1. paradigmshiftpc
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    paradigmshiftpc Member

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    Pseudoscience

    Discussion in 'Research' started by paradigmshiftpc, Mar 23, 2014.

    In the novel I'm currently working on (To be named), a technologies mogul is in the midst of creating cutting-edge stuff that would change humans on the same fundamental level that the internet and smart phones did when they became public.

    My protagonist is not particularly big on cybertech or engineering but has above average intelligence. The question is, how much do I have to explain the workings of a specific technology that is, in the real world, very new in it's inception and not near public release? Particularly, the technologies I am thinking a bout are smart paper (just like a tablet but on a sheet of paper) and a specialized type of metal composite whose structure allows it the durability of steel with at least a 60% weight reduction. What kind of explanation do you think the readers of a Crime/Mystery novel would expect for such things?

    More broadly, how much explanation do you need for your science that doesn't exist? I know in sci-fi and fantasy, pseudoscience is acceptable and your explanations can be shoddy at best (star trek anyone?) but, in stories set in the real, contemporary world, what is the common protocol and expectation?

    Further, discuss the use of pseudoscience as a plot device or explanation (IE use in covering plotholes vs establishing setting)
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think you have to explain much at all. Most people don't really care how it works; they just want to know what they can use it for. People drive cars all the time, and most of them don't know much about how they work. People use smart phones, computers, and the internet all the time, and most of them have no clue how they work.

    I think you've just about answered your own question. Smart paper is like a tablet, but it's a sheet of paper. Your metal is like steel, but much lighter. Does the reader really need to know more than that?
     
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  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Imaginary science with plot-hole details not filled in work the vast majority of the time without the details. Readers can suspend a lot of belief.

    A beta reader or a critic might be able to tell you if your technology is or is not credible. (Be careful though, that can be largely personal opinion.)

    BTW, I don't define that as pseudoscience. Pseudoscience is claiming something is supported by scientific evidence when it isn't.
     
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  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, if the concept is in any way supposed to be rooted in actual science and laws of physics, then you'll get readers to call you out on any inconsistencies, but if you write it as sci fi fantasy, or a soft sci fi that really doesn't focus on the technological side, then you really don't need to worry about explaining too much. But anything sci fi will need to be at least loosely based on known science concepts, imo. Surprisingly, a lot of Star Trek is based around known theories and it's inspired quite a bit of technology as well. It has a host of scientist fans and that would not be possible if it was based on shoddy concepts. A better example of fantasy in sci fi setting is Star Wars,
     
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  5. Smoke Z
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    Smoke Z Active Member

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    It might have something to do with how well your character understands how they work. Have they read an explanation, or are they just aware enough to know that it doesn't actually run on magic smoke?

    Maybe you could explore why we don't already have these technologies? Does electronic paper have problems with being crumpled? Maybe it doesn't because they developed conductive silk. The metal could be passed off as some exotic alloy that suddenly became cheap. (Aluminum used to be more expensive than silver because it needed electricity to refine. They recently figured out how to make more damascus steel since the natural source ran out centuries ago.) For a machine that reacts to the hero's presence, maybe society stopped resisting implanted RFID.

    I could imagine this happening, and you can have it... Hero decides to get takeout for dinner between the office and home. He orders it using the internet, his self-driving car knows to detour to the right drive-through on the way, it takes only a few seconds pause at the pickup window because the restaurant automatically scanned his car on the way in and him when he received the order.
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    This thread made me think of James Bond's gadgets and the fact that the inner workings of said gadgets were never explained to viewers/readers. The technology was simply taken for granted. You can take the same approach here.

    By the way, you definitely won't need an explanation for the material you have in mind because such materials already exist. Carbon fiber is one example; it's five times lighter than steel and stronger too.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Absolutely. The reader needs to know how it behaves in relation to the story, but explaining why it works that way will nearly always get you in trouble.

    Even a behavioral description can get you into trouble, if you violate physical laws. There's no help for that other than to remain knowledgeable about the fields of science relevant to your story. It will never be perfect.
     
  8. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    I think in general the less you explain about how fictional science works the better. Say what you need to support your story and stop there. For one thing long explanations can get boring very quickly. Also explanations of non-existent technology can get you in trouble, as others have said, when and if something similar actually becomes real.

    I'm a Star Trek fan but sometimes they say things that make me cringe. On an episode of Enterprise they were traveling to the Klingon home world from Earth---a trip we were told that takes four days. On the same episode Captain Archer mentions in passing that they were moving "300 times faster than light." Thus the Klingon home world is less than 4 light years away which is closer than Alpha Centauri. Ouch.

    The error the writers made was bothering to include the "300 times faster" number. There was no need for it, and it temporarily broke my suspension of disbelief.
     
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  9. fmmarcy
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    fmmarcy Member

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    I'd agree with what has been said. The reader usually doesn't care so much how the technology works, whether it's feasible, etc (it's still fiction, after all) and instead is going to be more interested as to how the technology impacts the characters, daily life, relationships, interactions, and the plot.
     
  10. paradigmshiftpc
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    paradigmshiftpc Member

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    Thanks for all the feedback everyone! You all confirmed what I was kind of expected to be the case but, I wanted to make sure. Lot's of great info and some things I hadn't thought about or KNOWN (star trek). Thanks again!
     

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