1. Jetshroom
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    Jetshroom Member

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    Scientific Accuracy

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Jetshroom, Nov 4, 2011.

    Participants in the Sci-Fi workshop might know I'm writing a short story there, and I've come up against some interesting thoughts.

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    Space travel, specifically zero gravity, has a detrimental effect on the human body. This fascinated me since it's not something I've
    seen addressed in a lot of Sci-Fi movies. (They've all got gravity.)

    Now there's a lot of places in my story where I want to put little scientifically relevant bits like this. Aerodynamics for example. And
    I was just wondering, (if there's any sci-fi writers) how far you're comfortable stretching the bounds of science?
    Do you go for faster than light travel? Warp Speed? Wormholes?
    Do you have gravity machines?
    Does your protagonist make sweet sweet love to every alien female he comes across regardless of physical attributes or feasibility?
  2. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Member

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    Not very far.

    Not unexplained.

    I'm ok with that.

    Gravity is a complex female dog to deal with. I wouldn't try without an extensive investigation in its physics..


    No.
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Supporter Contributor

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    minimally...

    my space shuttle might have... didn't feel the need to be that specific...

    not noticably...

    no... for one thing, my protag in 'sons of adam' was a woman... for another, she was a widow who'd loved her husband... and she was the ship's commander, an admiral of the fleet who was captured along with the surviving members of her crew and passengers, so whatever she was subsequently subjected to was light years away from 'sweet, sweet love'... that is, until.................
  4. Jetshroom
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    Jetshroom Member

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    You could quite easily translate that to be relevant to your protagonist. Though I'm assuming your space lady wasn't charging around making love to anything with an erect probiscus.
  5. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Supporter Contributor

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    Accuracy in SF tends to vary enormously. You have your "hard SF", which tends towards the literalistic and accurate spectrum. Then you have "soft SF" of the like of Star Trek, etc, where you can just make up whatever you like to suit your needs.

    The thing to remember is that this is a story you're writing; it needs to entertain the reader. This can become problematic at either end of the spectrum: sometimes your relentless accuracy can starve imagination and excitement and bore the reader, or sometimes your playing fast and loose with scientific rules can stretch the bounds of believability too far.

    Space travel is one example. FTL (faster than light) travel is possible in many works of SF simply because it is needed to make the story possible, and usually through such ambiguous concepts as "hyperspace" and "warp drive". But some of the best SF works try to engage with this in a more imaginative way. The Recollection by Gareth L. Powell (which I recently read) was just such a novel. In it, instantaneous travel between worlds was possible, but what was instantaneous to the traveller took objectively the length of time that it would take to travel between the points at the speed of light. It served the story perfectly, and opened up a world of "what ifs".

    So how far can you stretch accuracy? As far as fits with the story you're writing. If you want to write a story with zero-gravity and look at the effects of weightlessness on people, then go for it. I think it sounds pretty interesting. But don't forget that you're writing a story, to entertain, not an academic article. If you need to stretch reality in order for the story to make sense and to "work", then don't be afraid to.
  6. urban_rae
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    urban_rae New Member

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    I am fascinated with this concept as well, it is something that I address in my sci-fi novel scenario. I had a professor who was an astronaut and his accounts of the affects of gravity, or lack of gravity, were eye opening. What I found most interesting was how the body must reacclimatize to earth's gravity after extended periods of weightlessness. There is nausea, dizziness, and coordination issues, among other short term side affects, such as muscle loss and bone deterioration (which I heard can be painful). It takes quite a toll on the body.

    Humans need gravity. If you have a scenario with extended bouts in space, then you will theoretically need some sort of gravitational device. But in some cases you don't need to explain this concept directly, the readers will assume it. If you do want to address it directly, you don't have to reinvent physics to explain the technology, it is enough to say that the technology exists and the reader will use their own imagination to make it work.
  7. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Member

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    I just want to point out that there are a lot of times in pop culture movies/TV/books where science is stretched to make the product better. If you have ever watched mythbusters, this should be obvious. And it's not just visual stuff like "that explosion wouldn't have looked like that" that wouldn't translate to books.

    http://mythbustersresults.com/special9
    http://www.alltopmovies.net/myth-busted/

    I've included two links to illustrate my point. There are a lot of gun and car "myths" that turned out not to be true. They try to use guns to explode propane tanks, gas tanks, locks... none of them are generally true. The car myths include stuff like the Dukes of Hazard jumps and in Speed the bus jumping the overpass gap. Things that people probably already thought were impossible before they appeared on the show.

    The point being, you can get away with the small scientific things and attribute it to artistic license as long it's not just completely crazy.
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Member Supporter Contributor

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    If I want to write about astronauts exploring a planet of a distant star system, and Einstein tells me "You can't write that story because your astronauts can't get there according to the laws of physics", then I will tell Einstein to shut up and I will write my story anyway. I will still call it science fiction, even if it's technically fantasy. I'll be mostly scientifically accurate, but I'll allow faster-than-light travel because I need it to get my characters where they need to be for the story to take place. I don't think that should be controversial.

