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WriterDude
07-31-2016, 11:21 AM
I have two characters who display superhuman traits. One catches a friend by their ankle to stop them falling from a great height, the other survives a fall of three or four stories with little more than scrapes and bruises.

Initially, I'd given them extra dense bodies, and had others make observations on weight etc, but a heavier body is going to hit the ground a lot harder than a lighter one, and probably split open.

I'm writing loose sci fi, so material properties I can invent, but the consequences should be plausible.

Which more acceptable?

mirandashell
07-31-2016, 02:47 PM
Can I ask why you need to make it plausible? They have superpowers. Readers are so used to that there's really no need to explain it. They have superpowers, that's all that needs to be said, really.

GeorgeK
07-31-2016, 03:29 PM
Do you mean catches them at the precipice before they fall or do you mean at some point after the fall when approaching terminal velocity?

Some people do by luck survive a fall of 3- four stories with no injuries. As far as overall survival (although likely with some injuries) the LD50 for falls is about 50 feet and for most commercial construction that means 5 stories. There've been a few rare cases of people falling out of airplanes over a thousand feet in the air and surviving, some who walked away from the scene. Theyr'e by far the exception but possible.

A dense body isn't going to hit the ground any faster than a less dense one unless there is a significant difference in air resistance. Two people who otherwise look human will hit the ground at the same velocity. Also bone strength and muscle density aren't really the things that determine survivability (I'm assuming no weird pathology). It's the deceleration injuries that kill people for the most part, avulsed brain stem, torn internal arteries etc. That brings back the first question because if the falling victim was suddenly stopped by someone grabbing their ankle and they went from terminal velocity to zero there will still be the deceleration injuries.

Dennis E. Taylor
07-31-2016, 07:03 PM
Also, in the canonical Superman, there was a difference between super-strength and invulnerability.

PeteMC
08-01-2016, 12:42 AM
I agree that super strength wouldn't necessarily mean indestructible as well so the two things don't even have to be related if you don't want them to be. As George says, it's the "stopping hard" that kills people, and strength isn't going to help with that.

mirandashell
08-01-2016, 01:12 AM
I was watching World's Strongest Man the other day. And one of the doctors said something interesting. Strong Men usually have more tendon injuries than muscle injuries. Their muscles are immensely strong but are attached to the bone by tendons that aren't as strong. So the strain on them often causes them to rip or tear.

PeteMC
08-01-2016, 01:15 AM
This is true. Also remember that much as I love it, WSM isn't a drug tested sport. The consequences of this could lead to some abnormalities in the relative speed of increase in muscle strength vs tendon strength. If someone was *naturally* super-strong I'm not sure if that would be the case or not.

mirandashell
08-01-2016, 01:20 AM
I wasn't aware it isn't drug-tested. But then, if they are all using the same drugs.....

PeteMC
08-01-2016, 01:32 AM
Well obviously no one will publicly admit to using *any* drugs and I'm very carefully not publicly stating that any drugs are used, but no, it's not tested.

WriterDude
08-02-2016, 12:44 AM
Thanks for the replies, I think I was unclear on my question though. It's not superpowers at work here, so in the example of catching someone falling, there is quick reflex within reach, and where I might conceivable stop a toddler coming to harm with one hand, I wouldn't expect many to do the same with a full grown adult. That's about the level of strength.

As for falling, about six or seven metres on to a hard surface, tarmac I think, and not landing on their feet is going to do some damage. More than a bruise, a scrape, and possibly winded.

What I suppose I want to know is what other traits might be manifest if one had this extraordinary strength, without the obvious physique. The two characters in question appear human, but wouldn't check out as homosapien in a paternity test.

I thought being heavier than their size might suggest is one consequence, but not necessarily, when I think about it.

mirandashell
08-02-2016, 05:38 PM
ERmmm.... sorry, still not sure what you are asking. If they are immensely strong without massive muscles, then they aren't really going to look any different to anyone else.

Dennis E. Taylor
08-02-2016, 06:58 PM
It sounds like the OP is positing, not superpowers (which come with their own suspension of disbelief rules) but a different biology, which would still have to follow believable physics.

R.Barrows
08-02-2016, 08:32 PM
You might find this helpful:
http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/24344/title/The-world-s-densest-bones/

Excerpt:

In 1994, an athletic man we'll call John was involved in a car crash. He was uninjured, and X-rays of his spine showed no fractures. They did, however, reveal unusually dense bones. John's radiologist referred him to Karl Insogna, the director of the Yale Bone Center. "His bone density was eight times higher than average for a man his age," Insogna recalls. This fact may not have surprised John, who used to sink like a stone when he tried to swim. Unable to determine a diagnosis or any negative symptoms, Insogna sent John on his way.


