1. -NM-
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    -NM- Active Member

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    SciFi

    Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by -NM-, May 23, 2010.

    How important would you say a good scientific knowledge is when writing Sci-Fi?

    I've read books by former scientists and by people who seem to just make it up as they go along, and I've always found that the people who know what they are talking about write better books.

    So, if you don't know much and you are just basically making stuff up, do you think it makes that much of a difference to how well a book will be received? (If you're assuming the writing style/quality is pretty similar).
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I personally become depressed, and even a little disgusted, when I pick up a science fiction story and find that the author has flunked high school science.

    I don't expect a science fiction author to have a PhD. in physics, but I do expect him or her to have a working knowledge relevant to the material in the story. So if he writes about the neighborhood of a black hole, I expect him to understand somewhat about time dilation effects and tidal shear, and understand what the event horizon is. If she writes about a ship establishing orbit, I expect her to know that the ship won't fall out of the sky if the engines shut down for a few hours.
     
  3. Halcyon
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    Halcyon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would personally say that even science fiction would benefit from a knowledge of science fact. You're basically trying to suspend disbelief when you write fiction, so it pays to know what is possible in order to make the impossible seem feasible.

    At least, I think so anyway! ;)
     
  4. Dante Dases
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    Dante Dases Contributing Member Contributor

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    It does depend what sort of SF you want to write. Do you want to write what is essentially space fantasy, or is it hard SF? For the former, only a basic appreciation is really required - and that can be bent, within reason (just think of the liberal use of hyperspace in much SF in contravention of the accepted theory that nothing can travel faster than light, simply for the sake of convenience).

    On the other hand, if you're writing hard SF surrounding particular issues, I'd advise you to get a good grounding in your subject matter. Arguably the best SF writer of all time, Arthur C. Clarke, was not only an excellent writer, he was also a scientist. He's the man who theorised slingshotting around planets using their gravity as a way of harnessing energy for probes and other craft to hurl themselves further out to space. He's the man responsible for the geostationary orbit. I'm not saying you need to be a world-class scientist as he was, but I am saying you need that extra bit of knowledge to make any story all the more realistic and believable.

    Take an opportunity to read scientific papers, if that's what's needed. If you know someone who can put you in touch with an expert in the field, use that. Obviously, don't spend three months researching for a short story that's only 3,000 words, but do make sure you know enough.
     
  5. Honorius
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    Honorius Active Member

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    A good knowledge of science is a must for science fiction. Otherwise it would be "Fiction set in space with aliens and planets and stuff".

    Of course, we mustn't forget the Infinite Improbability Drive from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Not any science involved whatsoever. Of course, that was absurd.

    So science isn't an absolute, but for a sci-fi with some degree of sense and seriousness, you'll need at the very minimum a high school physics class.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, not. It's absurd, but very smartly so. There are elements of entropy theory in the fictional development of the IID. Obviously it is not meant to be taken seriously, but Douglas Adams was hardly ignorant of science when he came up with the idea.
     
  7. gabriellockhart
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    gabriellockhart Member

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    well it depends on the material your using in the story or how you want to focus the story and again how far into into the future you intend to set said story.

    i mean if your setting the story say a hundred years in the future then yes a good knowledge of science is a must but if your setting something a million years in the future then science could have changed to a point when all the knowledge we have now has been untterly rubbished by the science of the story.

    as i always say rules are there to be broken and the so-called absolute rules of science are no different to this edict.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Technology changes, but laws of physics should still hold true.

    Of course, if you let technology slide all the way to magic, you're no longer in science fiction. You're writing the other kind of speculative fiction: Fantasy.
     
  9. izanobu
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    izanobu Senior Member

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    Internal consistency is more important, in my mind. Of course, if you are writing near-future, hard sci/fi (or even far future hard sci/fi), knowing the basics of whatever you are using is necessary (usually) to tell a convincing story.

    But story is the most important thing, if you can tell a great story and do it convincingly, most people won't care at all if your "science" is a little crazy. It all depends on what is needed to serve the story. (ie, if you want to have a story set in a universe where black holes work the opposite of how they do in ours, or do something totally different with how stars work or something, then hey, do it. It's fiction, it's called making stuff up :) Just keep it consistent and clear and make sure the world suits the story.)
     
  10. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    The essence of science fiction is that it is about science. In any genre, you have to have basis in truth to write the fiction. No matter what area of science the story focuses on, you at least need to know your background knowledge on the subject. Otherwise you'll look unprofessional or even silly to readers who do know the topic. That doesn't mean you have to go over-the-top technical; if you know a lot about the topic, that doesn't mean you have to force the precise details on the readers.
     
