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“An American physicist is calling for Hollywood producers to tone down the fanciful science in movies - and restrict themselves to just one scientific flaw per film.”


So – how real should the science in science fiction be?


Personally, as long as the fictional setting is internally consistent, I’m not overly bothered by fanciful ‘science’ in science fiction. I think science fiction should be more about the fiction than the science.


( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 23rd, 2010 08:24 pm (UTC)
It doesn't help to start a discussion, but I agree. Overly 'hard' SF can (in my view) get really tedious.
Feb. 23rd, 2010 08:42 pm (UTC)
It seems to be a big problem in modern SF literature that there is too much hard science and not enough adventure. That and the modern SF books all seem to be enormous. Peter F. Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds - I'm looking at you.
Feb. 23rd, 2010 09:13 pm (UTC)
How about realistic social science? I ask this since someone is making a film of Foundation, and I remember you expressing strong views on psychohistory in the past.
(no subject) - wellinghall - Feb. 23rd, 2010 09:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - philmophlegm - Feb. 23rd, 2010 09:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - skordh - Feb. 23rd, 2010 10:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bunn - Feb. 23rd, 2010 11:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wellinghall - Feb. 24th, 2010 08:04 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 23rd, 2010 09:31 pm (UTC)
I once came across a ?1950s essay by Patrick Moore, where he was advocating a sort of "quality mark" for scientifically literate sf.
Feb. 23rd, 2010 08:32 pm (UTC)
I once read a description of the difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy which ran "In Science Fiction you can have mermaids if there is a good reason for your world to have mermaids. In Fantasy mermaids, bless 'em, just are."

I'm not sure the "reason" has to be totally scientifically plausible. But I think I prefer my science fiction to at least attempt to signal somehow whether it's extrapolating from known science or just making stuff up. It's when the latter is mistaken for the former that a lot of confusion arises that can be damaging to science. Hollywood films are usually clearly making stuff up, even the ones that don't call themselves Science Fiction.

There's also the "bounce you out of the fiction" problem. When something in a story is "just wrong" it can be very distracting and difficult to overlook especially if the bit that is wrong is related to something you are passionate about. People who are keen on history have similar problems with a lot of historical fiction that scientists do with a lot of mainstream SF.

I don't know quite what the answer is. It's difficult to know what someone is going to find distractingly out of place, or consider damagingly misleading.
Feb. 23rd, 2010 08:41 pm (UTC)
Your point about history is an interesting one. Mistakes in history do bother me a lot more. I can't explain why.
(no subject) - skordh - Feb. 23rd, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - philmophlegm - Feb. 23rd, 2010 11:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Feb. 23rd, 2010 10:41 pm (UTC)
I think a version of Deep Blue Sea where they grew the serum in a lab rather than in super-intelligent sharks would have been somewhat shorter and a lot more boring :-) I was quite happy to suspend my disbelief.
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(no subject) - philmophlegm - Feb. 23rd, 2010 11:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wellinghall - Feb. 24th, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 24th, 2010 11:43 am (UTC)
I agree that internal consistency is paramount. This holds as much in fantasy as in science fiction. You can make up magic that does anything whatsoever you like, but once you've made up your magic system, it has to work consistently.

I also agree with Louise with the point about some errors being more damaging than others. It's like in historical novels/movies. Showing someone in Britain eating a variety of vegetable 25 years before it was introduced to the country doesn't damage anyone, but twisting history in order to portray one nationality or group as entirely in the wrong does have real world implications.

Strangely, I'm more tolerant of stupid science when it's the main premise of the plot than when it's a small detail. When it's the central premise, then the whole film becomes a case of, "okay, so this couldn't happen... but what would it be like if it did?" I like my crazy and ridiculous premise to be upfront... but then to evolve sensibly from then on, following a consistent logic that flows from the crazy premise. What I particularly hate is when a story has made moderate sense almost until the end, and then introduces some crazy impossibility to get the characters out of their sticky situation.
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Feb. 24th, 2010 01:09 pm (UTC)
I think the vegetable thing is because you don't care about vegetables anyway...

Frodo and Sam walking through a field of maize was really painful for me, and I was so glad that they re-did the scene right at the end with Sam and the petunias for the DVD.

Strangely those two things bothered me far more than much more major rewritings...
(no subject) - ladyofastolat - Feb. 24th, 2010 01:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 24th, 2010 04:10 pm (UTC)
Ansible has (had) a link to a website that picked films etc up on typography from the wrong period.

ETA: Ah, here we are -


It happens in real life, too. There's an edition of Tolkien's "The Devil's Coach-Horses" where the typeface contradicts the date on the cover.

Oh well, on with the AoCiCR!

Edited at 2010-02-24 05:27 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - philmophlegm - Feb. 24th, 2010 06:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 24th, 2010 11:55 am (UTC)
And one more thing: I'm much more tolerant in cases when the author has apparently gone "No, I know that this probably could never happen... but what if it it did?" than when the author hasn't bothered to do even the most simple research. Lack of research annoys me - e.g. American films (or books) which are set in Britain, but clearly haven't bothered to glance at a map of the place, and have people walking from Scotland to London in a day. Such things are so easy to get right, so getting them wrong shows either laziness, or a "it doesn't matter" attitude.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 24th, 2010 04:11 pm (UTC)
Eg landing at Dover, and walking to Nottingham via Hadrian's wall. Or driving from London to North Yorkshire, having a drink and then heading back home.
(no subject) - bunn - Feb. 24th, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wellinghall - Feb. 24th, 2010 05:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ladyofastolat - Feb. 24th, 2010 05:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wellinghall - Feb. 24th, 2010 05:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ladyofastolat - Feb. 24th, 2010 05:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
( 33 comments — Leave a comment )