Six years later, Insogna heard a fellow physician mention he'd seen a family with very high bone mass. Together they traced the family tree, linking John to an extended kin group sprinkled up and down the Eastern seaboard. The affected kin all had very dense bones and unusually square jaws, but otherwise normal skeletons. One of the affected family members is a physician in Alabama. "He's had several failed hip replacements because they can't screw the prosthesis into his bone," Insogna says. "It's too hard." Studying the family, Insogna's team zeroed in on a region of chromosome 11 likely linked to the unusual trait. But at the time, he says, the region was just too long to sequence.


How a car accident led to a genetic finding - and why the publication of the human genome helped.


Maybe you can work this genetic abnormality into your super.

L M Ashton
08-04-2016, 08:07 AM
If you're looking at genetic abnormalities, you might want to look at this, too:

https://www.propublica.org/article/muscular-dystrophy-patient-olympic-medalist-same-genetic-mutation

It's a longish article, but I found it super interesting.


And then I got one that had this subject heading: “Olympic medalist and muscular dystrophy patient with the same mutation.” Now that caught my attention. I wondered if it might point me to some article or paper in a genetics journal about an elite athlete I’d somehow missed.
Instead, it was a personal note from a 39-year-old Iowa mother named Jill Viles. She was the muscular dystrophy patient, and she had an elaborate theory linking the gene mutation that made her muscles wither to an Olympic sprinter named Priscilla Lopes-Schliep. She offered to send me more info if I was interested. Sure, I told her, send more.

Uncle Poop
08-04-2016, 05:29 PM
Mind you take what I type here with a grain of salt, I am new to writing and idea building.... I have always heard and read stories where people do extraordinary feats with ordinary bodies. You hear stories of people lifting up a car to save a person's life or the one parachutist? who's parachute failed to open and survived the fall, including several bounces. What I have not heard about is how badly these people were injured if at all from their ordeals.

So the catching of a falling person could be just that, an ordinary person doing an extraordinary feat. Maybe when the catcher makes the catch the subsequent support time is what matters? How long could even a strong person support another person's body weight?

The person who falls could there be something they hit on their experiment with gravity? Maybe a small awning sticking out above a window or maybe an unfinished balcony they "bounce" off of on their way down? Does the person hit face first, on their back or maybe on their side? I would think this matters as well because things like arms, face/head or back/chest would mean a different description on why they survived. For example, if the person hits on their chest then maybe they have fused ribs which makes the ribs stronger.

Again take what I say with a grain of salt...

WriterDude
08-04-2016, 10:23 PM
The two events, falling and catching, are foreshadowing the reveal that these characters really are different to everyone else, not just ordinary outcast misfits, and there is a purpose for their being.

neandermagnon
08-06-2016, 11:04 AM
Having very dense bones doesn't mean they're harder to break. Denser bones would usually be more brittle. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osteopetrosis

People who are very muscular are more likely to survive things like car crashes, falls etc. There was a case, I think in Britain, where someone's parachute didn't open after jumping out of a plane. He survived after hitting the ground and the doctors put it down to the fact he was very muscular, i.e. the muscles themselves protected him from serious injury. I've heard similar things said about athletic people surviving serious car accidents, i.e. emergency doctors saying had they been less muscular, they would've had much worse injuries and probably died.

Exercise doesn't only strengthen the muscles, it also strengthens the bones. The best protection against osteoporosis in later life is weight bearing exercise. Taking calcium supplements without doing exercise won't help very much. It's a bit like taking protein supplements but not actually working out in the gym - your muscles need both the exercise and the protein to grow and strengthen - your bones need both the calcium and the exercise to get denser and stronger. Denser bones as a result of weight bearing exercise and good diet are stronger and less likely to break.

