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Has Science Ruined Science Fiction?

Genre pulp writer Emerson LaSalle is not a fan of science. Or, at least, according to his blog Count Pulpula, he’s not happy with How Science Ruined Science Fiction.

The biggest problem with science is that it eventually undermines sci-fi staples. Take Mars for example. Thanks to that useless tax drain NASA, we now know Mars to be a lifeless rock which may or may not have had water on it at one time. Gee, thanks, science.

While it’s true that many science fiction novels have been shown to scientifically false in restrospect, I still find classic sf quite appealing. I find it interesting to see how yesteryear’s visionaries envisioned the world we see today.

But I gotta wonder about the Mars comment. Has the recent Mars exploration doomed the Mars story? Has science really ruined sf?

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

11 Comments on Has Science Ruined Science Fiction?

  1. In a word ‘no’. One only have to read the efforts of HG Wells or Jules Verne to realize that good writing, great imaginations, and good stories transcend the facts as we now know them.

    A requirement of fictional storytelling is for the reader to suspend his disbelief. Good storytelling almost forces that, even when the conceits are so fantastic that they couldn’t possibly be real.

    For example, just because the book Celestial Matters is based on completely bogus science doesn’t make it any less of a good story.

  2. If you expect Science Fiction to be present some kind of authoritative/plausible description of the physical world then you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. Heck, even most of the predictions in New Scientist turn out to be rubbish, how can you expect a bunch of loony science fiction writers to do better.

    I don’t mind crap science in Science Fiction myself. I just rewatched The Quiet Earth last week and loved it even though the science in it is loony. It didn’t get invalidated by new science since then it’s “science” was rubbish on arrival. It’s still a damn good story though.

  3. Good writing will last, even if the science is superseded. Take a look at “Doc” Smith or Olaf Stapledon or Cordwainer Smith or…well, you get the idea.

    And new science leads to new science fiction. Mars might not be straddled by canals, green men, red men, flying boats and thoats, but on the other hand you get something like Kim Stanley Robinson’s mars books or Bill Hartmann’s book or Geoffrey Landis’ book or Ben Bova’s pair of books.

    Maybe his problem is that it is harder to sell pulp these days when folks poke holes in your version of science? Or is he too lazy to learn new stuff? To grow? I mean, “The Black Sorcerer of Uranus”? Is that for real?

    Come on, he can’t even do enough research to learn how to spell “Saggen” correctly.

  4. Karen Burnham // September 29, 2006 at 11:45 am //

    Are you kidding? Where would SF be nowadays without quantum mechanics? Science has handed authors the universe on a platter there. You can do just about anything, and since no one really knows how quantum mechanics works, as long as you mention the word “quantum” in there somewhere everyone will say “Sure, sounds reasonable to me.” šŸ˜›

  5. And can you imagine Charles Stross writing “Acelerando” using the state of computer technology circa-1970? Or better yet, 1945?

  6. I don’t think so per se. However there are writers that get overfocused on the science at the expense of the fiction.

    Ideally I like realistic science and compelling vision in my stories. Sadly too often it seems like you end more with one at the expense of the other.

    The exceptions however are awesome.

  7. joshua corning // September 29, 2006 at 9:39 pm //

    One has to admit some of scifi’s staples are fairly stupid, telepathy and martians makeing the the top of that list.

  8. But ultimately does that make them bad reading? I am sorry but the basic premise here is that you cannot write SF that goes back on what we know to be true about the universe. I have a major problem with this statement since the genre is called science fiction not science fact. I mean honestly is it that hard to suspend your belief when reading a book that talks about Martians or other entities that have been proven false? I think not, and I even point to books like Tobias Buckell’s Crystal Rain where you have a culture that does not seem much more beyond the tech level of the 1800s. But somehow they got to the planet they are on, and that comes through in the story.

    I mean honestly, we complain about the state of the genre (and I can probably find eight to ten posts on the subject), and yet we still want all our fiction to be based on deep science that not everybody comprehends. I will also admit that pulpy fiction is not for everybody, but it does have a role in our genre.

  9. +1 point for Tim for using the approved book format of bold text! šŸ™‚

    Sorry, Scott… -1 point for you for using the italicized format reserved for movies & TV. šŸ™

    (This tally brought to you by the the ARUIP – Anal-Retentive User Interface Police.)

  10. John I think you’re displaying symptoms of being a blogging control freak.

  11. Nah, If I was a control freak, I would have fixed the problem. šŸ˜‰

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