Question of the Day, May 5, 2010

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Question of the Day, May 5, 2010


Discworld author, Terry Pratchett, recently criticized the sci-fi TV show Dr.Who, stating that it has pixel-thin science and is "ludicrous." How important is it for something classified as science fiction to be plausible?


When it comes to science fiction, it really does cover a whole, I think it should have a feww licence

If in science fiction they bio engineer humans to have nuclear acne then so what it is called fiction for a reason.

Hundreds of years ago, I doubt people thought we'd be able to answer polls with hundreds, if not thousands of other people across the country or world, so who's to say the crazy stuff in sci-fi is impossible? I say just do whatever in sci-fi; to me it's only separate from fantasy cause it's in the future.

As long as it is named 'Science Fiction' then it should have at least some plausibility. Being able to do things are are not able to is fine, as long as they don't do things we can prove to be impossible.

We can't say a space faring film/game/book is too unrealistic with their space travel because it's set in the future with advanced technology, but if the normal humans were able to breathe outside in the vacuum of space just because "It's Science Fiction, who cares?" then it would be stupid.

I've always thought of Sci-fi as a subgenre of fantasy that dealt with the future and technology.

Fantasy is a genre in which anything is possible, fair do's. But Science Fiction should have at least a nodding acquaintance with reality in order to enable greater suspension of disbelief - without of course completely neglecting the 'Fiction' element of it's title.

I think that there is a line that can be crossed in some science fiction stories, but not all. If the plot is based in plausibility, so should the technology/physics/life/etc.

Not everything should be possible in Science Fiction.

As the poll says, it is seperate from fantasy for a reason.

But, I guess if they explain it in a way that could make sense, it isn't totally out of line.

Science Fiction: I've contructed a cell destroying virus from the new toxins we discovered from planet X.

Fantasy: I got this herr lazah beam that goez a pew pew from that therr magical brown cow :B

Its science fiction! As long as its enjoyable to read, they can do whatever the hell they want.

Nah, science fiction should really be based on good science, one or two departures from that are ok but many more and it's no longer science fiction.

Star Wars - fantasy
Star Trek - science fiction

I'd expect more logical reasoning with whatever they put into science fiction. With fantasy, it's pretty easy to explain it as 'magic' or 'working of the gods', but with SF, I'd want a more scientific approach to the explanation.

I don't really mind how stretched the 'science' actually is, as long as they have a somewhat logical approach to whatever they're talking about.

I actually don't mind. I love lots of examples of both.

You folks really don't like the middle ground, do you?

Its science fiction! As long as its enjoyable to read, they can do whatever the hell they want.


Also, as Science fiction, it has to have some base in science and be at least plausible.

I like science fiction, but it clicks more with me if the 'science' is just out of reach of current technology.

The reason Jurrasic Park was so good was because the aspect of cloning is not entirely made up; given several more years, it could be possible to bring dinosaurs back from the dead.

This also translates to games; the reason I think Gears of War is a better game than Halo is because the technology is terrestrial, down to earth, not laser beams or plasma grenades with is extra-terrestrial.

Science fiction is science (as Rain put)! Science implies that it's possible, or at least seems so. I have nothing against Fantasy, and I enjoy it equally as much as Science Fiction, but if you want both, it's called Science Fantasy.

How about an "It depends on the setting" option?

Both "Hard Sci-Fi" and "Science Fantasy" can be cool, and as long as the two don't mix in awkward ways (midichlorians!) it's all good. Consistency is key.

I think science-fiction should be able to do whatever it wants; the only difference is that instead of "a wizard did it", we get "science did it!"

I think Pratchett was objecting more to the heavy dependence on Deus Ex Machina than bad science per se; the point being if this is the only plot device delpoyed week in week out (as in Stargate) the whole show loses credability.

The key word in "science fiction" is "fiction." True, "science" is in there too, but science fiction's great appeal is ficticious science, meaning you can make up your own science. Example, Star Trek. Seriously, any time some sort of technobabble shows up, you might as well just call it "science fiction blather."

Honestly, no one ever called out Star Trek for talking about multi-modal transmission buffering sub-space channels, so why are they calling out Dr. Who for being too much fiction and not enough science?

Also, on an unrelated bit, remember how the future looked in the 50's and 60's and how science saves the world (example, The Jetsons)? What happened to that?

Pratchett's complaint was really more that Who used poor narrative structure, in that it's science-tools were pretty much just "Oh, I eliminate that plot point by turning the doohickey"

That said, really good Sci-Fi in the tradition of Ray Bradbury and the original Star Trek is about examining human ideas in the context of broader capabilities than we have now. Poor science fiction obsesses about the "realism" of inherently unrealistic technology.

I like well-thought out sci-fi, that actually checks its facts as often as possible (usually after breaking one or two laws of physics but building logically from it), though crazy stuff that simply can't be explained is fun too.

All in all, as long as it's done well I don't think it really matters, 'Hard' sci-fi can become boring if it tries to ram too much stuff down your throat or if it's simply described badly to make to seem like a chore. Though can be really engrossing if done well.

While science-fiction with barely any science[1] can seem completely ridiculous and simply leave you cold, or it can be just crazy, silly, fun and you just won't care about the fact it makes no proper logical sense.

[1] Does that make it just "fiction"?

I don't mind Sci-fi going above what is possible.

What I don't mind is when people use science as Deus Ex Machina.

"I know how we solve this situation!"


"*points hand towards problem* SCIENCE! *Kaboom*"

It's like how Nostalgia Critic complains about how Return to Camelot is dumb because it just pulls magic out of its ass when it's set in an already established fantasy universe. The same applies for Sci-fi

Um, does this question really need to be asked? IT'S CALLED SCIENCE FREAKING "FICTION!" i want my fiction to be as unrealistic as possible!

I was always a subscriber to the Phillip k dick idea that "Good science fiction is story's in which the idea is the hero"

Too often "Science Fiction" is an excuse to do whatever you want. It needs atleast a little grounding to meet the "Science" part.

good science fiction should mix plausible technology with the supernatural in other words "Star Wars"

I think good science fiction has a solid basis in modern science, but when they move into the unknown or things that are known but currently unexplained, they should have just about free reign. I only have two real stipulations on that: 1) whatever decisions the author makes about how their universe works should be explained if they become important, or at least left as an intentional mystery for the characters and the audience, and 2) that everything should be internally consistent. Once the author has set down the rules of their universe, those rules should always apply as described, and there shouldn't be any retconning of fundamental laws of physics. I can even accept magic in a sci-fi story if the setting treats that magic scientifically, explaining its limitations and keeping to them even when that becomes inconvenient.

Whilst the label "fiction" suggests that a story can do absolutely anything it wants, that doesn't mean it should. A story is allowed to be unrealistic, as long as it is plausible and internally consistent. But then again, if a story becomes too surreal, there is a danger that the reader will not be able to identify with the characters or sitation.

In the case of Doctor Who, Pratchett had a problem because the Doctor could alleviate complex problems with a single sentence of gobble-de-gook. They do this in Star Trek too - as long as the sentence is sufficiently complicated, no one will question whether or not something is possible. It comes across as lazy writing, and what is worse, the reader/viewer doesn't know where to stand: "Oh. So they can repair that problem by barking a single sentence? Can they do that with every other problem? These situations have become too technical for me to understand, so they might as well."

My favorite sci-fi is the really hard stuff, Alastair Reynolds is my favorite writer. But I still like softer 'sci-fantasy' like Star Wars or Hyperion.

The way I see it, if you want to make everything possible in your story, don't even try to technobabble your way out of it (the way Star Trek too often does). Just accept the possibilities you have as given and get the story moving from there.
The science in a science fiction story can be used as a very important and functional part of the story, but it doesn't necessarily have to. Creating a good futuristic story without technological background is certainly possible and often very succesful, but personally I prefer real science blowing my mind.

"It must be a spatial-temporal hyperlink."

"What's that?"

"No idea, I just made it up. Didn't want to say "magic door"."

it is called fiction for a reason.

Its science fiction!

The Great JT:
The key word in "science fiction" is "fiction."


Do you even realize what the word "fiction" means? It's just a shorter way of saying "this story didn't really happen". It has absolutely nothing to do with how realistic a story is. If it was just "Fiction", it could be almost anything. Calling it "Science Fiction" however, implies at least a foundation of scientific plausibility.

I like both kinds of science fiction, it just depends on what mood I am in. I for instance loved Mass Effect, a world based deeply in science while also enjoying The Force Unleashed.

Science fiction and fantasy are two different genres in my opinion, one (SF) being futuristic imagination, while another (fan.) is more of a past imagination, neither really bound by any sort of logic. As for people who claim Sci-fi has to be plausable, anything can make sense if explained properly, and if not boo-who, get over it.

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