When it comes to genetic conditions, you can't rely on them for explaining someone having "superhuman" abilities. If the genetic condition resulted in a better skeleton, natural selection would've meant we all have that skeleton. The fossil record shows that neanderthals had the same injury patterns as modern day rodeo riders, suggesting close contact with large mammals and the necessity to withstand such injuries. Their bones were thicker and shorter than modern human bones but in terms of density etc, the same as modern day athletes (i.e. most modern people have weaker bones due to being sedentary, not evolutionary change - the shape of the long bones in Homo sapiens (longer, more slender) is due to natural selection in favour of running and using long range hunting weapons though). If a genetic mutation had made bones better able to withstand being flung a long distance by an angry bison then it would've become fixed in the population (i.e. we'd all have it) some time over the last million or two years, but it hasn't. So real life genetic conditions are not a good way to explain any superpowers - however, in some genres you can have fictional very recent genetic mutations that do that... the X men was based on that idea. It's not plausible, but it's a superhero story so it really doesn't have to be because superpowers aren't plausible to begin with. Readers suspend their disbelief because that's the basis of the story.... "what if someone had superpowers...?"

I would just stick to the whole "they have superpowers" thing or "their extra dense muscles protected their bones from breaking".

WriterDude
08-06-2016, 11:48 AM
Thanks Neandermagnon. Handwavium will cover it nicely I guess.

Now, how to explain the physics of my interstellar portal activated by the church organ...:tongue

mirandashell
08-06-2016, 03:20 PM
You just reminded me of the story from about 30 years ago of the body builder who accidently shot himself in the stomach and survived due to his abdominals being so strong.

Here we go: Sergio Oliva (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergio_Oliva)

I remembered it slightly wrong. He didn't shoot himself, it was his wife. And it was 5 bullets from a .38 special

Dennis E. Taylor
08-06-2016, 07:51 PM
When it comes to genetic conditions, you can't rely on them for explaining someone having "superhuman" abilities. If the genetic condition resulted in a better skeleton, natural selection would've meant we all have that skeleton.

Erm, no. This may seem like a silly tangent to derail on, but creationists zero in on those kinds of arguments, so they need to be nipped. The proper statement would be: If the genetic condition resulted in a better skeleton, and the results were worth the extra biological cost, etc.

Why aren't we all as muscular as Fabio? Because in order to maintain that physique, you have to knock back a couple thousand extra calories per day. A lighter, less muscled competitor can just avoid Fabio, and put those extra calories into reproducing, thereby out-breeding the big guy. Only if the extra musculature results in a net increase in offspring and decrease in mortality, will evolution favor it.

Same reason flightless and mostly-flightless birds exist. They've found a viable lifestyle that doesn't require them to maintain all that breast meat.

PeteMC
08-08-2016, 12:00 AM
You just reminded me of the story from about 30 years ago of the body builder who accidently shot himself in the stomach and survived due to his abdominals being so strong.

Here we go: Sergio Oliva (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergio_Oliva)

I remembered it slightly wrong. He didn't shoot himself, it was his wife. And it was 5 bullets from a .38 special

Yep - Sergio was a true legend.

blacbird
08-08-2016, 01:47 AM
It's a near-certainty that readers interested in a story about heroes with superstrength aren't going to care a unicorn fart in a cold north wind about bone density. I certainly wouldn't; if this thread didn't exist, the issue never would have crossed my mind. To me, as reader, it seems completely irrelevant to the story.

caw

mirandashell
08-08-2016, 01:49 AM
I said that in the second post.

neandermagnon
08-08-2016, 02:02 AM
Erm, no. This may seem like a silly tangent to derail on, but creationists zero in on those kinds of arguments, so they need to be nipped. The proper statement would be: If the genetic condition resulted in a better skeleton, and the results were worth the extra biological cost, etc.

Why aren't we all as muscular as Fabio? Because in order to maintain that physique, you have to knock back a couple thousand extra calories per day. A lighter, less muscled competitor can just avoid Fabio, and put those extra calories into reproducing, thereby out-breeding the big guy. Only if the extra musculature results in a net increase in offspring and decrease in mortality, will evolution favor it.

Same reason flightless and mostly-flightless birds exist. They've found a viable lifestyle that doesn't require them to maintain all that breast meat.

Fair enough - it is on a benefit v cost thing, absolutely. However, my statement still stands: "Better skeleton" is a vague, non-precise statement (my bad) - by better, I meant one that would increase someone's ability to withstand injury without there being any downside (such as making the bones more brittle, which is what tends to happen with excessive bone density). In other words, I'm saying the bone density of modern athletes and palaeolithic humans was the optimal bone density for withstanding close range hunting/rodeo riding accidents. I wasn't talking about muscle mass at all in the statement you quoted. There's a huge calorie cost to large brains and big muscles, but not so much for denser bones. The downside to denser bones would be an increase in how brittle they are. Denser does not mean stronger beyond a certain point. (Loss of bone density does weaken bones - hence what we* have being optimum, not a scale whereby more and more density = greater and greater ability to withstand impact.)

