Sunday, 5 October 2014

Science Fiction; How To View It?

Science Fiction as a genre has, I think, three main strands;

1) Near Future.  Taking what is possible today, looking at what is planned and pushing the boundaries just beyond that point.
2) Future.  Taking concepts that are not possible with current knowledge of science and making them possible by inventing a method which seems plausible if you don't look too closely.
3) Make It Up.  Invent a concept and ignore how it's done just run with it as long as it's a well crafted story.

Secondly, there are, I think, broadly speaking two types of consumer of science fiction;

a) Purist.  Wants the science that is presented to be as accurate as possible within the confines of the story.
b) Doesn't care as long as they are entertained.

Combining the above you get the Purist who will like type 1 stories, be OK with type 2 as long as they don't push it, and not like type 3.  The type b consumer on the other hand may not like type 1 stories if they get bogged down too much in the accuracy, will like type 2, and will definitely like type 3 for the story.

Having said that, I class myself as somewhere between the two.  I will happily sit down and nitpick the likes of Prometheus to death, but I will also happily sit down and watch an episode of Doctor Who and not bat an eyelid.  Why is that?

I think it is because broadly speaking there are two types of lie told in science fiction, Big and LittleBig Lies are things such as teleportation, faster than light travel, laser weaponry that shoots 'bolts', lightsabres, time travel.. I could go on.. and on.. and on.  The point is, all the above are known by the average viewer/reader to be physically impossible, certainly in modern science, and in the case of some permanently due to that bloke Einstein and his mate Heisenberg.  Little Lies I class as things that the purist knows are wrong and will catch and be irritated by, such as a vehicle that uses antigravity that doesn't crush anything it flies over due to the downward force physics tells us it must be applying to stay airborne; I was therefore absurdly pleased when, in the remake of Total Recall (not as good as the original but had Kate Beckinsale, so swings and roundabouts :)), the car that was plummeting to the ground having lost antigrav drive had it restored and the car parked underneath it was crushed by the force.

We then come to a point where I sit down and watch Doctor Who and ignore the fact that time travel is impossible, and you can't have an object bigger on the inside than on the outside, because they are just a vehicle for the story and it's not worth worrying about the obviously impossible.  However, I watch Independence Day and yes they have the Big Lies such as anti-gravity and a mothership that would seriously mess with the earth's gravity just by orbiting due to its mass being a quarter of the size of the moon.  What irritates me though is the small stuff, when a programme/film gets their own science wrong.  All the smaller spaceships would have had to do was fly over their target and the force of the anti-grav drive pushing down would have squashed anything under it flatter than a beer can after being stomped on.  And don't even get me started on a Mac laptop that was somehow able to seamlessly interface with alien technology.. half the time it's a *bleep* to get them to interface with other human technology, and that's not even mentioning the fact the aliens had a handy USB port to plug into, that or Jeff Goldblum carried a USB-Alien adaptor in his back pocket.  And it all worked on the same frequency, power; even the language the alien computer was programmed with was somehow compatible with earth computers.

On that basis maybe there is a third type of viewer, the purist who will watch science fiction and ignore the Big Lies because, let's face it, it would take way too much time to nitpick it all, and besides the Big Lies are often the foundation of the story; Doctor Who and the TARDIS; Star Trek and faster than light travel, teleportation etc; Star Wars and lightsabres.  What I think upsets people is when science fiction gets what they know wrong, when they step out of their Big Lie science and start tinkering with ordinary science.

For example, in a particularly heinous (my view) episode of Star Trek: Voyager called 'The 37s' they detected a trail of petrol (gasoline to US readers) in space and followed it to a 1937 pickup truck floating in space.  Not only were the tyres still inflated, but there was manure in the flatbed, and when they got it onboard the engine started first time!  Apparently all the petrol hadn't leaked out.. and there was still enough acid in the battery to create electricity.. yesss...  Later on they had a Blue Alert and landed a 750,000 tonne spaceship on a planet on three spindly looking legs.  By that point I was well beyond having equated the script with the truck's cargo.

In the final analysis though, everyone has different tastes; if you don't like it don't watch it / buy the book, but don't watch/read it - especially if it's a series with a known pedigree - and then profess surprise and/or complain about it when it does what it says on the tin.  That just annoys people.