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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.


( 28 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.
Feb. 23rd, 2010 09:31 pm (UTC)
What were those views?
Feb. 23rd, 2010 09:41 pm (UTC)
Without wishing to put words into skordh's mouth (or indeed bunn's), they both felt that psychohistory was too far-fetched a concept for them to enjoy the fiction. I took the opposite view and felt that psychohistory worked as a high-tech evolution of modern economics in much the same way as say warp drive works as a high-tech evolution of modern rocketry.
Feb. 23rd, 2010 10:35 pm (UTC)
I may well have said that or given the impression of having that view some time ago, but I have always been a big fan of the Foundation books (well, up to and including "Second Foundation" anyway). Psychohistory seems to me a bit implausable but a very entertaining concept and some of the stories are great. (I like The Mule especially). Asimov himself seems to have wilted a bit under criticism and later wrote Prelude To Foundation where he addressed the criticisms of psychohistory from the perspective of chaos theory etc... and 'demonstrated' in the fictional future that psychohistory would work anyway (I believe - many years since I read that one).

I also really like Ursula Le Guin's 'Ekumen' SF books and they too arise from social sciences insofar as they come from anywhere. The 'hard' SF elements don't get much explanation and the characters, atmosphere, cultures and societies are to the fore.
Feb. 23rd, 2010 11:32 pm (UTC)
I could cheerfully suspend disbelief for a better writer with a better story to tell, but I just don't find Asimov a compelling enough story teller and I think his characters are mostly just a bit too tedious and cardboardy.
Feb. 24th, 2010 08:04 am (UTC)
Thanks for that. I am with you on this one, but I can see the other point of view.
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.
Feb. 23rd, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC)
Yes I feel that sometimes, and try & overcome it. I like "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell" but occasionally the descriptions of early 19th century politics seem wrong to me. On the other hand, it's an alternate world so I should probably just simmer down and enjoy the story.
Feb. 23rd, 2010 11:13 pm (UTC)
What's that film where a Royal Navy submarine that captured an Enigma machine is replaced by a US navy submarine? That sort of thing bothers me.

But then I also think that adaptations of Shakespeare plays should use approriate costumes and not modern clothes. So what do I know? (Not that I'm into Shakespeare.)
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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.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 23rd, 2010 11:08 pm (UTC)
You're not familiar with Deep Blue Sea?

It's a pretty crap film with only one memorable scene. Admittedly that one scene features a dripping wet Saffron Burrows in her underwear electrocuting a giant frickin' shark, but it's still only one scene...
Feb. 24th, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC)
*heads off to Amazon to order the DVD*
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.
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...
Feb. 24th, 2010 01:23 pm (UTC)
Actually, the vegetables thing would bother me (assuming that I noticed it), but for a different reason - i.e. the "not bothering to do research" reason mentioned below. I've written AU fanfics set in various historical periods, and every few paragraphs I paused to quickly find the name of a period-appropriate herb, or to check something about clothing or internal decor or food or whatever. It's so easy to do, and because I bother to do it when writing "just" fanfic, it really irritates me when professional authors and their editors don't bother in something they're going to charge people to read. (Although I'm more tolerant of errors in movies than in books, since they have to physically find props and locations. It's easier to write an authentic medieval garden than to find one to film in.)

However, it's more a case of me going "Grr!" at the laziness of the author, rather than me getting incandescent with rage, which I do at the merest mention of films like Braveheart or that WW2 submarine thing.
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)
Feb. 24th, 2010 06:50 pm (UTC)
That's wonderful!

Pure geek awe.
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.
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.
Feb. 24th, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC)
Oooh, now in a nicely bad film I like that sort of thing. It jars in a 'good' film, but in a film that contains suitable numbers of explosions, terrible accents, bad special effects, appalling costumes, dying people in red jumpers and cries of 'we've gotta get out of here' it's nice to have those extra 'bad research' boxes ticked...
Feb. 24th, 2010 05:07 pm (UTC)
The director who was heard to ask why one of the Tracey brothers in the Thunderbirds film couldn't be black ...
Feb. 24th, 2010 05:20 pm (UTC)
I read that as "dyeing people in red jumpers". Is this a desperate last-ditch attempt by people in red jumpers to avoid their fate by leaping into a vat of blue dye? Or do captains chuck anyone they consider disposable into a vat of red dye just before the battle, to ensure that they only lose people they can spare?
Feb. 24th, 2010 05:25 pm (UTC)
Me too!
Feb. 24th, 2010 05:18 pm (UTC)
I'm much more tolerant of that sort of thing in movies, especially when it's something that isn't explicit in the script - i.e. when you only know that they've strolled from Kent to Yorkshire in two minutes if you happen to recognise the places from the scenery. It's like in the TV version of Inspector Morse, when viewers who knew Oxford could tell that the first sentence of a conversation happened in the lodge of one college, the second in the front quad of another college, and the third somewhere else entirely. But I didn't think it really mattered that much, since it was obviously a case of the practicalities of filming and the aesthetics of different places.
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )