1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Medicine and Sci-Fi: Regarding technological advancement.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Link the Writer, Aug 21, 2012.

    Forgive me if I sound dumb about this. I'm not experienced with the sci-fi genre.

    There's one thing I always had an issue with when I'm playing/watching/reading a sci-fi and it has to do with technology. For examples, we'll use Mass Effect and Star Wars. The problem I have is that when a sci-fi universe professes a highly advanced, technological society, they seem to be backward in certain areas.

    In Mass Effect, they have managed to cure cancer, have mechanical optical implants (I am assuming this is what the Illusive Man has, what with his glowing eyes), and (SPOILER WARNING FOR MASS EFFECT 2) can bring a man/woman back from the dead (END SPOILER WARNING FOR MASS EFFECT 2). Yet, for some odd reason, the pilot of the SSV Normandy, Joker, has brittle bone disease. You expect me to believe that a society that can cure cancer and revive dead people can't seem to figure out how to fix up a genetic disorder like brittle bone disease? Seems to me all Joker would need is augumentations starting when he was a baby, and he'd be able to walk relatively fine.

    In Star Trek, they have Geordi, a blind starship member of the USS Enterprise, and he wears a VISOR around his eyes. OK, cool. But...wouldn't they have invented prothsetic mechanical eyes by this time, so Geordi wouldn't need a VISOR? He could just have implants? If a society could figure out a way to break you down to molecular levels ad warp you to another location...then why is Geordi still wearing a VISOR when he could have mechanical eyes?

    My question is, if you are creating a sci-fi universe that is advanced enough, then how do you explain why they are apparently behind in other areas? If you can have your ship warp from one side of the galaxy to the next, clone people, give out artifical arms and limbs, then surely giving a blind person artificial eyes or curing a man of his brittle bone disease should be easy.

    Am I just making a broad generalization here? Am I just assuming that every little thing in a sci-fi universe demands an explanation?

    Yes, I do sound naive about this, and I apologize. I know it could just simply be to show that even in the future, we may not have perfect health. I posted it because it was something I was thinking about recently and wanted to know what you all thought of it.
     
  2. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    In sci fi, it's whatever you want it to be. That's the beauty of sci fi, you can do realistic sci fi, hard sci fi, fantasy, space opera. The limits you can set on medical advancement is if to you as the author. However, in ME2, the Illusive Man and Miranda, were willing to spend any amount of money to bring CS back, so Joker's condition wasn't high on their lists to achieve..
     
  3. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Hmm...interesting.

    So I can literally just do a sci-fi where anything goes as long as I have a decent explanation for it? I thought you had to be a science whiz to do sci-fi.

    I mean, okay, you have to get the basic science down and all, but aside from that, anything goes? I could, say, do a sci-fi where I have a race of magical beings that can shoot fireballs everywhere? That would be sci-fi fantasy, true?
     
  4. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Nope. You don't have to be a whiz at science to write science fiction. Granted some of the masters were, but it doesn't necessarily mean you need to. As long as you've got a basic grasp of science and common sense you'll be ok. Common sense as being: while my character's use guns while dirt side, you can't use something like that aboard a ship for fear of penetrating the hull, thus the need for an alternative type of weapon.

    However, its still up to your imagination to carry things out. Fireballs would fall into the category of "fantasy" more then "sci fi fantasy," which the best example of is Star Wars.
     
  5. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just because the techology is there, doesn't mean everyone takes advantage of it. In Mass Effect, there is technology that can detect genetic disorders (such as brittle bone) in the womb and fix them. Joker's parents could have taken this route, if they wanted. But, for some reason, they did not. Perhaps they didn't like the idea of messing with their son's genes. Perhaps they wanted a "natural" birth. Perhaps they couldn't afford the treatments. I don't think it was ever explained in the series, but I don't see that as a flaw. This sort of thing happens all the time in real life.
     
  6. idle
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    idle Active Member

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    It all comes down to what you want to write and how much time you spend on it. If you create a big, complex universe, sooner or later you stumble upon problems like this. Some you can deal with, explain them, integrate them into your story. Sometimes if they are not important, you just ignore them, don't mention them and hope that the reader will not wander that far from your storyline when imagining your world.

