1. NeighborVoid
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    NeighborVoid Active Member

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    Unrealistic elements too distracting?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by NeighborVoid, Jan 28, 2016.

    I'm currently worldbuilding for a gritty science fiction universe centered around the societal effects of transhumanism, overpopulation, terraforming, etc. I have experience with concept art and will be illustrating everything, so things like otherworldly alien life and plasma flamethrowers could potentially add a lot of visual interest.

    This question arises from my fear that too many unrealistic elements would distract from the political focus of the plot. I've seen it happen with Fallout and, to a lesser extent, Metal Gear Solid with their plasma rifles and nuclear mecha.
     
  2. Euthymius
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    Euthymius Member

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    You seem to have answered your own question. However, ultimately it all comes down to context. If it makes sense in your story, than people will not be distracted by it. The only time unrealistic elements will be distracting is if they seem out of place in the setting.

    A crazy looking alien will not stick out in a sci-fi setting. Aragorn emerging in full power-armor from an enchanted copy of "Fellowship" floating through space probably will.
     
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  3. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    The only thing I'd be wary of is accidentally including something offhandedly that doesn't jive with the rest of the setting or that would have obvious effects on the setting that you then don't explore - say randomly putting an alien in the background without ever mentioning, if not first contact, then how humans and aliens are getting along. Don't include a piece of technology just because it's cool without considering the ramifications of this technology existing. I don't think 'unrealistic' sci-fi elements are likely to be distracting or offputting in a world that already has a handle on transhumanism and terraforming. Seems like it'd just be more flavor.
     
  4. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    These 'over the top' elements are fine, IF they mesh with the universe you are building. Including them solely for visual flair, without taking into account the practical effect they would have, is troublesome. A powersuit of armor even today would change the world. A plasma rifle or alien background could change things up as well, but won't be a problem if you make it fit the world that you're making.

    Given the stuff you've mentioned, it might fit, but ALIENS are a big deal. Or at least, they better be quite common NOT to be a big deal if this is a world that is descended from our own.
     
  5. NeighborVoid
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    NeighborVoid Active Member

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    It's more about whether or not the elements would distract from the political focus than the believability of such elements.
     
  6. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Perhaps it will just become one of those graphic novels (I assume this is a graphic novel) that you must read multiple times to get everything the book has to offer :) If everything is there for a reason and purpose, readers will simply fall in love with it over and over again as every time they reread it they find something new or gain insight into something else, or see a cleverly laid clue in the form of some art they'd glossed over previously.

    Why on earth would you think that's a bad thing?

    Besides, for graphic novels - I mean, from my experience I mostly read manga, but I read manga as much for the art as I did the story. I could not read any manga whose art I disliked. In this sense, if you make your visuals interesting, that can only be a good thing. In the medium of a graphic novel, the art is the narrative - in the same way a novel must be written well, a graphic novel must be drawn well, and that goes beyond pretty pictures I'm sure. Go for it!
     
  7. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Two points...

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. (Clarke)

    If you want to get something unbelievable past the reader, do it early so it seems a natural part of the world. (I don't remember who said this, so it's paraphrased)
     
  8. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    This feels like a matter of taste. I enjoy more exotic elements and they can stop the gritty politics stuff feeling to dry. I enjoy political/societal elements to, they help give a world/story some real depth.
    So I think the two can mesh well, but then again I quite enjoyed the storytelling of the fallout games.
     
  9. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    I have seen plasma rifles in a number of games, and in one book so far but there may be more. Mechs aren't used to often in any of the books that I have read, but hey they are welcome to join the party. I borrow concepts from both MechWarrior and Heavy Gear series of games, though I use slightly different means of fuel other than nuclear considering on what species and so on. So go ahead and use plasma weapons. I have an advanced race that uses fusion fired weaponry for thier troops and craft, so plasma rifles should be equally viable. I even utilize Michio Kaku's concept of a plasma sword in my own works, though it is far less likely to suck the air out of a room while functioning. :p

    You could do what Ray Bradbury did in Martian Chronicles and have weapons that shoot alien bees for all I care. (Though I would use something other than, bees,but the concept is still neat and interesting.) :D
     
  10. NeighborVoid
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    NeighborVoid Active Member

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    Thanks for all the replies.

