1. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    How much realism is required in sci-fi?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by doggiedude, May 19, 2016.

    I had two people in my critique group complain to me that the basic theme of my story has no basis in reality. I didn't really plan on everything being realistic. Plenty of sci-fi stories use insanely implausible plot devices. From what I've run across, the more people can understand some fictional thing the more they get upset over the plot holes.
    They have no problem with my story having humans create miniature stars as power sources for the ships, but they won't accept the problems I've created for the Earth's environment.
    I spent most of last night tracking down scientists working in the fields of geology and climate change, and sending them emails to get their opinions.
    The only real requirement to drive the story is a world where the Earth's human-friendly environment is collapsing, forcing the government to remove a large portion of the population from the Earth.
    The way the story is set up now, climate change has triggered the planet to go into an unstable period of tectonic shifts causing massive earthquakes, volcano eruptions, and floods. They intend on returning to Earth about 5000 years later after the unstable period has passed and the environment recovers.

    They argued that:
    1) Climate change wouldn't cause this problem to begin with. (Although, I got the impression that the two people didn't really accept any climate change argument currently going on.)

    2) Tectonic shifts happen over hundreds of thousands of years, not in compressed fifty-year blocks.
    (I have no idea what they meant by that. An earthquake is generally caused by some type of shift. My story is only saying that it's happening more frequently.)

    3) They insisted it would take a million years for the Earth to recover from any sort of collapsed environment.

    I'm not sure how much the average reader would even care about any of this. The story is about the people living in this world, and plenty of fiction has impossible things happening.

    Any opinions?
     
  2. Mumble Bee
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    Mumble Bee The writer formerly known as Chained. Contributor

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    It's all about lamp shading.

    "Climate change shouldn't cause this type of problem to begin with!"
    "Yeah, okay, you keep thinking that as your world literally catches on fire. Me on the other hand, i'm going to go keep on living outside of a state of denial."


    "Tectonic shifts don't happen like this, they take thousands of years!"
    "yeah, it took thousands of years for one continent to turn into 7, know what didn't take thousands of years? My house being torn to shreds."

    "Why would we even try and go back to earth, wouldn't it take like a million years for it to be livable again?"
    "What do you thinks easier, fixing the earth, changing mars completely, or living on a god damned ship for a thousand years? Do you even know what kind of radiation we're getting right now? I don't care if i have to live in a bubble, i'm going back."
     
  3. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not sure I'd use climate change as the reason why the earth is going to hell in a handcart, but we've seen enough natural catastrophes over the last decade to support the suggestion that things are getting worse.
    I don't believe that climate change would cause earthquakes. But. If climate change is serious enough, we could end up with things like the Gulf stream being diverted, I don't know what that would do...

    Movements in the tectonic plates are at a speed of a mile every hundred thousand years or so. But if the earth beneath my house moved by as much as a foot, it would probably screw up my foundations. Earthquakes are caused by small, but very jerky, movements.

    We don't have a lot of experience upon which to base such an assertion. But, the "nuclear winter" that followed Krakatoa only lasted for a couple of years.
     
  4. newjerseyrunner
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    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member

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    Climate change is a matter of energy balance. The earth receives X amount of energy and certain chemicals hold energy better than others. This can wreak havoc on a planet's environment in long term. The last time Earth had a huge jump in CO2, it killed almost all life on Earth, it was called the Permian Extinction.

    The amount of extra energy that can be trapped by the sun is nothing compared to the powers that control seismic events. Most of the extra energy ends up getting stuck in the oceans. It's usually actually the other way around. During the Permian, cataclysmic eruptions in Siberia destabilized the climate. The climate is many many orders of magnitude more volatile than the Earth itself. There is no way to put enough energy into the system to heat the Earth itself, the mantle is hot enough that rock oozes like water, a handful of degrees in the air and water around it is nothing compared to that. It'd be like trying to melt a steel ball by putting it in water and trying to boil the water hotter.

    Tectonic activity would also not affect the majority of land on Earth. Even if something did cause a massive increase in energy in the mantle (which the sun can't ever do) all of that energy would follow the path of lease resistance: the existing fault lines.

    Climate change could easily make our planet uninhabitable over long periods of time, the most dramatic thing will be how water moves around the planet. Humans actually evolved specifically due to climate change: the lush forest our ancestors lived in gave way to grassland as the climate of Africa dried. I would think the easiest way for climate shift to make our planet completely unlivable would be causing human beings to fight major wars over waterways. A handful of nuclear wars would certainly do more than the climate can (at least in a compressed timescale.) The US military has predicted that as the climate gets worse, global violence will also get worse. China has already started buying huge plots of land in Africa, based on predictions that it's own farmland will become less productive as they dry out.

    The climate could tip in disastrous ways, we're already seeing it's affects and they're going to get worse. But true devastation is spread out over a long period of time. If you lived during the Permian, you would not know that almost everything on Earth was slowly dying, and that was very fast in geological terms.
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2016
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  5. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    I don't get into the details in the story, but I'm basing the whole tectonic shift thing on a theory someone else developed.
    The oceans move in a regular pattern because of something called a sodium pump. Salt water of one concentration moving toward a different concentration. As the ice caps release more fresh water into the oceans, that system is screwed with causing the water to flow in new directions.
    Now imagine all that water pushing in the same direction over a tectonic plate for millions of years. When the water changes direction, all that pressure shifts, causing instability.

