1. Rabid Fox

    Rabid Fox New Member

    May 21, 2008
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    The Science of Science Fiction

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Rabid Fox, Mar 5, 2009.

    My tastes in literature vary widely, as I want to expose myself to as many genres, styles, and authors as I can. I am not what I would comfortably call "well read", but I've dipped my toes in just about every major genre. The one I find disappointing on a surprising level is science fiction.

    I love "Star Trek" telecasts and films, though I wouldn't dare call myself a trekker or even a trekkie. "The Matrix", "Star Wars", and countless other sci-fi films and shows have entertained me on countless occasions. I'm particularly fond of the "Terminator" films, "Battlestar Galactica", and just about anything with Joss Whedon's stamp of approval. But, when it comes to the novels, it becomes hit or miss.

    For instance, I loved "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card, "Fahrenheit 451", and "The Free Lunch" by Spider Robinson. On the other hand, I didn't care at all for "The Gods Themselves" by Isaac Asimov, "The Truth Machine" by Jim Halperin, or "The Invisible Man" by HG Wells.

    What I've found with sci-fi novels is that I enjoy the stories, so long as they don't get bogged down with techno-babble. When the characters in the story start chattering on about the science of the situation they're in, I zone out. I have a great suspension of disbelief (especially for an atheist), so when the book starts turning into a schematic textbook I start to regret reading it.

    Blasphemy on my part, perhaps. But, am I the only one who feels this way about the genre?
  2. Anthem

    Anthem New Member

    Mar 4, 2009
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    Yeah I know what you mean - certain science fiction stories I feel like I need a phd in astropyshics just to grasp what they're getting at and I think authors should try to avoid that or at least do the Star Trek method:

    Character 1: How about if we (insert scientific jargon in here, something about intrisnic fields and magnetism)

    Character 2: Oh, like mixing baking soda and vinegar to make a volcano!

    Character 1: Exactly

    I think science-fiction should primarily be about what technology is possible of, not what technology is. It's imporant for the writer to explain the function rather than detail. It's more important to tell us that the machine creates a life-sustaning environment rather than go on a 20 page rant about the nitty-gritty of how. Telling us how distracts from the plot, which in any science ficiton novel should be about how we use a technology not how we made it.

    And Vonnegut said science fiction writers know nothing about science!
  3. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 19, 2007
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    Massachusetts, USA
    Vonnegut's strength is as a writer, not a man of science. His doomsday weapon. Ice Nine, in his acclaimed novel Cat's Cradle is a wonderful philosophical creation, but it is thermodynamically impossible, or the Earh's water would already have taken that stable form.

    There is a big difference between technobabble and exploring the potential consequences of a scientific discovery or technological development. Sometimes, you really do have to explain the parameters in order to explore it in the story. Compare the detailed discussions of different models of time in James P. Hogan's Thrice Upon A Time with the many just-in-time technological breakthroughs in E. E. "Doc" Smith's Lensmen series. The former sets the necessary ground rules for main action of the story (and incidentally affects how you view other time travel SF). whereas the latter pulls one rabbit after another out of a hat to save the day again and again.

    Don't get me wrong. The Lensmen series is a very enjoyable read, and Smith's writing is, in my mind, a notch above Hogan's. Still. Hogan's books are a bit more thought provoking, so I think they are better sci-fi.

    I'm a scientist. I get annoyed by technonsense and thirty-dollar words that ultimately translate to "something magical happens", but if there is a well-thought idea behind the story, I can get behind it even if the science isn't quite perfect.
  4. thirdwind

    thirdwind Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Jul 17, 2008
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    Try The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. It was my first novel by Wells, and it was what really got me interested in Wells. Besides, it's a more fun and interesting read than The Invisible Man.

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