    So I'll stretch science wherever I feel that I need to in order to get the story told. I grew up reading science fiction and I want the same right to write it that Clarke, Heinlein, and Asimov had. Whatever needs to be stretched, gets stretched.
  9. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Member

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    It's not Einstein and it's not a statement. It's your reader and it's a question (albeit a long and multipart one): "If they can be there faster than light, they can travel in time? As they're both one and the same. So why doesn't your character use that possibility to solve the conflict? If he simply doesn't understand it, can't he find a physicist around to help him?
    If he can travel FTL and not in time, the very fabric of spacetime works differently than in our universe. Are there any other such changes I should be aware of?

    Unless it's fantasy, in which case that hipothetical reader should be ignored.
  10. art
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    art Senior Member Contributor

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    Perhaps wise to keep in mind that for 'scientific accuracy' read 'that which does not subvert or contradict the current understanding of things.'

    How much will you be bound by, frankly, rather parochial and probably flawed thinking?

    Which, all in, is not a licence for writing nonsense but, nonetheless, does admit the expansive writer rather more latitude than many will concede.
  11. adrenaline7
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    adrenaline7 New Member

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    I remember reading somewhere that there is no such thing a zero gravity, and what most people think is really just micro-gravity (really small trace amounts of gravity which seem to be ineffective). But this has entruiged me as well. Stanislaw Lem wrote a decent passage about the feeling of being in micro-gravity in "Return From The Stars". That really opened my eyes and gave me a different way to think about it.

    As for breaking the boundaries of science, it's probably best to follow them as much as you can, but you can always bring in something that can challenge them, such as Ursula K Le Guin's "ansible". Arthur C Clark also said something along the lines of "the most advanced technology is indistinguishible from magic", which I think is quite true.

    I like the ideas of wormholes and portals, especially when it doesn't involve spaceships. What I mean is travelling through hyperspace or some sort of hyper-dimension on a personal scale. "Flatland", while an old book, is great for this and showing different perspectives.

    To me, xenophilia can be good or bad. I guess it depends on context and how connected I feel with the characters.

    Also, just to finish off:

    You're quite right about "hard" science fiction, where it uses scientific facts and theories as a main story or plot focus, but I thought "soft" science fiction focused more on social and psychological aspects with a science fiction backdrop. Maybe I'm wrong? Or just thinking a bit differently?
  12. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Member

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    I suggest imagining gravity as always getting smaller and never disappearing. However, if you're going to go that far [into hard SF] you may as well consider dark energy and its relation to gravity.
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Supporter Contributor

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    jet...
    what's a 'probiscis'???

    if you meant 'proboscis' that would be a nose, or a trunk-like appendage, so i don't get the point [joke?]...

    and no, she sure wasn't... :(
  14. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Senior Member Contributor

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    Faster than light travel is often just 'accepted' as a convention of a story.

    Being accurate or plausibly accurate (for future technology) is a must, especially for hard science fiction. If you're going more for space opera, like Star Wars, then scientific accuracy isn't as important, but consistency of rules or laws within the story must be.
  15. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Supporter Contributor

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  16. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Member

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    The "formula" for finding the gravitational force of one object on another I believe... is F(g)= GMm / r^2 . Where G = the gravatational constant (a really small number). M and m are the two masses in question and r is the distance between them. So if you are really far away from something, the force of gravity between you and that something are very small. Now, it's never going to be 0... but for all intents and purposes you can pretend like it is. Also... the mass of the object has to be big enough for the gravity force to be a number that matters. Technically there is a non-zero force of gravity between you and a pencil... but for all intents and purposes that number is zero. It's so small it's negligible.
  17. adrenaline7
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    adrenaline7 New Member

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    Point taken and totally understood. Just being a little technical with my last post. I can accept is as zero gravity within context, but it doesn't hurt to let some people know a little more about it. All is good.
  18. Prophetsnake
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    Prophetsnake New Member

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    What do you want to know about aerodynamics?
  19. Quezacotl
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    Quezacotl New Member

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    I stretch it to the point where I can barely understand it, and then bullshit an explanation. However, I understand the basic concepts of Quantum Levitation, the Speed of Light, and Gravitation, so making use of those in my stories is fair game.

    Even then I go on. Writers have the odd habit of predicting or mirroring future sciences before they develop. We may think we have the counterproof based on what we already know, but the first answer we arrive at is not always the best, nor is it always correct.
  20. Jetshroom
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    Jetshroom Member

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    Proboscis then. I didn't google it before I typed it. Yes, this is a nose or trunk-like appendage on an alien being. The use of which may not be readily apparent. That was the joke.

    I was being dirty.

    Oh, I just consider descriptions of space ships in books and what they look like in movies, and I wonder, in outer space, where there is no air, what use is aerodynamics?
  21. The wonderer
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    The wonderer New Member

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    In any book you would need to entertain the readers. I am a avid SF fan so let me say this - you must try to do as much reserch as you can. Now onto your list of questions.

