his statement. And assuming nuclear fuel is discarded as trash. Why would any civilization bother taking the waste to another planet, which is light years away? I certainly wouldn't, especially since all I would have to do is fire it out of the waste disposal chute and aim it at the nearest sun. That would be cheap, easy, and practical. And easily forgotten.

I know this may seem minor, but one mistake tends to lead to others. Why let inaccuracies cloud a story? All it takes is a proper outlook toward science, and the willingness to remain faithful to it. And thirty years, when some kid contacts the writer, there may not be a need to explain why he/she was not willing to tailor the story around the science, instead of the other way around.
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"INSIDE EVERY PROGRESSIVE IS A TOTALITARIAN SCREAMING TO GET OUT" - David Horowitz

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#2
Agreed. The Harris nuclear dump site idiocy is a fair example.

I've read many SF stories that are trash. Yet many of these poor authors are not fiends or lazy - just victims of their own education and Lalaloopsie upbringing. They don't research on things like Columbus being dissed by the flat-Earth Church, or Carter outlawing nuclear recycling out of sheer stupidity. These are things they learned in school at the feet of equally ignorant teachers, and were reinforced by equally stupid media and entertainment. If you know something, why research it?

This is not just the privy of SF authors, however. Main stream authors are equally guilty of this.

It is truly the mark of a superior author in any genré to understand things more deeply than the superficial level, cut through the BS, and say things that reinforce truth and common sense rather than the incorrect preconceived notions that are out there. An example of this, with a slight spin on it, would be Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, when they wrote the three volumes praising socialism. They rejected common assumptions and developed new ones, proven after the fact to be just as false as the things they rejected. Their works resonated because it was based on feelings rather than hard fact.

The things which are vastly overused, even with good SF authors, are using religion or "disgusting" corporations as the foil. Weber has the Faithful attacking Grayson, and combining with the most godless villains to bring down their foes. Weber also succumbed to this in his Empire of Man series as Roger's greatest antagonists are the Saints (driven by eco-religion). Many authors use "disgusting" corporations as the foil - not realizing the difference between Fascist corporations corrupted by government vs. Free Enterprise corporations which do good by definition. This is endemic, even in children's cartoons. The movie Atavar is a testament to it.
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#3
There's also the requirement that comes first - telling a good story. Science can come second to actually making the story work.

Chris
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#4
There are many facets to good story telling, just as that of the best precious stone. And the more each of those facets approach perfection, the better the entire story. Science fiction is fiction that uses present, and expected future fiction to make the best setting in the future. And if any one of these facets are lacking, it will tend to bring down the overall quality of the general story. That is why it is so important to get the science, in science fiction, as solid as possible.

And tailoring a good story around what is most likely to work not only adds authenticity to the work, but it also tends to keep the story current well into the future. The best science fiction writers are those, whose works are salient many decades into the future, as they are currently. That is how a writer guarantees his/her name for posterity. And other than conquering the problem of putting food on the table, and paying the mortgage, this should be the prime goal of a good writer.

This is why many respected SciFi writers branched out into fantasy, along with their regular writing. This offered them the possibility to play around with subjects that really wouldn't affect their credibility. The list of such writers is too numerous to itemize here.

But again I believe that while writing science fiction, it would be best to do one's best to tailor a story around the science. And its really not that hard to do. A good story is still a good story, regardless whether or not one can zip effortlessly, and instantaneously, from one system to another. Again I will go back to Niven/Pournelle's explanation as to how they created the Mote in G-d's Eye. They came up with a great story line, and then tweaked things to fit the best science they could attain. They made a few changes, based upon the science, but it didn't affect the quality of the story.

Now, in truth, it may take a little bit more work, just to get things right. But its far worth it, to take that extra effort, because the writer is being judged on a full time basis, not only by the readers, but by his/her peers. Remember, there are such things as the Hugo, Nebula, and other awards out there, which add prestige to a budding writer.
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"INSIDE EVERY PROGRESSIVE IS A TOTALITARIAN SCREAMING TO GET OUT" - David Horowitz

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#5
Here is another aspect of getting the science correct. Let's take the idea of harnessing gravity, which may or may not be accomplished in the future. But for story purposes, let's assume it becomes fact.

One thing that will remain a constant is that mass determines gravity. Is everyone with me so far? So, lets assume a ship uses gravity to stabilize 'up-down' aboard ship, there must be some form of pseudo-mass located within a portion of the ship in order to create that gravity. And that is going to bring up other questions/problems needed to be solved, which we can discuss later.