    And imagine what the world would be like if everything could be fixed. Woudln't everybody be the same? Wouldn't it be a bit too boring for an interesting story? Maybe not, maybe you can write one about those oh-so-perfect people. In other cases, I guess the plot might need some imperfections to be fun enough.
     
  7. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Nice responses!

    Um, what's the difference between regular fantasy and sci-fi fantasy? Is it when there is some science behind the 'fantasy' that makes it sci-fi fantasy?
     
  8. idle
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    idle Active Member

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    I don't know if sci-fi fantasy is strictly defined, but in my opinion it's anything where there are significant components of each genre. Like when you have space travel and different planets, but there's a planet where magic works. It doesn't even have to be explained, you don't need to explain everything (that's even impossible, I'd say).

    I've recently read a story like this, Twilight of the Gods by John Charles Wright. The story took place on a giant spaceship travelling for generations to some distant place, for so long that the people inhabiting it didn't know about it. But it read like fantasy - heroes, a quest for a powerful item, some things they were using were technical but they didn't know how they worked so it was like magic to them.

    That's what I imagine when I think sci-fi fantasy.
     
  9. BBBurke
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    BBBurke Member

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    The key thing in any world is consistency. You get to set the rules and the level of detail, but you need to stick with them. The reader will generally suspend their disbelief and go along for the ride as long as nothing jars them out of it. Star Wars is a good example of SciFi that doesn't explain the technology much at all. Star Trek tries a lot harder. Both work fine. Both have completely ridiculous technology. No one is too upset.

    If you search for technical flaws you can find them anywhere, but most people don't want to look. They'd rather just believe. In your examples, there are easy explanations that people will accept because they want to. If a future society can cure cancer - can everyone afford it? Sure, we might be able to cure everything, but at what price? Problem solved.

    And it's much easier to create an artificial limb than an artificial eye - we already have artificial limbs. Transmitting simple nerve impulses to the brain is easier than the complicated information sent through the optic nerves. And it the later Star Trek movies, Geordi's visor is replaced by eye implants. So the technology he had was improved upon to the point where it became what we would expect.

    We don't really know where technology will go and can't say how one field relates to another. We can currently send people to the moon, but many people on this planet live without electricity. We can use gene therapy to treat cancer but people die of starvation. We can video chat with friends on the other side of the planet, but my toaster still burns my bagels. That's life.
     
  10. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Ah, I see. So I could be thinking too hard about it.

    With the Geordi example, there really doesn't need to be any explanation aside from, "Well, maybe his parents couldn't afford prothesetic eyes, and the VISOR was the next best thing for them." and then, as you mentioned, he may have had enough money to buy the actual eye implants and be rid of the VISOR.

    Readers generally will come up with their own explanation for why certain things are the way they are. That's the thing I need to keep in mind. The readers are not stupid. They can make up an easy explanation for themselves if they can; no need to explain every little detail. That would probably rob them of the chance to imagine for themselves.
     
  11. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Don't forget that science and technology are not the only forces that shape societies. Religion might be a major factor for a great many people. Maybe Geordi was raised in a religious tradition that valued the human body "the way God made it," so his parents never got his eyes fixed even though it might be scientifically possible to fix them. And he follows the same religious teaching. I'm not saying that's the answer the Star Trek creators would have provided, but it is plausible.
     
  12. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    Never played Mass Effect so can't comment on that, However, I am a trekkie and I agree, it always seemed odd to me that Geordi could not have been given some sort of cloned eyes etc when they could wave a wand over someone (dermal regenerator) and fix injuries. But later on in the series they had a diplomat in a wheelchair, and of course loads of strange diseases ignoring the basic problem that most diseases have evolved with their victims so that most alien bugs would not likely be able to harm us.

