Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The "Science" in Science Fiction (part I)

"What's the difference between science fiction and fantasy?"

"Genetics, propulsion and the speed limit of the galaxy."

I don't remember where I saw the above quote, but it has a point. Most of my short fiction falls under science fiction or fantasy. My shelves are filled with books on linguistics, travel, military traditions, flight, NASA and the space race, and quantum physics. It's a geek's library, but I'm always pulling down one book or another to check facts. If I can't find it, there's always the Internet.

Science is a starting point in science fiction. Space stations, ships, exotic races, futuristic weapons...the author extrapolates from current trends in biology, chemistry, and physics. Each writer puts their own personal spin on how they envision the future fifty, one hundred or even one thousand years from now. Arthur C. Clarke, Issac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein and many classic sci-fi writers took those ideas and made them unique. A science fiction story might have the same elements as another one, but it's how the concepts are presented that makes it different from the others.

That said, I wince when I read something that is scientifically impossible. Even now, I still chuckle at Star Trek's transporter and think, "Heisenberg, Heisenberg." I can handle minor inconsistencies in the story, but a planet with 2 times the gravity of Earth and our heroes can walk on it with no problems? A ship hovering a mere 100,000 miles from and exploding supernova and getting through the holocaust unscathed? (Those must be some really awesome particle shields. Can I get those for my car?) And yes, I've read stories that involve those two examples.

Some of my sci-fi writer friends sit around and analyze every glaring (and not so glaring) scientific mistake in a story or novel. It borders on the nitpicky and ridiculous at times. If I wanted a purely accurate science story, I'll go read a journal or a dissertation. Sure, Einstein said there's a speed limit to the universe (light speed), but should it prevent a writer from telling a good story? What if the Millennium Falcon didn't have hyperspeed? Or the Enterprise with no warp drive?  Or no obelisk on Jupiter in "2010"? Or...

You get the idea. Now for the  "Fiction" in science fiction...(part II)

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

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