1. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    What Makes Something Sci-FI

    Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by TwinPanther13, Jul 2, 2008.

    I read an article by orson scott card where he said Sci-Fi was dying as a genre. Do any here believe that is true? Fantasy is definitely going strong but what about that close relative. I believe it is time to redefine fantasy myself from high flung space operas and far future and make it more modern closer to home fiction. I read an article in popular science about a government funded program for building a suit like iron mans. This thing actualy works though except it cant fly and the battery only last 30 min but still maybe sci-fi should represent the not so far future
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I’ve read a number of articles by eminent science fiction authors claiming the same. It’s not dying; it’s changing. The science fiction I have bought and read in the last few years is nothing like that which I bought and read during the 80’s and barely related to the science fiction of the Golden Era.

    All genres progress and change with time. You have to remember that the trappings of science fiction are just that, trappings which follow certain rules: no elves, witches, dragons, or magic unless there is a very good scientific explanation for such. And sometimes these rules get bent a little bit. The Force of Star Wars is a bit too magical for my taste in science fiction. But after that, science fiction is a venue for asking questions about the state of being human.

    That is an infinitely ask-able and answerable question. We’ve been asking it since the dawn of time and we will ask it forever. Science fiction, at its best, allows us a venue to ask really hard questions about the human condition at a sufficient remove from the reader that asking the question doesn’t damage or offend the reader’s sense of self.

    Because, we as humans, don’t like being introspective as a rule, science fiction will always have its place.
     
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  3. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're right that it needs to be brought closer to home, but it's not the time the story is set in that does that, it's the science. Too many people think that science fiction means one of two things, spaceships or time travel. Those aren't the defining aspects of science fiction, they're the results. If you look back at the great sci-fi authors who were they? They were people like Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Michael Crichton, Orson Scott Card, L. Ron Hubbard, Arthur C. Clark, ect. Many of them were scientists who took their work home with them so to speak. Isaac Asimov was a professor of biology. The others had a good knowledge of the applications of science and how it would affect the world of their books.

    I think that the reason Sci-Fi is dying is because the wonder has gone out of it. We read it because of the discovery, usually science, but also social, mental, and emotional. Authors are finding it harder and harder to make exciting discoveries.
     
  4. Sandy Banks
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    Sandy Banks Member

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    I think its definately going through a period of uncoolness. People have got tired of it i reckon. But fashions come an go. Im sure it'l be back soon with avengence.
     
  5. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're probably right. When something catches peoples attention like sputnik did it'll definitly be back.
     
  6. Flightlessfoofaraw
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    Flightlessfoofaraw Member

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    It depends how you define sci-fi really. In television, for example, it's doing rather well - Lost, Battlestar, Terminator etc. When it comes to books, i've never been especially aware of the rate of new releases, so i can't really judge whether or not the genre is in decline. Certainly, the size of the science fiction section in my local bookstore has remained relatively constant since i've been shopping there.

    Either way, as has been mentioned, i think tastes come and go. We're rather used to the idea of a technologically advanced society. In recent decades, we've had some huge lifestyle changing inventions, like the internet and mobile phones. It's become somewhat au fait.

    Some sci-fi is probably a little...."hardcore" for the casual reader, too. I'm a qualified physicist, for example, and much of the first draft of my work involved convoluted scientific explanations for hypothesised technology (crafted into the narative, of course). Some of the people i showed these early drafts to, found these sections offered them little. Most of it went over their respective heads. Since then i've shifted my focus (or ather my focus has shifted naturally) toward ambience, story, narative, pacing, plot etc. I still want some science in it, but perhaps a bare minimum. It's a difficult balance though. For many sci-fi fans, that sort of stuff is the bread and butter.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Science fiction is a form of speculative fiction that is supposed to extrapolate from known (or popularly accepted) science. There are quite a few subgenres, but it's mostly distinguished from fantasy by the absence of magic or imaginary creatures.

    The "science" element varies wildly between authors and subgenres. Some stories simply create an alternate world to play out political dramas with different rules than are available on this world. Others take the other extreme and try to predict consequences of esoteric scientific theories on our own society, or one closely matching it.

    I would not say SF is dying as a genre, but it is surely in a slump. I think we were saturated by the Star Trek franchise, and people have walked away from the broader genre - for now. Still, shows like Babylon 5, and more recently, Battlestar Galactica (I won't even discuss the original BG disaster) have shown us there is a lot more to the genre than warp drive and phaser fights. I also think after people have some breathing space, they will look back on some of the Trek stories with a fresh, less fatigued eye; despite the saturation effect, there were many excellent stories told in the Trek universe.