    My only real concern with any of this is the ability for the reader to enjoy the story without getting upset over the improbability of it all. When I read a story about ships traveling faster than light or jumping through stable wormholes, I accept the situation. If the story has people traveling millions of light years and easily finding a planet they can live on, I don't care how unbelievable that is.

    It just seems to me that when people can relate to the science in Sci-fi, they want to pick apart the faults.
     
  6. newjerseyrunner
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    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member

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    If you want tectonic activity, that'll work just fine, that could completely devastate the planet. Trying to link it to climate change just won't work. Plates are not pushed by the water moving across them, the amount of force applied by water moving across the surface is infinitesimal compared to the forces applied to them by the thousands of miles of churning mantle. Nothing that happens to the surface of the planet will have any affect on what's going on inside and tectonic activity comes from the mantle.
     
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  7. KokoN
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    KokoN Active Member

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    The answer to your question is: None. No realism is "required" in science fiction. (Side note, I learned this fact from reading Dune. :p) There are many different types of science fiction. Some are very realistic and some are only somewhat realistic. If they were 100% realistic then it would no longer be science fiction, but rather realistic fiction.

    So what you need to do is decide how much realism you want and how much you want to make up and then just roll with it. If plot points are annoying a lot of your target audience though then maybe consider changing something. But overall it's your decision.
     
  8. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    I'm with newjerseyrunner. It is hard for me to swallow the idea that climate change can affect tectonic plates. I usually am very generous to authors when it comes to suspension of disbelief because I like to be taken into the realms of fantasy. Your premise is really stretching it.

    An easy solution would be human invented new mining techniques to get at uranium (maybe to power those little mini-stars) oil, or some other new substance that is critical in the future. Maybe they use nukes to do it. Maybe technology grows so powerful that they tap into the power of seafloor spreading itself.

    This, while far-fetched, is more believable to me than the idea that climate change can cause tectonic shifts.
    We can imagine humanity creating and harnessing the power of mini-stars because there is no inherent known contradiction. I could imagine it happening given the proper technology.
     
  9. Iain Aschendale
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    Iain Aschendale Contributed Member Contributor

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    There is kind of an "uncanny valley" effect with scientfic realism in SF. Tell me that you have laser swords, faster than light travel with no relativistic effects, and spooky action at a distance in the form of choking people, and I'll buy a bucket of popcorn, but tell me that everything I know about the world is correct, except that it's hollow, and I'm going to have problems.

    Unfortunately, your tectonic problems caused by climate change fall into the latter category. Someone said that if you scaled the Earth down to the size of a billiard ball, the billiard ball would be rougher than the planet.

    However, you could use a volcano to help trigger some pretty serious and long lasting changes. Put one under Antarctica, have it pop its cap and dump a large portion of ice into the sea and you can get something like 20-25 foot sea level rises. Chuck in some runaway greenhouse effects and, while you don't have Waterworld, you've got a plausible reason to take a planetary holiday for a few thousand years.
     
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  10. Gareth MH
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    Gareth MH Member

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    From what I remember of your story one of the things that was happening was that Australia and New Zealand were submerging under the ocean. And as Iain Aschendale said there does seem to be an uncanny valley as far as science fiction goes. For whatever reason when i read you prologue it fell into that zone for me.

    However there is possibly an alternative that might be helpful to your story. Climate change absolutely would make Australia and possibly New Zealand completely uninhabitable. Australia gets little enough rain fall as it is and with climate change its only getting worse. There are farmers that have had to move their operations from Queensland (north eastern state) to Tasmania (southern island) because they're getting less and less rain fall in Queensland and its making it hard to raise cattle. Those are changes that have happened in the last 30-40 years.

    If you extrapolated that for another few hundred years and you'd have a continent that couldn't grow its own food and had no fresh water. Which would make it pretty much uninhabitable and it may serve the same purpose in your story. I don't know how much the continents being submerged played into your plot but hopefully this helps.
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't really have an issue with the planet going into a tantrum; my issue would be with the response to it.

    Five thousand years just waiting and hoping seems awfully passive. Why not look for another planet? Why not build massive aircraft-carrier-like boats that would live on the waters from the floods? Why not...well, it seems to me that there are a lot of options.

    And how could they be so sure that the planet would ever be habitable again? Humanity depends on a fairly specific range of temperature, etc., and the planet might not stabilize on that range.
     
  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I am no scientist, but I read sci-fi (as opposed to fantasy) as something that either could or possibly will happen. If an aspect of that strikes me as impossible, I probably wouldn't want to read it. Faster-than-light travel in the future might well be feasible. All it would take would be some kind of breakthrough, or discovery of some scientific principle we haven't discovered yet. However, when you start positing things like the amount of time it takes for tectonic shifts to cause earthquakes, etc, I might not be convinced if what you have said contradicts what we know about these things. Unless you can come up with some reason why we've been wrong about how this kind of phenomenon works, I'd probably not be convinced.

