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whitehound
04-06-2005, 02:33 AM
Recently, British TV showed a 4-part documentary about what would happen if the Yellowstone caldera were to erupt in the near future. It took the form of two episodes of dramatization and two episodes of scientific commentary on the dramatizations.

The British SF newsletter Ansible commented as follows:

`In _Radio Times_, 12-18 March, the intro to an article about the "Supervolcano" film [read]: "A billion people killed and the start of a new ice age. Science fiction, right? Not according to a disturbing hi-tech thriller." Ah yes, quite -- hi-tech thrillers, you can rely on them. Not like that daft fiction about science nonsense.'

But when I read this, I realized that I knew what Radio Times meant. Without really thinking about it, I tend to expect the science in SF to be speculative and extrapolated in some way - I don't think of fiction about *today*'s science as science-fiction, even when it's applied to a speculative situation.

What do others think? Is a film or novel about an outbreak of the Ebola virus, being dealt with by current medical techniques, SF - or is it just a thriller?

What about Bakker's book Raptor Red, which tells of the life and loves of an early Cretaceous predatory dinosaur, with accompanying scientific notes? It's certainly fiction about science (palaeontology in this case), but is it thereby science-fiction? Historical novel? Animal story? Romance?

three seven
04-06-2005, 02:51 AM
I tend to expect the science in SF to be speculative and extrapolated in some way - I don't think of fiction about *today*'s science as science-fiction, even when it's applied to a speculative situation.
I'd echo that. I tend to think of sci-fi as what might happen, as opposed to what will, would or would have.

EDIT: If I'm wrong, does that make Friends sci-fi? I mean, the whole Ross & Rachel & Ross & Charlie & Charlie & Joey thing, what with at least two of them being palea... paleo... dinosaur experts.

ChunkyC
04-06-2005, 03:51 AM
I agree. Science Fiction has a big 'what if' quotient where the science is concerned that lets you extrapolate from present day science. A hi-tech thriller, however, should be bound to what is known to be possible during the time period in which it is set. Some toe the line rather closely, I'm sure.

Zane Curtis
04-09-2005, 05:00 AM
This raises the other big question: is hard science fiction (i.e. SF with real science in it) still a viable form? Real life has caught up with, and sometimes even surpassed the expectations of golden age SF. We've been to the moon, sent unmanned missions to the other planets, and routinely put satellites into orbit. We have computers small enough to sit on a desk, or on your lap, or in the palm of your hand -- all joined together in networks. If you want virtual reality rendered in real time, just look at any modern first person computer game. George Orwell's surveillance-based dystopia is more or less up and running.

Other favourites of the old SF writers have proved unfeasible. I won't hold my breath waiting for an AI that could pass for a human being. Hover cars aren't going to replace regular cars any time soon. Humans colonising the stars is not a practical consideration, and never really was (given that Einstein disproved FTL travel long before it became a popular idea in SF stories).

These days, real science has moved onto other questions, and has overtaken SF. SF writers still write about Robots and AIs and galactic empires, but we don't read them the way we used to. We have lost the visceral sense that SF stories represent viable possibilities for the future. Kids in the 1950s grew up thinking that one day they really would be able to strap on a laser pistol and fly their spaceships to Mars. Today we consider SF as the kind of fantasy story where you substitute robots and spaceships for swords and dragons.

Is anyone today writing the sort of hard SF stories that can inspire real scientific inquiry, in the way that old SF underpinned the philosophies and dreams that gave us NASA?

whitehound
04-09-2005, 05:26 AM
Well, some of the wilder shores of modern physics have been partly inspired by SF about parallel worlds. Current work on developing remote-controlled emergency medical-pods for use in battlefields also has an SF-ish root. But much of modern science is so abstract it would be difficult to tie it into or derive it from a story with actual characters, unless the characters are themselves research scientists and the science is just background colour.I mean, how do you write an SF story about string theory? How many potential SF writers would be able to understand string theory well enough to write about it?

MadScientistMatt
04-09-2005, 05:59 AM
I've read some pretty interesting and relatively recent hard SF books. Robert L. Forward's (http://www.robertforward.com/) work comes to mind. He managed to come up with some plausable explanations for how humans might travel to another star using a combination of a lightsail and life extending drugs. This might have come from his other work, as he was a consultant for NASA on topics such as lightsails and antimatter rockets.

Unfortunately, I can't think of many contemporary hard SF writers who have had the same degree of influence as Asimov.

