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Blunders in SciFi

Gravity Lens points us to the website Sci-Fi Science Blunders which lists scientific errors made in science fiction. It hasn’t been updated in a while (Bad Astronomy, however, is still being updated) but it’s still a decent site. I’m sure there are lots more infractions than are listed here.

Science blunders in science fiction, assuming you catch them, are potential story killers depending on the reader/viewer. A scientific fallacy might be easily dismissed or it might be the thing that stops you from reading/watching. Suspension of disbelief can be shattered if, say, a planet scan determines the surface temperature to be -280º C. Some people are annoyed with explosions in the vacuum of space. Whatever the reader’s willingness to let it slide, realistic science makes for good science fiction.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

4 Comments on Blunders in SciFi

  1. “realistic science makes for good science fiction”

    Really, then what determines whether science is “realistic”? What’s far fetched today could be entirely possible tomorrow. Today’s fantasy could be tomorrow’s reality, so where do you draw the science fiction line? Does the story simply become fantasy if it doesn’t contain science based on our current understanding of the universe?

  2. Good questions, KT.

    By “realistic” science I mean something that is conceivable within the bounds of known scientific principles. For example (and to paraphrase myself) faster-than-light travel is not currently possible, but it is conceivable.

    The line between fantasy and sf is somehwat blurry to some (which is why they often get lumped together on store shelves). But I think John C. Wright made a good distinction: “Science Fiction is naturally a literature of the head, in that it deals with the real constraints of engineering and physics…Fantasy is naturally a literature of the heart, in that it deals with problems solved by emotion, or faith, or magical thinking.” So, to answer your last question, not necessarily. As long as a story is based on known scientific principles (as opposed to, say, magic calling itself science) it can be considered science fiction.

  3. Q: Does the story simply become fantasy if it doesn’t contain science based on our current understanding of the universe?

    A: I would not say necessarily in all cases, but, by and large, yes. The science in science fiction is not optional.

    There are certain fantastic elements in science fiction, such as time machines, faster-than-light drive, psionics, which SF readers are willing to give the benefit of the doubt, because they spring from a scientific world-view. They are topics for legitimate scientific speculation, even if the standard model rejects them.

    However, story elements that simply ignore realism, will find it increasingly harder to win the reader’s good will. The more ignorance the writer displays about his science, the harder a time he will have crafting a convincing science fiction tale.

    The progress of science is not a mere chaotic change from one set of beliefs to another: it is a progression. Apples did not start falling up because Einstein refined Newton, nor did differing weights fall at differing rates because Newton improved on Galileo. What is far fetched today might be equally far-fetched tomorrow, if it contradicts established fact. The challange for a science fiction writer is to find something that looks far-fetched only at first glance, but then present a convincing case, not in contradictin to known science, why it might be legit after all.

    Science fiction based on bad science, junk science, or no science might not be fantasy, but it is in the “soft” rather than the “hard” part of the field.

    JCW

  4. Thanks for the comments guys. I suppose in the end the classification will depend on the readers, and what they’re willing to forgive. What I put into the science fiction category would probably be different from most, but I’ve always been more lenient on the genre.

    BTW John, KT = Stacy

    So I do check the blog every now and then.

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