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Mind Meld Make-Up Test: S. Andrew Swann on Scientific Accuracy in SF Film

Thanks to an email snafu, S. Andrew Swann’s response to our last Mind Meld — regarding the most realistic (and the most ridiculous) uses of science in SciFi film and TV — got lost in the ether. A team of ethernauts was immediately dispatched to recover the lost response. After minimal loss of life, it was recovered. Here is the question:

Q: Which SciFi films and/or television shows do the best job in adhering to realistic science? Which ones do the worst?

Swann’s response is below…

S. Andrew Swann
S. Andrew Swann is the pen name of Steven Swiniarski. He’s married and lives in the Greater Cleveland area, where he has lived all of his adult life. He has a background in mechanical engineering and — besides writing — works as a database manager for one of the largest private child services agencies in the Cleveland area. He has published 17 novels with DAW books over the past 14 years, which include science fiction, fantasy, horror and thrillers. He has recently sold a pair of paranormal historical fantasy novels to Bantam. His latest book is Prophets, a sequel to the epic space opera Hostile Takeover Trilogy. Upcoming books include Dragons and Dwarves (DAW, Aug 4th), an omnibus reprint of Dragons of the Cuyahoga and Dwarves of Whiskey Island; and Lilly’s Song, the first novel in the Wolfbreed series (Bantam, Aug 25th).

The most egregious case of ignoring science in an allegedly science fiction movie is the 2007 movie Sunshine. This movie is painful for several reasons, one is because it works so hard to pay homage to a SF movie that’s widely regarded as one of the most scientifically accurate, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Just comparing two airlock scenes, one where Poole suffers vacuum for a few moments to get back on board the Discovery without a helmet, with another where pressurization suddenly gives us our gravity back on the Icarus II. Man that was a WTF moment. Also, somehow they managed to fly something the mass of Manhattan from Earth all the way to the sun, and they were able to make an unscheduled and unplanned course change, AND THEN RESUME THEIR ORIGINAL COURSE. Did I mention, MASS OF MANHATTAN? When Armageddon asks us to believe a couple of nukes will take care of an asteroid the size of Texas (think about that. Drop two nukes on the actual state of Texas, you’ll only piss them off.) you have the excuse that you’re watching a Michael Bay action flick that’s no more realistic than, say, Transformers. Sunshine goes out if its way to dress up in scientific drag, and that just makes the whole thing worse.

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.

3 Comments on Mind Meld Make-Up Test: S. Andrew Swann on Scientific Accuracy in SF Film

  1. Hell yeah, Sunshine just pissed me off two.  I walked out thinking ‘i’m glad i didn’t pay for these tickets’

    The moment that stands out for me is them bickering about running out of air and then when he goes to set the explosives he is in a massive, massive room which seems to have air in it.

  2. What was most egregious about “Sunshine” was the premise itself, stated before the opening titles: “The sun is burning out.  We have to go and bring it back to life.”  What???  Stars doesn’t just “burn out” overnight; it’s not a real astronomical phenomenon.  It’s like starting a film with: “The moon is turning into chocolate.  We have to go and change it back into rock.”  The movie was asinine before the titles were even over.

  3. Jim Pinkoski // May 15, 2009 at 4:48 pm //

    What about the entire premise of Skynet being a computer intelligence that is spread out all over the world in the World Wide Web?  And then Skynet comes up with the “great idea” of using nuclear weapons to destroy all mankind… and their cities… which contain all the COMPUTER SYSTEMS that will be shut down by the electromagnetic energy pulses from the bombs!!!  DUH!!!  Sounds like pretty dumb science to me….

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