The Science of Science Fiction

Slice of sci-fi Written by: Emilio D’alise (SoSF Staff Journalist)

Science Fiction involves buying into the premise of a scientific “reality” that often pushes, even shatters, the boundaries of what we know. As fans we accept this. As fans, we realize the vehicle need not be 100% feasible to transport us to good entertainment, with believable characters, and viable plots. I can buy into some things I know are not yet possible within our current understanding of science, and go with it for the sake of a well-told story.

What I find increasingly objectionable is the outright violation of science, as we know it. Humanity stands on the shoulders of countless individuals who painstakingly built the foundation for understanding the world around us. We owe them respect, not dismissal. Whatever premise we are asked to accept should build on this foundation, extrapolate it, even stretch it, but not tear it down for the sake of a “cool” visual.

Sci-fi movies should transport the viewer into new worlds of possibilities. Maybe one day we will know how to “warp” space, tap the energy of a star to create wormholes, or even “shift” in time and space. One can certainly hope so for the sake of the survival of our species. It is clear to me we are living on the eventual target of a passing celestial body, and it is just as clear humanity’s survival depends on our ability to leave this particular piece of cosmic real estate. Plus, I still hold hope for a visit from a “future me” bearing a gift of near-future winning lotto numbers.

So for instance, I’ll buy into the idea that in some none-too-distant future we will have mastered space travel. I will accept the premise that a space spore threatens to use humans as unwilling hosts. I’ll even entertain the apocalyptic view of a future Earth. And I’d be happy to explore each of those scenarios through the eyes of a flawed hero, or heroine, searching for a meaning of life, and a purpose to their existence.

But I get a Camaro that transforms into a mechanical being three stories tall, and I’m thinking, “Where is all that extra mass coming from?” Watching The Thing revert to human, and back again, also sets me to ponder on the transmutation of flesh to rock, back to flesh, and back to rock. Again, extra mass, lots of energy, and cells changing their chemical composition in milliseconds. Watching The Flame burn “hotter than the sun” makes me wonder if we could tap him to create wormholes . . . before I remember there is no such thing as a free lunch. Where’s all that fuel coming from?

My wonder and awe is considerably reduced when, after showing hook-like hairs sprouting from his skin, thus allowing Spiderman to cling to any surface, he covers them by putting on gloves; gloves that also cover the area of his wrists oozing “spider-web”. I could go on, but some may call me “picky”. Others may call me “kill-joy”. Those with a good vocabulary might accuse me of being pedantic. Others will then have to go look that up.

What is the point of this short piece? Just this; I see it as a duty of the science fiction fan to hold sci-fi vehicles to a higher standard. Science is an important part of our lives, and reasonably good science should be the first requisite of “Science” Fiction. Instead, I see science casually tossed aside for the sake of a plot point, or worse, for the sake of presenting a special effect in lieu of a plot. The unintended consequence is that it makes “real” science seem mundane, boring, and lame.

Sputnik inspired many kids to pursue careers in space science. All it did was beep, but it lit a spark in people who went on to help change our world. Science Fiction had, in no small part, primed those same people by stimulating their imagination. It’s hard to imagine the recent comics-based spate of movies doing much more than help sales of yellow Camaros.

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