Thursday, September 3, 2015

Not-So-Hard Science Fiction: John's Pet Peeves Number 2

I've seen some pretty odd things praised for their realism in science fiction, and I'm sure you have, too. There are a lot of goofy details that just get ignored as well.

Hard SF by its nature takes our current universe, moves it to a futuristic setting, and will generally grab one or two fantastic elements and declare them to be science for purposes of the story. This could be faster than light travel, time machines, wormholes you can travel through, or other story elements that don't work like they do in the real world.

My pet peeve is when it's done inconsistently. I'm going to pick on a movie this time instead of picking just on writing. I haven't read the novelization of Interstellar, so I will stick with what I know.

Take relativity and time dialation for instance. If you're going close enough to an event horizon to get a 1000:1 or greater time dialation ratio by going from orbit to a planet, no planet is going to survive the shear effects and no ship is going to hang in the same spot "in orbit" and never get closer to the event horizon.

Also, if you need a full Saturn-V-sized rocket to get off the earth's surface the first time, I would not believe a ship the size of a Star Trek shuttle can just hop between surface and orbit multiple times.

Consistency will buy you a lot of "suspension of disbelief." Rewriting a rule is normal, Just make everything follow that new rule. Consider the consequences and ramifications of having changed a rule. Is space travel simple and fast? It had better be the same every time it's used.Are you using relativistic slower-than-light travel? You'd better bone up on time dialation and use it consistently everywhere. Don't forge orbital mechanics, either. As a different sort of example (and one that doesn't poke fun at Interstellar), do you want to arm your soldiers with swords? You'd better have a consistent reason why long range guns won't get the job done, because they replaced older tools for a reason.

Sorry if I've ruined the movie Interstellar for you now by raising an eyebrow at everyone who praised its accuracy. But just so you know, I've watched it twice. On purpose. Just don't expect me to praise it for its science, or for its consistency.

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