1. Gilganjun
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    Gilganjun New Member

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    Sci-Fi & The Importance Of Scientific Accuracy?

    Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Gilganjun, Mar 31, 2016.

    I've seen a few interviews with sci-fi authors recently and many of them seem particularly obsessed with being as scientifically precise as possible. It's almost as if they're directing their work towards an audience of scientists when I believe a decent portion of sci-fi fans aren't actually heavily into science as such.

    And since science fiction is technically "fiction", wouldn't it be just as plausible that the laws of physics, conservation of momentum, particle motion, and so forth, could be entirely re-engineered by the author, perhaps with just a single sentence, to fully support the fictional universe?

    I suppose it boils down to the sub-genre of sci-fi - whether it's real-world based or entirely imaginary. Just wondering if there are more readers who find it appealing if a story incorporates substantial technical details to support the plausibility of the scenario, from a real-world perspective, or if that technical jargon just detracts from the real meat and potatoes of the story (whether the meat and potatoes is from a Star Trek food replicator or not)?
     
  2. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I go by the rule "Plausible but not necessarily possible". The fuck do I know, though. I mostly write dramas or thrillers taking place in reality.
     
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  3. MikeyC
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    MikeyC Member

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    All sci-fi books I find interesting, never deter from the one thing that makes it a good book. A damn good story!

    Plausibility is foremost, I lose interest if a writer makes up physics to suit themselves.

    I am currently working on a sci-fi book, and I am heavily into making the story scientifically correct. Not because I believe it will add to the drama, but because I 'need' it to be believable. That's just me. Makes researching bl**dy hard work though :).

    Rgds

    Mike
     
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  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    You're not wrong about audience, but that audience is split and divided into many camps because there are many different kinds of Science Fiction. It's not just one homogenous thing. There is a great deal of Science Fiction that doesn't contain much tech at all and there is also Science Fiction that I jokingly refer to as "tech porn", where it's nothing but tech. I, for one, am the kind of Science Fiction fan that starts to make this face :bigmeh: when the writer starts waxing rhapsodic about the tech and specs. Stories are about people. It doesn't matter if it's Science Fiction, Romance, Western, Fantasy... Stories are about people. When you make the tech more important than the human drama, I'm out, I'm done. And I am a hardcore Science Fiction fan. I just don't like the "tech porn" side of the genre.
     
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  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I do like tech-oriented hard science fiction, but I think the story still has to be about the people.

    As for the OP, I do think you've got to stay within some broad scientific constraints, otherwise your work becomes indistinguishable from fantasy. That's not to say you can't throw the laws of thermodynamics out the window, but I think you if you that you have to give the reader some plausible basis to hang their hat on, otherwise you might as well just have a wizard conjuring up a fireball because they can. Even common, hypothetical, and ultimately likely mainstays of science fiction have a scientific underpinning that explains why they're there. Take hyperspace, for example. Hyperspace and other FTL are there because of what we know of physics now. You could just as easily say "screw it, my ships just go as fast as I want them to," but now you're in the realm of fantasy. FTL in science fiction tries to stay within the broad confines of physics, and in my view shouldn't employ methods that are outright prohibited by physics. That still leaves a lot of space, including a lot of implausible (but not impossible) space, to play around in when you're writing science fiction.
     
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  6. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    My advise is to just try and make it as believable as possible. Someone is always going to question your research. Try to learn as much as you can before you write your story.
    One chapter I had critiqued someone brought up that is was not possible for an alien race to come from a star system that was 4 light years away. They were correct and I think I had to change it to 12 light years away because this new star system possibly has earth like planets.
    It really depends on the sci/fi geek that is doing the critique. I had about 13 people read it, only one found by bull crap.
    Helped me a lot though. I am a lot better researcher now than before.
     
  7. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    meant to say My instead of by above, sorry, still have the worst grammar ever!
     
  8. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it depends on the sub-genre in which you are writing. Near future science fiction, like that done by Robert Heinlein, I think should stick close to the laws of physics... you can innovate but not renovate. New inventions, breakthroughs, etc. Far future or far away science fiction, like Asimov's "Foundation" series, or Herbert's "Dune", you have the latitude to do whatever you want, as long as the reader can be convinced to suspend belief. In both cases, the story is not about the hardware/software but the people.