    While these are all plot devices, there to tell a story, its important to remember that technology does not travel at an even pace across all fields and across all part of asingle field. I mean vaccination has controlled many diseases and even eradicated the Minister of Death - smallpox. But it seems to be largely ineffective against HIV despite the fact that it's also a virus. It also doesn't progress as we expect. Ask any child of the sixties what people would be doing in the 21st century and they would have said flying their cars to work and holidaying on the moon. They would never have imagined the internet or computers in homes.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  13. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    That's another thing that I was curious about. They must have some sort of vaccination booth in the various Federations and Academies, as Picard, Kirk, and Shepard do not get sick from alien viruses they may contract from alien worlds. Also, the aliens must also have their own equivalent, as they don't get sick from our diseases.

    And history has shown us time and time again what happens when a people get exposed to a germ/bacteria/virus that their bodies have absolute no defenese over that would otherwise give us minor annoyance.
     
  14. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    In Star Trek they make a point explaining Geordie's visor. First, the neurological surgery hasn't ben all worked out yet, so because he was blind from birth, they haven't figured how to stimulate the cortex to "see". But then, he does get the opportunity, and refuses anyway (I forget the reason now, but it was personal). Only later, in DS9 or Voyager, or the future, he is seen with eye implants. So it is explained. Neurosurgery isn't necessarily directly proportional in it's advances to engineering and physics.

    Although I agree, the brittle bone disease in your first example sounds poorly thought out. The key with these things is to make sure it makes sense. If it doesn't make sense, or doesn't have scientific basis, it's fantasy, not sci fi.

    ps. With the infections on away missions, they basically separate their "pattern" from any other "pattern" during transport, that way nothing they may have picked up remains in their bodies. Also, they have advanced treatments as well as inoculations, radiation protection injections and force fields to protect against environmental contamination. Quite "fantastical" but still well based in science.
     
  15. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Yeah, the brittle-bone example seemed sorta forced in a "Hey! Let's make a disabled pilot like Geordi from Star Trek!" way. There was no story aspect behind Joker's having this condition, no real reason why he needed to have brittle-bone disease. Either they wanted to copy Geordi, or they needed an excuse as to why he couldn't leave the ship, it was poorly thought out. Especially with the "We can bring back dead people!" thing of ME2.

    It seems to me that in Geordi's case, we were shown why he needed it, and the reason why he couldn't just get eye implants.

    And that was the idea I had to define what was sci-fi from fantasy. If it has science supporting the reasoning, it's sci-fi. If not, its fantasy.

    Like, take my example about people flinging fireballs. If I said that this race got this way due to scientific experiment conducted on them a century ago...that's sci-fi, no?
     
  16. nephlm
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    I read the best difference between science fiction and fantasy recently:

    Fantasy has an internally consistent logic that may or may not adhere with our current understanding of physics, chemistry, etc.

    SciFi has an internally consistent logic that adheres to our current understanding of the laws of physics, chemistry, etc.

    You'll notice that this is a continuum. If you posit wormholes, but otherwise don't break any major laws of physics without explanation, we tend to call it scifi. On the other hand if you regularly ignore conservation of energy it tends to fall toward the fantasy in tech clothing end of the spectrum. If it doesn't have an internally consistent logic it's just bad.

    You're poking at places where internal consistency has broken down. Maybe it is service of the story, maybe due to lack of imagination. Maybe it's from not trusting your audience's imagination (In the mid-80's when next gen came out, maybe the writers didn't think the audience would believe prosthetic eyes). I suspect the whole visor thing comes out moving the tricorder a step further, but I don't know. If you see internal inconsistency in your own scifi or fantasy you need to work to remove it.
     
  17. Dirg
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    Dirg New Member

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    If i recall correctly, Joker chose not to be cured in a snip of dialogue from ME1. (and this is why i LOVE how Mass Effect did their story because you get out of it what you put in)

    But to help with your dilemma, I've found that a partial knowledge of real world science is very helpful, Uh for example, if you've ever seen the movie Trollhunter, Half of the movie you're wondering, well why the hell do trolls explode or turn to stone? It makes no sense! What is this Michael Bay bullcrap?! But they give you a quick 2 minute interview with some lady that explains they can't absorb Vitamin D and turn it into calcium, so when they're exposed to ultra violet light they have a reaction to it that releases gasses in their body and causes an explosion. In older trolls the veins are too constructed to allow such a quick reaction and therefore they turn to stone instead.