Now, most SciFi writers just assume that each floor, or layer within the ship, can have its own individual gravity field, holding everyone down. But that only works in a utopian environment. And always forgotten is the fact that if gravity is working in one direction, it is also working in the other. It will: so applying gravity to one floor will cause gravity to radiate downward toward the floor below, thus tending to negate the gravity applied to that floor. And so on, and so on. The gravities will tend to cancel each other.

So applying logic to this equation, the only practical solution would be to centralize the synthetic mass/gravity and let it radiate outward toward the outer shell of the ship. And remember, form tends to always follow function. Consequently, ships will tend to be circular, or globular, in shape, allowing for this. The core will have a high degree of sloping, with outer layers tending to straighten out, but never reaching that flat plain.

But there is one other possibility. Lets say the builders created a centralized synthetic mass/gravity, running right down the middle of the ship, and spread out on a flat surface. This would allow for construction of a ship, which was flattened. Half the ship would be set up for the crew to orient themselves one way, and the other half to be 180 degrees the opposite. In other words, one whole ship, but two distinct halves.

I was looking through some novels from "Good Reads" and came across a writer(I forget who) who used the first model. The only problem with this is that everyone would always be walking/looking down continually. It would take a lot of getting used to. But I began thinking about this idea, and it suddenly dawned on me that almost every SciFi writer was getting the 'anti-gravity' issue mixed up. There have to be certain laws of physics, and gravity works through all barriers. It just does, because mass is mass, is mass.............. So, this really needs to be taken into account.

The later example of a pseudo-mass/gravity field splitting a ship right down the middle, still makes sense, if a civilization is to harness gravity. That way the full effect of gravity can be utilized efficiently. The ship can still operate well, and have two different orientations for the crew. Gravity would be greatest at the middle floor, and the further one radiates outward, the more this gravity would dissipate. And getting from one side to the other would be no real problem. The center of the floor would have negligible gravity, especially in the center of the ship. At that location, there would be a tugging force from all directions, including the floor level in all directions. And the closer the opening/access to the outer edge, the less the pull from that floor direction, but still quite workable. There would just need to be a means to move along, and turn one's self in the desired direction.

Am I making sense here? And has anyone seen this applied in any SciFi novel before. I haven't, at least as far as I can remember. But this is going to have to be taken into account, if one is going to be technically accurate.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________
"INSIDE EVERY PROGRESSIVE IS A TOTALITARIAN SCREAMING TO GET OUT" - David Horowitz

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#6
Good thought, but not really decisive logic. Everything hinges upon the idea that "mass determines gravity." That is akin to saying only the sun can produce light, using nuclear fusion. The discovery of fire turned that upside down.

Then there was the Doppler effect: Stand near a train track as a train bears down on you, and the sound waves produce a high-pitched roar. as the train speeds past you, the tone changes to a lower one... "Wheeee...Yoooooo." Yup another Physical law of the Universe discovered - until light waves didn't follow it. Einstein's equations are all borne from the simple fact that the speed of light is the same whether coming toward you or away from you. No Doppler Effect.

Einstein worked for most of his life trying to tie-in all the forces together into one Law that encompassed everything. Now we have string theory and other esoteric ideas that make sense - but are never considered the end-all and be-all, except by the researchers committed to earning their incomes from them.

It makes sense to me that mass is the easiest identifiable factor in gravity - but too many quirks exist to make it a closed affair.

Shine two lights at each other. At the point at which the two beams meet, according to measurement, there is a zone of total darkness. Two sounds meet at silence. Bumblebees can't fly, and no one can talk to a horse, of course.

IOW, the test for good science in SF is whether it is plausible, not whether it is proven. To claim otherwise is to be an Edison in the face of Tesla.

Admittedly, some ideas are less plausible than others - but there is a counter argument, even to that. In George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones, the length of summer and winter is an unsure, unpredictable thing. Within that work, the sun moves through the sky, and other things occur predictably, but there is observable magic in it. As a reader, we can supply our own knowledge and assumptions into the novels' physical laws. Is there anything in the author's mind that he intends to drop on us at some time that explains away any inconsistencies? One could be a companion planet in an erratic orbit that affects weather. Another ties up everything: This planet was Terra-formed and migrated to from our own world, and the technology of the time had discovered mechanically-derived assists to everyday action, like embedded chips in the brains that can recreate themselves in offspring, that can access replication technology still existent, in orbit or in the planet, itself. Such an idea places genetically-engineered dragons into the picture, and seeming-magic out of self-replicating nanites born in each person. Some people may have better-evolved chips than others. Some places may have better replication technology accessed by only some of the chips.

