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Thread: Dimensions of Science Fiction - Realism to Fantasy, Optimism to Pessimism

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  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW lpetrich's Avatar
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    Dimensions of Science Fiction - Realism to Fantasy, Optimism to Pessimism

    How hard is that SF? Pharyngula mentions a survey that someone once did, asking people to rate various science-fiction movies on two dimensions.

    [copyrighted material removed, see note at bottom]

    Grading Science Fiction for Realism goes into gory detail about the "scientific" hard-vs.-soft dimension.

    [copyrighted material removed, see note at bottom]

    Most visual-media SF is well on the soft side, it must be said.

    Arthur C. Clarke's stories are well on the hard side:
    • Present-Day Tech: The Ghost from the Grand Banks (raising the Titanic)
    • Ultra Hard: Fountains of Paradise (space elevator - some nano for diamondoid materials, but completely plausible, rate of current development makes this possible in the very near future)
    • Plausibly Hard: Rama (megastructure spacecraft, logically explained), 2001 (both book and film) ultrahard science except for the monolith, etc.

    The film is some of the hardest space-travel science fiction that's ever appeared in visual media.

    Isaac Asimov's stories are at least Firm, and I'd rate his robot stories Ultra Hard, unless one counts the robots' positronic brains. However, their positronic nature is not necessary for the stories.


    It seems like this realism axis can be split into two axes:
    • Our world behavior -- imagined world behavior
    • Coherent world -- incoherent world

    World incoherence:
    • Inadequate extrapolation, like cars as mechanical horses
    • Poor continuity: lots of retconning necessary for good continuity
    • Technobabble

    The more imagined a story world is, the more difficult it can be to keep that world coherent. Thus the two dimensions together.

    That's not to say that it's a necessary correlation. It's possible to have a mundane sort of story with an incoherent story world, and it's possible to have complete fantasy with careful world building.


    Turning to optimism vs. pessimism, Star Trek is notable for its optimism, for featuring a future where all of humanity and many other species can coexist and work together. I remember someone claiming that much of its competition features people on the run and being chased by various enemies.

    I'd also say that IA's Foundation and robot stories are also on the optimistic side. In fact, IA invented the Three Laws of Robotics because he wanted to write fundamentally optimistic robot stories instead of all the pessimistic ones he had read about robots destroying their creators. Stories that further implied that we were not meant to build those robots.


    So how does your favorite science fiction rate along these dimensions?

    [lpetrich, I've trimmed out the bulk of quoted text that came directly from the sites you link to, as best as I could determine. I appreciate that you included the links and attribution, but that much text is an unacceptable use of material not belonging to you. In the future, please keep it down to a few short quotes to make your point; people will follow the links if interested. Thanks. --zanzjan]
    Last edited by zanzjan; 01-15-2013 at 06:15 PM.

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