Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Another thread at the Borders Science Fiction blog

I'm the guest blogger at Borders.com's science-fiction blog Babel Clash right now. Here's my latest post -- but, as before, I've turned off comments here; come join the fun at Babel Clash, and share your views:
Does the Science in Science Fiction Matter?

Okay, I confess: tonight I'm off to see the new Star Trek movie for the fifth time. :)

But the science in the movie is just plain whacko. A supernova that threatens the entire universe? Creating singularities out of red matter, whatever the heck that is? Being able to look at a planet in another star system with the naked eye (Spock looking up at Vulcan looming in the sky of Delta Vega)? Come on!

Yes, we can all play the game of trying to come up with rational explanations for any of these howlers (that is, we can all try to do the work now that the scriptwriters should have done but didn't). But let's not do that here; there are plenty of other online places for that particular exercise.

Instead, let's ask: Does the science actually matter in science fiction? As a novelist, I work enormously hard to try to get things right in my books. I found it funny that for the Star Trek, precisely one science consultant was listed for this hundred-million-dollar movie, whereas my latest novel, WWW: Wake, created, I assure you, on a much more modest budget ;), has more than a dozen science consultants listed in the acknowledgments.

But, if in the end, the only thing that matters -- witness Star Trek or Star Wars -- is whether we laughed or cried, cheered or booed, in the right places, does it really matter if the science is accurate in SF?

Certainly the general media thinks our science is all made up, anyway -- "crazy science fiction," "the stuff of sci-fi," "not science fiction, but real science" are terms we've all cringed at often enough.

(I will say, in my consultations with David Goyer, who is heading up the adaptation of my novel FlashForward for ABC this fall, I've been enormously impressed by how scientifically literate, and how curious about science, he is. But, that said, he also is, in my experience with film and TV makers, very much in the minority.)

So, yeah, it's called SF, but if the F is good, we demonstrably give a free ride on the S when it comes to movies. What about books? Do we hold them to a higher standard, and, if so, why?

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