MadScientistMatt
04-09-2005, 06:12 AM
Well, some of the wilder shores of modern physics have been partly inspired by SF about parallel worlds. Current work on developing remote-controlled emergency medical-pods for use in battlefields also has an SF-ish root. But much of modern science is so abstract it would be difficult to tie it into or derive it from a story with actual characters, unless the characters are themselves research scientists and the science is just background colour.I mean, how do you write an SF story about string theory? How many potential SF writers would be able to understand string theory well enough to write about it?

It's true that physics has sort of gone that way - unless something turns up that again makes time travel or faster than light propulsion (which, come to think of it, is actually pretty close to the other side of the time travel coin) seem viable. Unless a physics development can be translated into a new technology that isn't a faster, smaller, or more effiecient version of something we already have, physics is not likely to inspire much hard SF.

On the other hand, biotechnology has a lot of interesting possiblities. There have been a few books that might count as hard SF about it (Jurassic Park?) but it seems authors have only scratched the surface of this one. Trouble is, this one seems a bit harder to figure out a way to give characters an exciting adventure based on biotechnology.

Zane Curtis
04-09-2005, 08:25 AM
On the other hand, biotechnology has a lot of interesting possiblities. There have been a few books that might count as hard SF about it (Jurassic Park?) but it seems authors have only scratched the surface of this one. Trouble is, this one seems a bit harder to figure out a way to give characters an exciting adventure based on biotechnology.

Actually, I count biotechnology as one of the developments anticipated by old science fiction. In The First Men in the Moon, H G Wells shows us a society of moon-men where individuals are biologically adapted to their function in society. Wells, of course, didn't understand the mechanisms of genetic manipulation and fobs us off with this: "In the moon... every citizen knows his place. He is born to that place, and the elaborate discipline of training and education, and surgery he undergoes fits him at last so completely to it that he has neither ideas nor organs for any purpose beyond it." But, as you can see, the idea of purposeful biological manipulation is right there, serialised in issues of The Strand magazine between December 1900, and August 1901. Aldous Huxley took up the theme again in Brave New World, and James Blish took it to its ultimate conclusion with his notion of pantropy, where human beings would inhabit the galaxy by biologically adapting themselves to alien environment.

The other biology related theme I see in old science fiction is this notion of human evolution in the future. These stories always draw upon Nietzsche's Ubermensch, but the stories usually seem to resolve on the old oversized-brain-in-a-fishtank view of the ultimate human being. To be honest, that strikes me as a little bit silly. The reason why human beings are successful in the first place is because we are not evolutionary specialists, in the way that, say, an anteater is. As non-specialists, we are free to adapt to every sort of environment and ecological niche, while we build tools to handle all the specialised tasks. A human being is more than just an advanced brain fitted on top of a ape's body.

Pthom
04-10-2005, 12:29 PM
On the other hand, biotechnology has a lot of interesting possiblities. There have been a few books that might count as hard SF about it (Jurassic Park?) but it seems authors have only scratched the surface of this one. Trouble is, this one seems a bit harder to figure out a way to give characters an exciting adventure based on biotechnology.Greg Bear has written two novels that deal with evolution: Darwin's Radio (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345435249/102-3693237-5777737)and Darwin's Children (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345448359/102-3693237-5777737). And at least one dealing with genetic engineering: Blood Music (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0743444965/ref=pd_sim_b_3/102-3693237-5777737?%5Fencoding=UTF8&v=glance). All are good reads, on a par with any of the great space operas of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Anatole Ghio
04-10-2005, 01:02 PM
This raises the other big question: is hard science fiction (i.e. SF with real science in it) still a viable form? Real life has caught up with, and sometimes even surpassed the expectations of golden age SF.

For many authors, the science in science fiction is merely a tool to examine some other issue about human nature or the universe. The whole point of these works is to use the fantastical element of science fiction to allow the reader to step back from their current framework, and examine it in a new way.

So even if all the science in every HG Wells novel were to become obsolete, he would still be read becuase 1) of his level of craft, and 2) his viewpoint on humanity isn't dependent upon the science, but upon the fiction.

I imagine for writers whose whole raison detre is to predict the future and comment solely about technology, there would be the danger of becoming extinct once science caught up to the original idea.

Jamesaritchie
04-11-2005, 08:28 AM
This raises the other big question: is hard science fiction (i.e. SF with real science in it) still a viable form? Real life has caught up with, and sometimes even surpassed the expectations of golden age SF. We've been to the moon, sent unmanned missions to the other planets, and routinely put satellites into orbit. We have computers small enough to sit on a desk, or on your lap, or in the palm of your hand -- all joined together in networks. If you want virtual reality rendered in real time, just look at any modern first person computer game. George Orwell's surveillance-based dystopia is more or less up and running.