    I understand from your plot synopsis that you need something to gradually destroy the environment? Something that is gradual enough for people to recognise the problem and get ready for it, to the extent that they can go off planet and establish lives?

    Here is something you might consider. What if scientists with their massive telescopes, discover an asteroid field that is heading straight for earth? However, it won't get 'here' for a couple hundred years, so there is/has been time to accelerate ways of dealing with it. Because it's an asteroid field, and the danger will be getting hit by many of them at one time, it will be impossible to rely on an anti-asteroid device to simply divert a single object. Of course asteroid collisions will devastate life as we know it, but will also allow eventual return, and probably will allow for life to re-emerge. You might even be able to leave some people on earth as well, which could prove very interesting 5000 years down the line.

    Anyway ...just thinking here....
     
  13. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    This wouldn't bother me. I'd accept, for the novel, that all this had happened the way the novel said it has. And I'm a big sci-fi reader.

    You could have Yellowstone blow, or about to blow? We'd need to get off the earth pretty damn quick if that happened.
     
  14. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    Building ships to find another planet is also a main part of the story. They've already been doing that for decades but not enough time has gone by for them to have heard back from any of the ships.

    Ships on water wouldn't help. It's not just flooding. The atmosphere is poisoned. As for the planet returning to a liveable state, that's one of the issues thery're dealing with.

    The governement doesn't start this project telling the world everyone is about to die. They aren't certain about everything and that would cause mass panic. The government announces the project as - people to be put in cryostaisis in space while they continue to build colony ships. Those people will eventually go off to search for planets. As time goes by in the story and the project progresses the population starts to find out the truth.

    Part of the story is dedicated to the politics of who gets to go and who doesn't OR who is forced to go and who doesn't. Obviously not everyone belives this bloated government project is necessary. So plenty of people are viewing the people going, as sacrificial lambs being removed from the population.
     
  15. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    Maybe have some kind of meteor hit in Russia or something. This would definitely cause major shifts and volcanic activity. The pollution from all the volcanoes erupting would definitely poison the atmosphere. Some one also mentioned Krakatoa, if that blows again, some say now that it would be an extinction level event.
    Climate change could cause a lot of what you want happening, but I think the readers might be right in that it wouldn't be so drastic.
    If you go with climate, some will be ok, some will question it. No one can go against sudden volcanic eruptions.
     
  16. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    The mining idea is also a good one. This would definitely increase volcanic activity.
     
  17. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, I brought up Krakatoa, but extinction level? I only mentioned a "nuclear winter" effect of a couple of years. I see no reason why it would cause more extinction now than a couple of centuries ago (more human casualties, perhaps, but only because there are now so many more of us to become casualties).

    As for just how devastating (230 times bigger than Krakatoa) a volcano could be: http://www.livescience.com/29130-toba-supervolcano-effects.html
     
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  18. newjerseyrunner
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    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member

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    Only if it were on colossal scales. Like hollowing out entire continents kind of scale.

    There have been five major extinction events in Earth's past, I'd recommend looking at the causes of them. Nothing you've mentioned even comes close to the destructive power of these events.

    I think a nuclear winter would more likely be a result of humans fighting for resources in a ravaged world than the world ravaging event itself.
     
  19. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    The eruption of Krakatoa would be the catalyst. Krakatoa itself wouldn't bring us down. With the size of it now, and the speculated pressure it would build up would be 100's of times more powerful than what happened in the 1800's. This would cause most of the volcano's in the pacific to erupt and then its game over. Should have explained that a little better earlier.
     
  20. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    @doggiedude, could you find a way to blame it all on Justin Bieber?
     
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  21. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    Now you're just picking on me. Did you hack my Google Doc account?

    From my WIP:
    Many politicians wanted to name the Arks after famous individuals from the near past, other groups wanted the names to be of the old Greek and Roman god variety, and still more wanted the names to reflect certain ideals. There was even a public naming contest and vote where the winner had been “Bieber” which was the name of an ancient musician and founder of the Bieber religion. Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, the WG canceled the contest when the agency running it discovered that hackers rigged the vote.
     
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  22. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I want a signed copy of this :D
     
  23. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    I was close to naming one of the Arks -- Arky McArkface.
     
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  24. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    Yeah, its an option. But the Bieber effect is being used so much and is so cliché.
     
  25. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Though I agree with everyone else that climate change doesn't cause tectonic shift (but tectonic shift can very much trigger climate change), I think the problem here is that the question you are asking in this thread is not the right question.

    How much realism is required in Sci-Fi?

    vs.

    How close can I get to or how much of a currently politicized talking point can I include in my Sci-Fi story before the ability of the reader to critique the story is overwhelmed by his/her need to pontificate his/her POV on said currently politicized talking point.

    The answer: Not very close/not very much at all for some folks, regardless of their stance. All that's required is that they have a stance for the derail to occur.
     
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