    The hardware is the tool they use to get the job done, and can get as much or as little detail as is required. Sometimes the best way to handle "rule-breakers" is as matter-of-fact things that people work with. Scotty's warp drive on Star Trek was treated pretty much as a nineteenth century steam engine on a ship, that occasionally broke down or needed dilithium fuel, and Scotty himself, and his dialogue, would have been quite comfortable in a WWII 600 lb steam plant. "I donno if she's gonna hold, Cap'n. She's givin' all she can give!" "I trust you , Scotty, crank her up another notch anyway." It wasn't until decades later that the story began to speculate on how the drive worked, how it was invented, after Star Trek became a classic. See also a short story by Heinlein, "The Green Hills of Earth," for another example of dealing with a nuclear powered space craft in a very credible way. Again, it was just the power plant that made the ship go, it had safeties and discoveries, but the story was about the blind engineer who fried himself to save the ship.
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2016
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Just out of curiosity, why was that considered not possible? Just because we don't know about a suitable candidate system at the current time?
     
  10. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    My reader pointed out that if you google closest habitable planet I would see that my 4 light years away doesn't jive with what we know today. After researching more I decided on I think it was something 11.9 light years away.
    Seems scientists have a way of measuring distances of what they think are planets from the stars in their system. Believed planets 4 light years away are either too close or too far away to support life as we know it. But, the star, I used TauCeti F, has a mesoplanet that possibly is very earthlike. There are actually three planets around that star that they think can support life. The mesoplanet is closest in temperature to Earth, I think average temp was 0 to 50C. Pretty close to earth.
    Beta readers will definitely make you a better Jeopardy player. My head is full of a lot of useless science information that does not pertain to my story.
     
  11. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    Star is TauCeti, planet is called F, the fifth planet in the system. 5 times bigger than earth. they call it a Super earth. Same orbit as mars from the star.
    God I hate knowing all this. Lol.
     
  12. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, that's what I thought you meant. I guess my view on that is that it doesn't have to be changed. There could be a habitable planet 4 light years away that we don't know about right now, either because we just haven't found it through pure chance, or because there is something that makes it difficult for us to find it. Changing the distance is a good way to fix it, and it's pretty easy to do. I think it could also be approached by providing even a nominal explanation as to why earth scientists didn't discover the planet sooner.
     
  13. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    In this particular case, though, it's less about a planet we've not found and more about the fact that Alpha Centauri is the only star as close as 4 light years. The next closest is Bernard's Star at almost 6 light years.
     
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  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    True. Though if I wanted an alien race to come from four light years anyway, I might just put them in a system that's within a Dyson sphere, so the humans never saw them :D
     
  15. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Well I try to be as accurate as possible. With the exception of artificial gravity, and a few things that I am not quite sure how to explain (to be fair the majority of my characters wouldn't understand the physics behind how some of it works either). At least space still has no sound, and explosions send bits of everything off in all directions. Yes I use a form of FTL, but then again it works for a major battle scene. It is used as a highly technical and choreographed maneuver. As well as some of the Alien tech, that is highly advanced. To be fair though, I have done a ton of technical research on the majority of environments within the made up universe. But isn't Sci-fi tech based Fantasy at the end of the day? We can't all be the next Jules Verne.
     
  16. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    I just have to laugh, you are all right. But there is always that one person. Damm you google!
     
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  17. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    I see your Dyson sphere and raise you a telescope that can image IR wavelengths. Now I've spotted your approaching stealth invasion while it's still years away, and have plenty of time to organize an heroic all-American mission (probably led by Bruce Willis) to go intercept it.

    To answer the OP: This is something I've been struggling with lately. Some of my favorite sci-fi works are of the bonkers variety, where there are like 8 different sorts of physics in the universe (I'm thinking of M. John Harrison here) or the story clearly takes place in a fantastically technologically advanced setting, but that technology is never really explained (maybe Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun is an example of this). But I never seem to want to write that sort of stuff myself--I can't get myself out of the "must create sci-fi of at least medium hardness" mindset. I think there are probably both good and bad reasons for this.

    The bad reason would be because I feel it's just more risky to write the soft stuff, and I don't think I'm up to it. To build a universe that operates on different laws of physics from ours (as you suggest) is pretty painstaking work, and you will probably end up missing a lot of implications that your readers will be left wondering about. The whole "faster-than-light space travel, but no time travel" thing is an example of this. You risk some shoddy world-building and losing the suspension of disbelief, and then you just end up looking silly. You can make up for it, of course, by just telling a good story or having resonant characters (I mean Star Trek and Star Wars are still pretty popular, although they are about as soft as sci-fi can get). In this sense, maybe my adherence to a hard model of sci-fi writing is just a crutch, to avoid having to become better at plot and characterization, etc.