Other favourites of the old SF writers have proved unfeasible. I won't hold my breath waiting for an AI that could pass for a human being. Hover cars aren't going to replace regular cars any time soon. Humans colonising the stars is not a practical consideration, and never really was (given that Einstein disproved FTL travel long before it became a popular idea in SF stories).

These days, real science has moved onto other questions, and has overtaken SF. SF writers still write about Robots and AIs and galactic empires, but we don't read them the way we used to. We have lost the visceral sense that SF stories represent viable possibilities for the future. Kids in the 1950s grew up thinking that one day they really would be able to strap on a laser pistol and fly their spaceships to Mars. Today we consider SF as the kind of fantasy story where you substitute robots and spaceships for swords and dragons.

Is anyone today writing the sort of hard SF stories that can inspire real scientific inquiry, in the way that old SF underpinned the philosophies and dreams that gave us NASA?

I'd say 99% of science fiction writers are writing about hard science. It's darned hard to get anything else published, and editors demand more realistic science than ever before. Just becaus ethere's a lot of space opera out there doesn't mean hard SF is dead. It's very much alive and well, and science hasn't caught up with it at all.

And Einstein never said that FTL travel wasn't possible. Relativity does allow for it. It's only travelling AT the speed of light that's impossible. Relativity says we can travel slower than the speed of light, and faster than teh speed of light, but not AT the speed of light. This poses a severe problem, but not an insurmountable one.

And both relativity and quantum mechanics allow for getting around the universe in several ways, almost certainly better ways, other than FTL travel.

There are many, many hard science fiction writers working today, both in the magazine market (Particularly Analog, but also in Asimov's, F&SF, Scifiction, and a couple of others.) and also in the novel market.

Real life science may have passed by the Golden Age writers, but those guys are nearly all dead. Moden science hasn't begun to catch up with the current crop of SF writers, and never will. Staying ahead is the job of the SF writer.

Both "hard" science fiction, and "soft" science fiction use real science, and speculates what will happen with this science down the road. And there's a lot of it out there, if you just avoid the Star Trek, Star Wars, and space opera crap. A lot of it.

Higgins
10-02-2006, 11:46 PM
Historical novel? Animal story? Romance?

It seems if your story was about scientists living their lives (obviously in not-so-scientific ways)...you could fit that bit of science-life into any genre at all.

For example, there were big expeditions to the west in search of fossils in the 1870s and any of those could be included in a western.

Popeyesays
10-03-2006, 12:15 AM
You can't write about science in science fiction, it's way too boring. You have to write about PEOPLE and a few persons in particular to write successful fiction of any kind.

It does not matter if the science is feasible, the reader reads about how the characters respond to life in a different reality.

Even though the reality differs, humanity is still the same.

Regards,
Scott

Shadow_Ferret
10-03-2006, 12:24 AM
I tend to expect the science in SF to be speculative and extrapolated in some way - I don't think of fiction about *today*'s science as science-fiction, even when it's applied to a speculative situation.

What do others think? Is a film or novel about an outbreak of the Ebola virus, being dealt with by current medical techniques, SF - or is it just a thriller?

What about Bakker's book Raptor Red, which tells of the life and loves of an early Cretaceous predatory dinosaur, with accompanying scientific notes? It's certainly fiction about science (palaeontology in this case), but is it thereby science-fiction? Historical novel? Animal story? Romance?
I view it all as science fiction. If it's fiction and it has science in it and it's proposing something that might or could possibly happen? Then it's science fiction.

Ebola virus outbreak. Science fiction. You're dealing with "what if."

Raptor Red was science fiction. It took paleontological evidence and extrapolated that into the life of a Utah raptor. Science fiction.

Peggy
10-03-2006, 02:09 AM
Ebola virus outbreak. Science fiction. You're dealing with "what if." I disagree. By that kind of classification, ER is a science fiction show. I personally think that it's not science fiction unless some component is speculative - based on and extrapolated form current scientific knowledge. Stories with modern-day doctors and scientists doing what they usually do, with science up to, but not beyond, what is known today doesn't count.

So no, Friends is not science fiction, even though there are paleontologists. On the other hand, shows like Bones and CSI do seem to push the boundary between non-SF and SF fairly often - or maybe that's just crap science, rather than science fiction.

Shadow_Ferret
10-03-2006, 06:52 AM
I disagree. By that kind of classification, ER is a science fiction show. I personally think that it's not science fiction unless some component is speculative - based on and extrapolated form current scientific knowledge. Stories with modern-day doctors and scientists doing what they usually do, with science up to, but not beyond, what is known today doesn't count.



But you are speculating what would happen if there was an ebola outbreak. And you're dealing with the science involved.