Perhaps over the years, wars, plagues, or other mishaps broke the civilization into barbarism and then into what it is in the books. Maybe, hidden away in Westeros or elsewhere, there are those who have kept the knowledge, for Martin to present at some later volume. It is possible for Martin to take this civilization into the Universe and discover technological Mankind once again - in the same way that Anne McCaffrey did in her Pern adventures?

This is arguably the main reason why fantasy and SF are so irretrievably bound together in Literature. It doesn't take much to throw one into the other category - but the main consideration should always be the skill of the Author and the plausibility of his work. Dhalgren is a prime example of such ideas. Few readers have the patience to be rewarded from trust in the author's skill to bring a satisfying resolution to the story. (500 pages before a plot even suggested itself!)

But, John, I totally agree with you when an author obviously gets the science so wrong at such an infantile level that it makes our hackles raise. ..Like sitting through any Al Gore film, Ward Churchill speech, or Alex Jones program. Such are written for a dull and unlearned audience - with the intent of making them stupider.
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#7
Bill, you are doing a great job of creating a wide sweep of how the universe is supposed to work. But I am discussing gravity, not how the fusion of the sun produces light, along with fire. Please show where I am wrong here, and use gravity, not some other unrelated topic. Otherwise, I will assume I am correct.

And your statement that "fantasy and SF are so irretrievably bound together in Literature" is not correct . Just because Fantasy may have science as a main tenant of its story, does not mean that SciFi has fantasy as a main tenant in its content. One may lead to the other, but the other does not travel in the other direction, as in many other instances.

And why isn't it decisive logic? You were so intent on making a grand tour of the universe that you forgot to be specific.

And please show me a specific instance where gravity is not determined by mass.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________
"INSIDE EVERY PROGRESSIVE IS A TOTALITARIAN SCREAMING TO GET OUT" - David Horowitz

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#8
Ok, that's two years old but that's interresting:

I agree with WmL: Poeple of the future may not use mass or artificial mass to create gravity. If the would, their spaceships would also become artificialy heavy... not a good idea when your goal is to travel FTL...

They won;t do it that way, not more than we are using artificial suns to lit our homes. We are using light bulbs, neon tubes and led. But no one million degree hydrogen fusion.

IMO in ScFi future, there will be compact devices, like tiles or some small coiled magnets hiden inside the double-floor or the deck which will simply attract all kinds of matters uniformly, not only iron.
Or there can be simply one large universal magnet on the bottom side of the vessel. This last solution is more likely because, we all know, decks are made of removable metal grids and empty ventilation corridors.

Artificial gravity is by definition... artificial. It means it's not gravity but it has the same effect: avoid the actors to be moved in complicated weightlessness scenery in case you make a movie out of the novel. As long as it's a book or a comic it's not a problem to describe weightlessness. On a movie, especialy before the advent of digital imagery, it was a serious one. How do you make poeple flying without visible strings and straps? Solution: pretend there is artificial gravity, et voila!
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#9
Fredledlingue dusting off the cobwebs...

As an example of an author (or coalition of authors) that are very specific on how things work that are currently impossible, you only need to read a John Ringo, Travis S. Taylor novel. Through the Looking Glass, Vorpal Blade, Manxome Foe, and Claws That Catch are a series of great hard science books that are far beyond anything practical today, yet are great reading with fun characters.

On the other hand, Sesh Heri writes books based on Tesla. They are less scientific, bordering on the fantastic, but easier to believe than most, just because it's Tesla for God's sake! If there's anyone who epitomizes the impossible being created where every scientist says it's impossible, it is Tesla. Personally, if Tesla thought there was a massless gravity possible, i would tend to believe him.

Once again, I also bring up Dhalgren. Samuel R. Delany is an outrageous author, often compared to James Joyce because of his eccentricities. Editors and publishers put up with nonsense they would never accept from lesser lights, because of the genius of the writer. For 500 pages, it is hard to credit Delany's book as anything but fantasy or soft porn - and then suddenly there is science explaining red eyes, monsters walking down the street, and the wrong number of moons.
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#10
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