  11. gabriellockhart
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    gabriellockhart Member

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    i politly disagree cogito, all the laws of the universe are barely understood at this time and i find it is naive to assume that we humanity, a race that's chief past time is petty tribal warfare has a total grasp on how the universe works.

    personally i find that science in its entirety is subjective to the constraints to the technology of the time as through the technology we learn about the universe and its rules. so if technology improves so does our understanding. so our understanding of physics is bound absolutly to the computers and mathamatical understanding of today and yesterday not tommorow.

    so who knows tommorow someone somewhere could discover something that defeats einstien's theory of relativity or newton's laws, just as they did to the scholars of the time.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Well, Einstein's theory did not invalidate Newton's Laws. It simply extended them, and indicated the areas in which Newton's Laws are no longer adequately precise.

    The same is true of other scientific theories.

    This is why it's important to understand science if you are going to write science fiction.

    I stand by my earlier comment. If you try to write in a future that ignores science, you are writing fantasy, not science fiction. Fantasy with spaceships is still fantasy.
     
  13. gabriellockhart
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    well i'll completly agree with the fantasy aspect of your argument but the science we'll have to politely agree to disagree.

    sorry about going a little of topic.
     
  14. Halcyon
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    Halcyon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have to agree with Cogito.

    If you write a fiction novel on any subject without a respectable knowledge of that subject, you will be exposed.

    Science fiction is no different. :)
     
  15. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    How can you possibly write good literature if you refuse to accept mankind's understanding of nature? I agree that there is plenty out there that we don't understand, and I have great respect for that truth. What I don't respect is when writers feel that they can write something completely defiant of logic, using man's limitations as an excuse to be nonobjective.

    Would you honestly enjoy reading a science fiction story in which the writer comes up with something absurd and plotless, then justifies it by saying that man can't understand it? Writing about something that you don't comprehend is beyond pointless, because you can't master it; you can't tell a story if you don't understand the story yourself.

    There are exceptions to the laws of logic in fiction, but only when it is deliberately done and doesn't constitute the whole story. If the speaker is hallucinating, for example, or if some other legitimate explanation can be thought up to explain why logic is being defied, then it may be used if the writer can master it. But if illogic is thrown in there with no explanation or purpose, it's just a bad story.
     
  16. gabriellockhart
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    aeschylus you misunderstand i'm not completly defiant of our nature i find when i tell a story whether its in the past or in the far flung future i use what ever i think is the best concept to use for the universe i'm creating if its ten years to a thousand years from now i use what i can in terms of today's science modifying it for the story but if i'm tens of thousands of years in the future it of course becomes more like a fantasy in space then a straight science fiction story.

    i find it makes it more interesting to read that way, throwing the odd ball from left field or all the balls from left field.

    if you keep the emotion and soul of your writing spot on it doesn't matter to the reader if your story is set in a rigid hard sci-fi setting or a fantasy space setting that has no resemblance to the other, at least in my opion.

    i could be wrong but the science fiction genre is broad enough to bear the weight of extreme speculative science fantasy as rod sterling said "science fiction makes the implausible possible, while science fantasy makes the impossible plausible."

    i kinda like that quote. ;)

    sorry going off topic and having a mild rant again.
     
  17. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    Science fantasy can be very good or very bad. But good science fantasy still has to have a loose scientific background. You're right, though, in 10,000 years we'll have very different technology, if we're still around and are progressing at the same rate. I personally wouldn't try to predict what civilization will look like in such a wide time frame, unless something happens that puts us backward, but if you feel like you can create a believable setting that far into the future, go for it.
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It can also be very bad. :D
     
  19. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    Haha thanks for pointing that out, Cogito. Gotta love stupid typos.
     
  20. deltaquid
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    Well, it still needs to have a bit of science.

    What makes me cringe is when blatant mistakes are made which could be corrected with a bit of common sense. There's no air in space. No friction. Then how the heck do the "fighter" planes perform those manoeuvres in, just naming something, Star Wars? If anything, combat in space should play out like naval warfare, but with three dimensions to work in and combat at ranges of many kilometres.
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Even with three dimensions, there are human biases that creep into fiction and cinema. One in particular is the odd habit of aligning verticals. Whenever two spacecraft approach, they agree upon "up", and align accordingly. Why? If a ship is damaged and its systems have failed, you'll see it tilted at an angle, even though the approaching ship is perfectly capable of aligning with the derelict. Is it a psychic power that the helmsman knows to misalign the vertical upon approach?

    If you have a squadron flying in a formation, there's an advantage to not aligning the verticals, so the squadron has better visual coverage in all directions through those bubble canopies. And spread that sqadron out, there's plenty of room. That's why they call it space, because there isn't much there besides plenty of nothing.

    Up is completely arbitrary. Use that freedom to advantage!
     
  22. InkDream
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    InkDream Senior Member

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    For me it depends on what kind of science the writer is taking liberties with. If they completely throw out accepted scientific facts for their own purposes it becomes fantasy at that point.
     
  23. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel obligated to say that the Enemies Gate Is Always Down.

    Actually that was one of my favorite parts in Enders Game. It never really hit me that there really is no up or down in space. Its what you make of it.


    I do think if you are going to write science fiction you should have a grasp of the mechanics of it. Especially if you are going for hard science fiction. You should also avoid any mistakes when it comes to the basics.
     

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