I guess I have a broader view of science fiction, it's not just rayguns and spaceships and time travel.

I think you can classify some current thrillers as sci-fi. Michael Crichton's Prey about nano-technology gone wild is sci-fi, as was his Andromeda Strain 30 years ago.

Friends is a sitcom. There is no science. There isn't even fiction. Just silly situations.

Peggy
10-03-2006, 08:05 AM
But you are speculating what would happen if there was an ebola outbreak. And you're dealing with the science involved. But ebola is a known virus, and, unless you are talking about the discovery of some new method of treatment or other scientific advance, you are just telling a story set in our present world that happens to involve medicine. Quincy used science, and I don't consider that science fiction either.
I guess I have a broader view of science fiction, it's not just rayguns and spaceships and time travel. That's not what I meant at all. The biological and medical sciences are definitely fair game in science fiction. What I was trying to argue was that "science fiction" has to go a step beyond present day science - it can't just be a novelization of The Hot Zone.
I think you can classify some current thrillers as sci-fi. Michael Crichton's Prey about nano-technology gone wild is sci-fi, as was his Andromeda Strain 30 years ago. I would definitely put a lot of Crichton's books in the "science fiction" category, including the Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park and Prey.

Lyra Jean
10-03-2006, 09:15 AM
Can't recall exactly who said this and it's bugging me cause I can't find my book. He wrote the Trouble with Tribbles.

He said just because their is an alien in your story doesn't make it science fiction. Some element of science hard or soft has to be integral to the story so that without the science the story would fall apart.

Pthom
10-03-2006, 11:25 AM
Can't recall exactly who said this and it's bugging me cause I can't find my book. He wrote the Trouble with Tribbles. David Gerrold

He said just because their is an alien in your story doesn't make it science fiction. Some element of science hard or soft has to be integral to the story so that without the science the story would fall apart.

Ordinary_Guy
10-03-2006, 02:52 PM
...what with at least two of them being palea... paleo... dinosaur experts.
:roll:

I'd echo that. I tend to think of sci-fi as what might happen, as opposed to what will, would or would have.
I think you (and others) are right on here: an emphasis on science does not qualify a fictional story as SF.

Further, I think [and it would appear that] you can take the science around at least one speculative bend and still keep it within the straight fiction category (they do so regularly and still call science-oriented stories "thrillers"). It's not until the science takes a couple of giant leaps (or at least a thousand little ones) that the SF label is used.

zornhau
10-03-2006, 07:16 PM
It think it's to do with structure, or implied contract with the reader. SF allows the writer one or two gimmes. You can start in media res.

Thriller: Odd reports started coming in...
SF: WTF? Dinosarz!

Lyra Jean
10-03-2006, 07:55 PM
David Gerrold

Thanks. I have his book on how to write Fantasy and Science Fiction. I just can't find it at the moment.

Higgins
10-03-2006, 08:20 PM
It think it's to do with structure, or implied contract with the reader. SF allows the writer one or two gimmes. You can start in media res.
Thriller: Odd reports started coming in...
SF: WTF? Dinosarz!



But now that there is a certain "sci-fi" future out there with:

a) some kind of FTL
b) some kind of mind-altering brain crappola
c) blasters
d) "genetic engineering"
e) smart and highly independent AIs

Well...its almost like to get back to real science is to get pretty far from Sci Fi. And its not that the a-e is unlikely, its just that it gets packaged (so to speak) as sci-fi science and that sci-fi science is, in a sense, very different from the science current scientists live with on a day-to-day basis.

RTH
10-06-2006, 10:15 PM
On the other hand, biotechnology has a lot of interesting possiblities. There have been a few books that might count as hard SF about it (Jurassic Park?) but it seems authors have only scratched the surface of this one. Trouble is, this one seems a bit harder to figure out a way to give characters an exciting adventure based on biotechnology.

This is made especially more challenging considering that, when you really break it down, the vast majority of Biotech fiction is really just Shelley's Frankenstein (Jurassic Park being a good example, even though it is a fun read). I know there are exceptions, but something about the nature of biotech and bioethics just keep resurrecting (no pun intended) that same Frankenstein theme over and over...

Though on the physics side, I think there's a great deal to be gotten from it for hard SF. If you read enough theoretical physics books, there's so much crazy-sounding stuff that you're bound to get cool ideas.