    Then again, of course, sometimes people really do need crutches. I've noticed that, just for me personally, the more rules I put on myself the better I do. This doesn't even have to do with science/reality or whatever--they can be rules like "this chapter has to have at least 3 POV characters" or something similarly arbitrary. But, the laws of physics/chemistry etc. provide an easy ready-made set of rules. It's hard to say why this is, but I think something about being constrained helps people to seek out more creative ideas, just out of necessity.

    These are just my personal thoughts, about what the potential pitfalls/benefits are to each approach--as to what people want to read? I wish I knew. It's not only a matter of stated preference for "hard" vs "soft", but also just how scientifically literate people are and how likely they are to spot and/or care about "mistakes" in your reality, whether you use our reality or one you invented. Although I imagine @Wreybies is right that there's an audience out there for just about anything.
     
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  18. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Exactly. And even when you know these things, if the story is engaging, you can forgive. My favorite example is the xenomorph of the Alien franchise. In the film, it grows from something the size of a ferret to something the size of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in a single day before it ever eats anyone. Conservation of mass out the window. In the novelized version of the story (which came out after the film) an attempt is made to explain this by having the xenomorph raid the crew's food stores before it gets to munching on humans. Still wrong! Even if the creature had all the food in the world, converting that much food into that much alien in a single day blows thermodynamics right out the window. The creature would be a fusion reactor.

    I still freakin' love that franchise with all my heart my soul. ;)
     
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  19. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    This is the first I have heard about the Alien growth thing. I am laughing right now because I never even thought about it. But you are a direct case and point. Someone will find a hole in your story. In the case of Alien, the writer knew he had a great story for the masses so he did not care to explain anything.
    With new writers like myself, I guess confidence forces us to comply to some critiques. If I had the confidence in my story early on, I would not change anything like the Alien guy. But being an new writer, I guess I feel that the reader should be given the benefit of the doubt. I don't change everything that is negative, just negative stuff that I know I did not research good enough.
    Sometimes I want to pull my hair out, but in the end I do learn something and I can make my story make more sense. Seems like every time I try to wing it, even though its fiction, someone calls me on my bull.
     
  20. SethLoki
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    @Wreybies — maybe it's a rehash of...hang on errr...actually what came first, inflation theory or the alien franchise?
     
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  21. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The Alien is actually a creature that evolved to take advantage of string theory. Its body takes advantage of 10-dimensional space. It operates in the normal three spatial and one temporal dimensions, but the other six dimensions not perceptible to human beings basically act as energy resource reservoirs. The creature can now operate without violating the laws of thermodynamics because it is pulling energy out of six additional dimensions and essentially rendering the universe around it an open system for purposes of energy balance.
     
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  22. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    That is way too convoluted. :p
     
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  23. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    Steerpike, if you are not making this up, this is so sad that you know this. LOL.
     
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  24. Simpson17866
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    I don't have anything against the "sci"-fi authors who hand-wave nonsensical "science" (Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Marvel Comics for instance), and I actually love more than a few (Star Trek, Doctor Who and Marvel :cool:), but I absolutely love it when sci-fi authors showcase the sheer super-coolness of real-life physics in ways that nobody knew before.

    Three-dimensional wormholes for example. I've gotten used to the fact that every science-fiction wormhole I'd ever seen had a pair of two-dimensional circular openings - despite the fact that the two ends of a real-life wormhole would be three-dimensional spheres - and I got used to enjoying sci-fi stories that made wormholes look different from the way they would look in real life.

    But I can assure you that the three-dimensional, spherical realistic wormhole in Christopher Nolan's Interstellar was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen in my life :)

    There are exceptions of course, but in general, real life science shouldn't be seen as a homework assignment by sci-fi writers that gets in the way of the story, real life science should be seen as something so beautiful that the writer wants to share it with the readers :D

    If I could share a couple of examples of the science that I tried to include in my own story "Gemini" (granted, my story being a Doctor Who fanfiction meant that there was a lot of really bad science to start with that I had to grandfather in :rolleyes: but I feel I've done a good job of coming up with explanations that make the science better than it originally looked) :

    In general:

    1) People think black holes suck in everything.

    In the real world, the really small black holes churn out a lot more radiation than they take in, engineers one day will build space ships powered by black hole rockets, and one of the main characters in my story is a sentient ship powered by black hole engines.

    2) People today think that people in the future will be as strong as people today.