    Perhaps I can make the initial impressions feel less cheesy by rendering the violence in great detail. Stuff like nanomachines that slowly reduce victims to a red paste and can only be stopped by immediate amputation at the area of contact.
     
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  11. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    You could also make EMP devices that you can use to render nano machines useless, but it is far more brutal to amputate the limb. :D
     
  12. NeighborVoid
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    NeighborVoid Active Member

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    It'd also be a great opportunity to throw in a bit of trypophobia.
     
  13. Samuel Lighton
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    These things only appear unrealistic if your story treats them as unrealistic. It's like if you have a character gawking over a Mk 5 turbo-charged, induction coil, target enhanced tracker, accelerated plasma rifle - then it seems just as gaudy as it sounds, unless it fits. Like a gun-nut character or soldier boasting about it. You can explain what they are, but the detail you use should only be as important as the item is in the story, like say a specific weapon could overload and dismantle a shield device, you could use that later against a particular enemy that has a shield and is wreaking terror because of it, but just to say it can do that and not using it is distracting.

    In short, make sure it all has a purpose or it'll just fall to the wayside. You don't have to have big plans, but if you're character boasts about a big gun, make sure they use it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2016
  14. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Dude, that's harsh. :p
     
  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think this is like any other story, really. Settings exist, but as a backdrop for the story itself. Try not to get too hung up on the wonderfulness of the world you're creating and allow its details to overwhelm your characters and your plot.

    Also remember that violence has little or no impact on a reader, if we don't know about—or care about—the people/characters involved. That's why it's often not the best plan to begin a story with violence. It doesn't automatically make the opening 'exciting.' It's only exciting if we care about the outcome—so make sure we do.
     
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  16. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Lack of realism, by itself, is not a problem. You can take an entirely absurd idea and spin it into gold if you commit to it and do it right - Discworld for instance, or pretty much everything ever done by Marvel. I was watching Jessica Jones last night, and the base premise upon which they built their villain is utter garbage (he emits a virus that gives him mind control over the people he infects, with a twelve hour half life) - but it's probably the best done and most compelling storyline I've seen from them. The fact that the core of the worldbuilding is ridiculous does not bother me, because it's about implications rather than accuracy.

    Now - let's talk about your sci-fi. You can dump almost anything in there and get away with it IF you do it right and focus on the right things. The first thing is to identify what type of sci-fi you're writing - Hard SF, Military SF, or Space Opera. It's sounds like you're doing doing something between Military SF and Space Opera - neither of which require the near-total science focus that comes with Hard SF. The big difference between those two being that in Space Opera, you really can do pretty much anything as long as it looks vaguely workable and can be papered over with technobabble gibberish (note - technobabble gibberish must be internally consistent even if it makes no real sense). In Military SF, the science of the world can be written off with technobabble, but the GUNS AND TACTICS have to read consistently so that military readers don't get thrown out. So, I'd look at the implications of those two sub-genres, figure out which you're writing, and go from there.

    The other question is what your actual storyline looks like. If it's focussed on the military and tech aspects - and it sounds like it might be - then extrapolate your realism there. However, if you're looking more at the sociology, economics, or political science more so than the hard science or military science - then you extrapolate from there. Whatever branch of science forms the base of your worldbuilding is the one you have to nail. If you're writing Military SF, your military tech has to work. Cixin Liu's Three Body Problem is Hard SF based in abstract orbital physics - which means his physics have to be perfect and he can do small hand-waves for other sciences. I'm writing Social SF, so I can hand-wave some hard sciences - but I have to be careful with my political science ad other social sciences.

    So, figure out which sciences make your plot tick, and which ones are in the background.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2016
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  17. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    This actually could work, but only if the nanomachines central to your plot. SF if built around the concept of "Little Truth, Big Lie". There's always something at the core of the world that is impossible under current science - some barrier that's been broken by means that are impossible to explain because we haven't done it in the real world. You cover that up by giving us workable, realistic details on things in your world that aren't impossible - and the closer you get to the central " big lie", the more 'little truths" you need to cover it up.
     
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