    The Newest Deus Ex is another great example. (SPOILER WARNING!) Hugh Darrow, The man who created this whole new robotic renaissance with the merger of biology and technology can't even use his own creations because his genetic design inhibits him from merging with any advanced prosthetics. Causing his body to reject the limb even with the medication people use to control that. (END SPOILER) Simple as that may be, it could always be taken a step further by saying "oh well the nucleic acid in his DNA has a rare mutation that effects the singal strength of his nerves" or something like that.

    Also worth noting is you seem to have forgotten character motivations and moral inhibitions. Even today people would rather turn to a god then to modern medicine, humans will always be human, future or not. Hope this helps :-D
     
  18. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, absolutely, but you need to explain scientific basis for the spontaneous formation of fireballs.

    Once, I need my character to be able to remotely view stuff. I came up with quantum augmentation of his entire nervous system, where neurones became tiny quantum computers. The reason why it needed to be quantum is the "paired particle" principle, which gives the possibility that if you know what one of the pair is doing, you can instantly experience the other. I wont describe all the ins and outs, but the theory behind it was sound, even though nothing of the kind exists (yet). I didn't go into very detailed explanations of it in the book (just crucial terminology and concepts) but it was important for me to work it out, to understand how this was possible, in order to write well about it.
     
  19. DanesDarkLand
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    DanesDarkLand Senior Member

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    I believe in Star Trek The Next Generation that there is a quote to handle your question. Necessity if the mother of all invention. He needed to see, so the visor was created. Diseases crop up, so cures and vaccines are found. People lose limbs, so prosthetic limbs are needed or created. Science Fiction is the same way. If a society needs something, they create or discover a way to make it happen. Warp speed, hyperspace, shields, phasers, torpedoes, or any offensive and defensive system was built with a need in mind. If you have technology you need for your writing, the society must have had a need for it to create it. It doesn't just come out of thin air. Nobody creates something without a reason, but there have been many different discoveries of the 20th century that were "oops" moments, like saran wrap.

    Hope that helps a little.
     
  20. fwc577
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    Well someone kinda hit the nail on the head with Mass Effect and Joker. His disease should have been curable in the womb but it's possible that his parents simply couldn't afford the treatment. He doesn't come off as someone from a rich family and as someone whose had to fight his way to get where he is despite brittle bone disease.

    Also, Mass Effect doesn't take place very far in the future remember. Mass Effect is like the mid 2100's I believe. We find the archive on Mars and it jumps some of our tech advances hundreds of years overnight.

    The hardest thing to write with sci-fi is projecting some of the advances, take Geordi for example. Thanks to his character we now have this (This was inspired by Geordi's character, it isn't mentioned in this article tho)

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-08-13/blind-mice-given-sight-after-device-cracks-retinal-code.html

    By 2015 we should have a VISOR that restores sight.

    If you want to keep your Sci-Fi more inline with how technology is changing/adapting then I suggest you visit Futuretimeline.net
     
  21. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    ^ That's exactly what my problem is. How do I accurately protray tech advances. I mean, take hearing impairment (like I have). Just twenty years ago, we didn't have the tech we do now to effectivly give hearing to those who were stone-cold deaf by bypassing the parts of the ear that didn't work. Now we do, and lots of people are getting them. I think its safe to say that within a few decades, we will pretty much get rid of deafness, just like we're getting closer and closer to getting rid of blindness.

    So, if I had a character in...2241 AD who was stone-deaf, or had hearing impairment, it wouldn't make much sense unless I had the character explain that his/her parents felt it was too much playing God/didn't have the money to get the implants.

    But still, wouldn't they make the tech more readily available in a few decades/centuries? Take cars for example. A hundred years ago, only the rich had them, but now just about everyone on the planet has cars (if they can afford them, mind.)

    I suppose the lesson here is that even if the tech is avaliable, there will still be people who will have their own personal reasons for why they won't use them.
     

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