    I do feel that one thing badly needed for the SF genre to thrive again, is writers and readers well versed in science. Starting with the writers, because good writing with a firm foundation in science will spark the imagination and curiosity of readers. It certainly inspired me to gain a broad foundation in the sciences as I was growing up. And knowledgeable readers will demand more from the writers.

    Right now, there is an opportunity. As I look through the bookstores, I see a number of reprint editions by authors who are no longer writing (or breathing, in many cases), but not too many new luminaries. There is an interest in the genre, but the supply seems to be failing.

    Be the supplier!
     
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  8. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    Could a story still be called science fiction if it had magic in it. I am currently working on a story where magic is let loose on the world and in response we create better tech through science to combat it. Now how would something like this be classified. Would it be something like the force in star wars or considered to be fantasy with a little science in it?
     
  9. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    I heard or read somewhere at some point in the distant past that technically most science fiction is actually fantasy anyway, because in order to be sci-fi it needs to have a basis or offshoot of some current, known science. I don't know if that's actually true, but it shows the point that there really isn't a huge fundamental difference between the two.

    What is magic? Some sort of energy used to do useful work, usually it is not understood, sometimes it is.

    What is electricity? Some sort of energy used to do useful work, some people understand it, many don't.

    As far as we're concerned the only difference between science and magic is how familiar we are with it.
     
  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Have a look at at the works of China Mieville. His combination of the two ideas is awesome.

    Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Read Piers Anthony's Apprentice Adept series, beginning with Split Infinity. The story takes place in two parallel worlds occupying the same location in space. Proton is a technological world, in which science functions but magic does not. Phase is a magic-based world, where complex technology cannot function. People whose counterparts die in one world can cross from one side to the other at certain places where the realities intersect.

    Apart from being anexcellent read, this series is a fine example of blending the genres.
     
  12. InkDancer
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    InkDancer Senior Member

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    In order for a genre based around a concept to succeed, people need to be excited about that concept. Science fiction reached its golden age during the time when technological advances were changing people's lives for the better on a daily basis.

    I grew up in the late 80s, early 90s, and got to see the internet revolution firsthand. Now the revolution is over, and people accept it as fact. So much of what was fiction has come true, and lost its glow.

    Fantasy, on the other hand, is often an idealized view of the past, and that's something we'll never catch up to. Even so, I think these things come in waves, and if the pace of technology ever picks up again, the positions might switch again.
     
  13. Leo
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    Leo Senior Member

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    I prefer the gritty, near-future style science fiction to the more wondrous images of the far-future sometimes presented. The grittier stories seem to be more well thought through, because in reality, life is never going to be perfect.
    The more wondrous ones just seem like some fantasy of what the writer dreams will happen in the future.
    Having said that, I've read some very good books in the latter category. So I think there's room for both :).
    But I think Sci-fi should have more grounds now than ever before. So I don't think it will be in decline for long :).
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If anything, I've noticed a stronger insistence on the part of the SF audience/readership for plausible science. Consider the difference between the original Star Trek and the cluster of shows at the end of the century (TNG/DS9/Voyager/Enterprise). The original series had orbits decaying as soon as engines were shut down, and planets changing mass as they broke up. There were far fewer of these egregious science glitches that most high school nerds could have pointed out (and did), because the public became sophisticated enough to spot them. Indeed, many fans picked relentlessly at the technobabble in the later series to discern what was plausible and what was utter nonsense.

    Similarly, look at Battlestar Galactica, old and new. A particularly odious (2 part!) episode in the original had base ships a day or more behind the Galactica herding the fleet within range of a planet-based cannon capable of destroying the fleet. Anyone with a conceot of the vastness of three dimensional space would immediately see how utterly absurd the premise was! You'd be hard pressed to find anything that stupid in the new series.
     
  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I have both series on DVD. It's almost like they are not related shows.
     
  16. Leo
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    Leo Senior Member

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    So in a few decades do you think that the science in these shows/books will have to be even tighter in order to satisfy the audience?
    Presumably the average level in the public's understanding of science will slowly rise over time, as it has done?
     
  17. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I think the new Battlestar Galactica is my idea of an ideal sci-fi. The science is (mostly) plausible, and not different from our current level of technology, and the story is dependent on the characters not the fancy technologies. Also, the way they don't stand around explaining how each thing works, and stating the bleeding obvious, is a good development. Do you explain about the transistors and circuitry to anyone in the vacinity when you turn your computer on? Nope? Didn't think so.
     
  18. Flightlessfoofaraw
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    Other frequent glitches in sci-fi include things like ships slowing down as soon as engines are switched off, sound in space, gravity on spaceships with no explanation how or why, etc etc etc.

    I think you're quite right to say that modern science fiction - at least for the science fiction fan him/herself - has to be at least plausible. I certainly strive for it.