    In 1915, Norman Taber broke the 1-mile world record of 4 minutes 14.4 seconds, bringing the record down to 4 minutes 12.6. Over the next 40 years, the world record went down a few more times before Roger Bannister finally broke the 4 minute mark in 1954. Over the next 45 years, the record improved even more times, finally settling at 3 minutes 43.13 by Hicham El Guerrouj in 1999. This record has held for the last 15-odd years, but we've clearly gotten better over the last 100 years.

    Captain June Harper, the serial killing villain protagonist of Gemini, was born 3000 years ahead of the rest of us. Two of my other characters are a 25th Century soldier (Damien Mitchell) and a 51st Century civilian (Nathan Durst), both of whom are about as athletically capable as a 21st Century special forces operative, but June Harper used to be 51st Century special forces.

    Damien and Nathan are Badass Normals, but June is a straight up super-villain.

    3) People today debate about whether modern computers will ever gain self-awareness.

    It's not mathematically possible to build binary-based computers that can truly think, but our brains are able to think (some of ours more than others :p) so a biological computer could easily gain the self-awareness that a digital-computer never could. The body of my story's spaceship / time machine is mechanical, but her brain is biological, so she is legitimately her own person.

    Doctor Who specifically:

    4) The Doctor describes the TARDIS as having "12-dimensional" scanners

    This would actually help with the idea of changing the timeline - there's an 1865 "before" you changed something, a 2065 "before" you changed something, an 1865 "after" you changed something, and a 2065 "after" you changed something - but physicists have already looked into the idea of multiple dimensions and 3 space + 1 time is the only combination that makes any kind of sense for life as we know it...

    Unless some of the dimensions are smaller than others :cool: If you look at a power line from a great distance, it appears to be of a single dimensional (forward-backward), but an ant crawling across the line would perceive 2 dimensions: one very large forward-backward dimension, but also a much smaller clockwise-counterclockwise dimension.

    This forms the basis for the Kaluza-Klein theory of extra spacial dimensions in the universe that we cannot physically perceive in our daily lives because we are too large to notice them, and I have decided to interpret the 12-dimensions of the Whoniverse as including a few small dimensions of time in addition to the large one.

    5) A Time Lord can go back and forth between male and female over the course of his/her regenerations.

    We haven't actually met a Time Lord who's been both a man and a woman at different times, but The Doctor has mentioned one of his old friends The Corsair going back and forth a lot when s/he regenerated, and when it was announced that Matt Smith was leaving the show, one of the internet's most popular theories (and the one I was actually hoping for) for his replacement was Helen Mirren ;)

    But the show didn't mention how it would work for a species to do this. In my own story, I decided that my two Time Lord characters would be a genetically identical brother and sister, and I had a line of exposition about June Harper being surprised that Time Lords "started with genes and then shaped them into chromosomes, rather than starting with chromosomes and cutting/pasting genes from each." One of my Beta readers absolutely loved this line because it also went along with the episode "The Doctor's Daughter" where The Tenth Doctor's genetically-identical clone was a woman

    6) The Malmooth - an insectoid-humanoid species - introduce themselves at every opportunity

    We only see one member of this species "Chantho" in the series, and we only see her in one episode, but we do know that her species is that at least one culture had a very specific rule of conversational etiquette:

    "Chan, my name is Chantho, tho."
    "Chantho, are you able to talk without doing that?"
    "Chan, it would be incredibly rude, tho."
    I don't know if all Malmooth societies were supposed to have rules like this or just the one Chantho was from, but I was very pleased with myself for realizing why her society might have that rule: Malmooth are insects, which means that one set of parents gamble on thousands of offspring instead of investing in a single-digit number, which means that there are too many people in any given family for any one person to be able to keep track of everybody else without a lot of help. I don't know if the original writers were trying to do that, but if it was an accident then it was one of the most perfect accidents that I have ever seen in my life :D

    7) Planet of Hats

    Every species that I use has multiple cultures. Even if I don't show more than one specific culture explicitly, I still try to at least bring up the possibility of others: not all Judoon serve as mercenaries for the Shadow Proclamation, some Malmooth might not introduce themselves in the same way as Chantho (or, from the creation of my own mind, Shanjik), even the Dalek Civil War gets a bit of discussion towards the end of Chapter 8.
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2016
  25. Simpson17866
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    Wow. And I thought my "the Alien was nitrogen-based based instead of carbon-based, it absorbed the nitrogen from the air of the ship, and it's blood was nitric acid" idea as a teenager was impressive. This is beautiful :)

    I actually hear this idea in a lot of discussion about shape-shifters like The Hulk, but I can honestly say that I never once thought of applying it to the Alien :p Good for you!
     
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