    I was just wondering, (if there's any sci-fi writers) how far you're comfortable stretching the bounds of science?
    I would go as far as I can.
    Do you go for faster than light travel? Warp Speed? Wormholes?
    I would go faster then a speed of light
    Do you have gravity machines?
    Nope
    Does your protagonist make sweet sweet love to every alien female he comes across regardless of physical attributes or feasibility?
    If I was writing one, well, I don't think I would to be honest.

    I given you my views and I hope that's helps.
  22. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Member

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    I like reading physics on the side, and it was because I wanted to give my reading some accuracy that got me into it. (Now I read it for the fun, though.)

    I think it varies how much scientific accuracy I accept. If a story gets by and has a lot of accuracy to it, I give it a thumbs up, but for me, it's not a big deal. As long as it's not a glaring inaccuracy or the story is riddled with them, I'm fine. For instance, my favourite movie is Event Horizon (jeer away :cool:) and, while the movie talks big science and has its toes in the pool of physics, I just can't possibly believe in a gravity well being created in the middle of a ship that wouldn't turn the ship into a can on the forehead of a frat boy once it's turned on. Still, it talked about faster-than-light travel and black holes, so Einstein got in there somewhere, just the troglodytic evil clone of Einstein. Another favourite of mine is Ghostbusters, and there's no way you can tell me any of that is scientifically accurate, even though Ray and Egon step the audience through their so-called technology (they've found a way to trap and hold a ghost? C'mon). And I'm a huge fan of the 80s Transformers cartoon, which couldn't even keep itself consistent, let alone scientific accuracy.

    So, for me, as long as I'm having fun and there's at least *some* believability, physics can call it a day. The sky's the limit for stretching science, in my opinion, and sometimes the accuracy could get in the way of the fun (we wouldn't have MIB, Spider-Man, or zombies if we all had to adhere to science).

    For this reason, if they don't explain how a ship goes faster than light, I'm fine. If they want to throw in a little explanation ("Hey, we just invented the universe's longest tachyon Slip n' Slide"), goodie for them. Gravity machines aren't a big deal for me, but if they have them, that's cool.

    Make sweet, sweet love with every alien female? I couldn't care less what that guy does with his time, as long as he kills the big alien fiend at the end.

    The problem with my examples is they're largely movies, not books. So take that with a grain of salt. The same might not apply to prose. My advice is to check out what's there and know that this is what an audience will accept. But the thing to think about is if you intend your story to masquerade as an at least somewhat accurate representation of science, you better bring the goods. For instance, Contact by Sagan better have more grounds in scientific accuracy because it says, "Hey, this is really, really possible! Trust me!" But Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy? You can't tell me that wasn't a ginormous success despite the translating fish. If everyone knows your story is off-beat or merely dabbles, you'll be okay as long as your flying, time-traveling car doesn't run on household waste. Wait. Someone did that, too.

    Funniest thing I've read all day. Good call, man. :p
  23. Prophetsnake
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    Prophetsnake New Member

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    Well, I just finished a sci fi book. I strayed from fact as little as possible, only the one major deviation. that deviation is at the core of the plot and since the story is about genetics specifically and biology in general, i have had to include a lot of tech bumpf in it. I made it as accessible as possible and as short as possible...
  24. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle New Member

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    As long as it makes sense within the story world and it doesn't defy the logic within the story, then I think it's fair enough. Sometimes, the instinct to be too grounded in real science and technology has the side-effect of dating your writing in negative ways. I just re-read some William Gibson and I wonder why his futurism didn't extend to memory capacities. Johnny Mnemonic had about 250 MB in his brain, which was a huge deal when the story was written, but if only he'd invented Terabytes or something.

    Also, the instinct to be factually accurate can be somewhat self defeating when trying to find real world grounding for some imaginary technology far beyond what current understanding can provide. Some 'black box' solution with general enough references to how it works is enough for me, otherwise I tend to never actually get to writing!

    However, if you were to write of the present day, would you spend any time at all describing the transition from red to blue lasers for more efficient data storage in optical media, such the incredibly high-tech Blu Ray disc the view point character is about to insert into his PC drive for decoding?

    Has anyone dared write an SF novel based on the premise that anybody living and reading in that future world would be bored to tears with prose and dialogue on how all this everyday technology works?
  25. Ettina
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    Ettina New Member

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    I used to write sci-fi, but gave it up for fantasy once I realized a) that I'm quite capable of obsessing over scientific accuracy so much I never actually finish the story, and b) no matter how accurate the science is, it will seem ridiculous in 20 years anyway. Fantasy is more timeless and gives you more wiggle room. Even though I usually write 'science-like' fantasy, where the magic has very definite rules for how it works, which have been thought out very scientifically, and anything non-supernatural is scientifically accurate.
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