    I think there's another issue with far-future stuff though. One thing i always find especially jarring in science fiction is the effort some people make to predict the less significant cultural stuff, like art/music/fashion/tastes/language. My own approach to this is to propose a hypothetical universe similar to our own, but not identical. In other words, in my own book, clothing style, music style, use of language (and thigns like swear words), personal tastes and habbits, are all broadly the same as in our modern world, despite the fact that they would undoubtedly have changed beyond recognition by the year in which it is set. I realise some would consider this cheating, but i think it makes sci-fi much easier to relate to for the average person, and it also accounts for the fact that these things are almost impossible to predict, and almost always seem rediculous or incredulous to the reader.
     
  19. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think it might. I remember watching the Science Channel with my mom a while back and on the screen came some beastie. My mom, who is 58 and comes from a tiny, poor town in Puerto Rico, exclaims, "Look, it's an andrewsarchus! You know that they are related to sheep, right? But it's a predator!"

    It was the funniest thing! The point is, she knew the ancient creature's name and it's lineage to modern animals. She comes from the most humble of beginnings and works as an accountant, yet she new this information right off the bat. If that's not a sign of the times, I don't know what is.
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sound in space - I believe that is mostly "artistic license". Silence is bad in TV or movies, although I personally think background music would be a better choice than weapon sound effects.

    Unexplained gravity. If it's not near future, I'd rather they simply leave it unexplained rather than technobabble it. If it's near future, it needs at least some justification. And if it's zero-G, let the hair float! I know it is a difficult effect to do well, but at least where they have a movie budget, do it right, or give them all crewcuts!

    Energy weapon beams should not only be silent, they should be invisible. You can see the target turn incandescent, even a short segment of the beam's path through debris clouds, but other than that, you should not see a beam lancing through empty space from the side. There is nothing to scatter the light.

    Missile contrails should dissipate quickly, uniformly, and show smooth paths as travelled by the missiles if they show at all. There is no turbulence or air currents to produce "jitter". Even the new Battlestar Galactica messes that one up.

    Asteroid fields - space is really empty. nearest neghbor rocks should be hundreds of miles apart, or tens of miles if it's an extraodinarily dense and newly formed field. As close together as they are usually shown, the natural collisions between near neighbors would spread them apart in a relatively short time.

    In fact, the majority of gripes I have about TV and cinema SF, as well as books, is the complete failure to comprehend scale. Dogfights in space should have miles, at least, separating vessels. Anything closer than about ten miles should be cause for panic, and in fact much greater distances should be normal. There is no reason to keep a squadron of fighters close enough to one another to see one another's faces; hell, spread them far enough that the ships are out of visual range of one another!

    Ok, I've ranted enough for one post. :)
     
  21. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The only author I've read who handled this in a realistic fashion (I'm sure there are others) is Larry Niven. I loved that he actually used the reality of life in space as plot devices in his stories rather than glossing them over. He did gloss, don't get me wrong, but he did try to include the real deal when it came to distance, time, relative effect, and the like...
     
  22. Leo
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    I think the point of Sci-Fi is primarily to entertain, rather than to be perfectly scientifically accurate.
    So long as it "fools" its audience that it is accurate, or so long as its audience is happy to let inaccuracies slide for the sake of enjoyment, then it has fulfilled its primary purpose.
    I find I often ruin Sci-Fis for myself by taking them too seriously and picking holes in them.
    And for example, sounds in space are obviously inaccurate. And the fact that the ships are close enough to dog fight at all. And the fact that you can see the laser beams. But these factors make the story more entertaining, which is the main thing.
    So, in short, I think scientific accuracy sometimes has to be a secondary priority.
     
  23. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Iain M. Banks' Culture series isn't bad with this- featuring both visible and invisible spectrum lasers.

    And I don't really understand the thing about the dogfights Cog :confused: Could you explain?
     
  24. TwinPanther13
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    Ok as far as dogfights in space go i can see fleets missing each other by miles but single fighters would still end up in traditional dogfights targeting with a computer from miles away would be hard with a moving targetyou would have to start shooting well in advance of the combatant and shots would have to travel extremly fast. physical projectiles would be one hundred percent useless
     
  25. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not really, we're already past dogfights with the technology we have now. Our weapons have ranges of hundreds to thousands of miles. Most naval and air combat takes place while both sides are out of visual range. Computer guided missiles end most fights well before they can see each other and naval cannons can fire insane distances and still be accurate. Imagine what would happen when you translated that into an environment even more open than the surface of a calm ocean. There's no horizon to hide behind in space. On top of that, they would have better computers, and missiles, and likely beam weapons. A tightly packed formation or group wouldn't stand a chance.
     

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