Peggy
10-07-2006, 01:17 AM
This is made especially more challenging considering that, when you really break it down, the vast majority of Biotech fiction is really just Shelley's Frankenstein (Jurassic Park being a good example, even though it is a fun read). I know there are exceptions, but something about the nature of biotech and bioethics just keep resurrecting (no pun intended) that same Frankenstein theme over and over... I have to disagree. If you look at the actual science in Jurassic Park it isn't like Frankenstein at all. Or is your definition of "Frankenstein-like" anything that creates a "monster"?
Though on the physics side, I think there's a great deal to be gotten from it for hard SF. If you read enough theoretical physics books, there's so much crazy-sounding stuff that you're bound to get cool ideas. Same is true for bio, if you read the cutting edge stuff :) Actually, to me a lot of the theoretical physics work - parallel universes, extra dimensions, weird space-timey things - all tend to sound the same, so I guess it has to do with where your interests lie.

Anyway, just for fun I decided to start a blog about <a href="http://sciencefictionbiology.blogspot.com/">biology in science fiction</a>. I'm hoping to go beyond the idea that biology necessarily begins and ends with monsters (although the monsters will be there too).

Kentuk
10-09-2006, 08:47 AM
For many authors, the science in science fiction is merely a tool to examine some other issue about human nature or the universe. The whole point of these works is to use the fantastical element of science fiction to allow the reader to step back from their current framework, and examine it in a new way.


Why couldn't I have said that. I'm jealous.

For many of us the FTL problem requires a disconnect from hard science. Yet we have the belief that man will escape this system and expand into the galaxy and want to explore the implications.

The 'what-if' factor plays a big part in science fiction. It isn't hard science but a strange kind of social science.


Kentuk

zornhau
10-09-2006, 01:54 PM
But now that there is a certain "sci-fi" future out there with:

a) some kind of FTL
b) some kind of mind-altering brain crappola
c) blasters
d) "genetic engineering"
e) smart and highly independent AIs

Well...its almost like to get back to real science is to get pretty far from Sci Fi. And its not that the a-e is unlikely, its just that it gets packaged (so to speak) as sci-fi science and that sci-fi science is, in a sense, very different from the science current scientists live with on a day-to-day basis.

Yes, well defined clusters of SF science gravitate to certain sub genres, such as Space Opera.

However, you could use any one of the above as the basis for both a technothriller and an SF novel.

Tech/Technothriller/SF Novel
a) some kind of FTL/"Can we develop the FTL drive first?"/"Can we survive our first FTL voyage?"
b) some kind of mind-altering brain crappola/"Why are people behaving strange"?/"Help, Dr Mindwipe has kidnapped me!"
c) blasters/"Our blueprints are missing!"/"Eat electric death, alien scum!"
d) genetic engineering/"What is this sinister organisation up to?"/ "WTF? Super Warriors!"
e) smart and highly independent AIs/ "Why has my bank account just emptied?"/"Hal! Will you just shut up and fly the spaceship?"

Shadow_Ferret
10-09-2006, 07:11 PM
I have to disagree. If you look at the actual science in Jurassic Park it isn't like Frankenstein at all. Or is your definition of "Frankenstein-like" anything that creates a "monster"?

I think he might have meant the whole Man playing God and creating life theme. He did say bioethics.

Peggy
10-09-2006, 10:35 PM
I think he might have meant the whole Man playing God and creating life theme. He did say bioethics. You're right - I had focused on the word "biotech" instead, and I actually assumed he meant "biological science", rather than "biotech". I've gotta start reading posts more carefully.

Even so, I don't think it's accurate to say that the "the vast majority of Biotech fiction is really just Shelley's Frankenstein". Of course of you look at any fiction from a high enough level, you can put it into a tidy category based on the themes it uses. Even non-biotech science fiction has many stories that would fall into "man creates monster" category, it's just that the monsters are robots and AIs, rather than flesh and blood.

RTH
10-10-2006, 06:04 PM
OK, maybe "vast majority" was an overstatement. :)

But it does come up A LOT.

Higgins
10-10-2006, 06:18 PM
Yes, well defined clusters of SF science gravitate to certain sub genres, such as Space Opera.

However, you could use any one of the above as the basis for both a technothriller and an SF novel.

Tech/Technothriller/SF Novel
a) some kind of FTL/"Can we develop the FTL drive first?"/"Can we survive our first FTL voyage?"
b) some kind of mind-altering brain crappola/"Why are people behaving strange"?/"Help, Dr Mindwipe has kidnapped me!"
c) blasters/"Our blueprints are missing!"/"Eat electric death, alien scum!"
d) genetic engineering/"What is this sinister organisation up to?"/ "WTF? Super Warriors!"
e) smart and highly independent AIs/ "Why has my bank account just emptied?"/"Hal! Will you just shut up and fly the spaceship?"

I like the idea of repackaging sci fi science as thriller science.

But it is kind of touching and kind of nice that the same old familiar old sci-fi science gets trundled out over and over.