*by "we" I mean modern human athletes and palaeolithic humans, i.e. humans in top form who engage in regular, strenuous, weight-bearing exercise. I probably shouldn't say "we" as although I play rugby I'm hardly Olympic standard (just spent the whole afternoon and evening watching the women's rugby 7s :greenie Go GB!! bad luck USA losing to the All Blacks... was a close match and well fought).

I did the whole creation v evolution thing in the past and completely stopped caring. Creationists choose to believe whatever they want based on emotions. They're going to pick holes in absolutely everything that evolutionary biologists say and cherry pick to support their beliefs no matter what is said or how it's said or how well it's explained unless/until they choose to approach the subject with a genuinely open mind, so I really, truly cannot be arsed with it at all.

What you say is correct though - it absolutely is about benefits outweighing the costs.

neandermagnon
08-08-2016, 02:24 AM
It's a near-certainty that readers interested in a story about heroes with superstrength aren't going to care a unicorn fart in a cold north wind about bone density. I certainly wouldn't; if this thread didn't exist, the issue never would have crossed my mind. To me, as reader, it seems completely irrelevant to the story.

caw

I totally, 100% agree with this. I just like discussing evolutionary biology :greenie (but not arguing with people about whether evolution actually happened or not)

WriterDude
08-08-2016, 02:31 PM
It's a near-certainty that readers interested in a story about heroes with superstrength aren't going to care a unicorn fart in a cold north wind about bone density. I certainly wouldn't; if this thread didn't exist, the issue never would have crossed my mind. To me, as reader, it seems completely irrelevant to the story.

caw
I couldn't disagree more. Find me a harry potter fan that doesn't know what his wand is made from, or a back to the future fan that doesn't know what piece of kit makes time travel possible, or a marvel fan that can't tell you what wolverine's blades are made from.

I know techno babble when I see it, but I'm looking for internal logic and consistency. There is a story reason for the super human ( not superhero) strength that isn't down to a radio active spider bite or something. I started the thread as a logic check to see if high density bone and muscle is consistent with strength and tolerance, or if I needed to rethink.

A dense body will mean he'll crush anyone he sits on, he might not have enough buoyancy to swim, but if the strength comes from something else, like a naturally occurring equivalent to a cabon nano tube or something, I have that freedom in the scope of the story, he'll have the strength, but not the traction to wheel a broken car off a road. The detail matters, consistency matters.

And many people who read about super heroes devote their lives to arguing online about details like bone and muscle density of their characters and whether it makes sense.

onesecondglance
08-08-2016, 03:43 PM
The thing those examples all share in common is that they are handwavium...

WriterDude
08-08-2016, 04:15 PM
The thing those examples all share in common is that they are handwavium...

Yes I know. That's why I picked them.

Am I missing something? Is world building and lore not important?

This is how it works, in my head.

Guy operating the scanner: you have incredibly dense muscle and bone stricture
Super strong guy: does that explain how I caught the girl?
Operative: probably yeah, and why the chair broke...

Its handwavium. The question is if its plausible?

mirandashell
08-08-2016, 04:27 PM
Seeing as you told us all off for our original answers, I'm not sure you'll get any more.

Do what you like with it. It's your story.

WriterDude
08-08-2016, 04:59 PM
Seeing as you told us all off for our original answers, I'm not sure you'll get any more.

Do what you like with it. It's your story.

That's not the case at all. I've been offered great advice and read the links kindly provided, but I've also had patronising and questionable replies.

mirandashell
08-08-2016, 06:20 PM
If you say so. I for one won't be bothering again.

WriterDude
08-08-2016, 06:59 PM
If you say so. I for one won't be bothering again.

I value every reply and you're free to contribute however you please but I don't under stand why you've taken umbridge here. You took the thread off topic in post 2 and answered a question, with attitude, about super powers that I didn't ask, and I did address that in a later post.

I'll take advice however it comes, but snark I can can live without thanks.

mirandashell
08-08-2016, 07:09 PM
I had absolutely no attitude in post 2. I was asking if it was something you really needed to worry about because, as you yourself later said, handwavium covers it.

And the fact that most of us didn't answer your question the way you wanted it answered is done to how you phrased the question, not my understanding. Next time maybe you should be more precise about what you want to know rather than throwing a tantrum cos we aren't psychic.

As for snark, I only hand it out to those who deserve it. And you my friend are the most deserving case I've seen in a long while.

And now I'm done with this thread. I'm off to talk to some grown-ups.

PeteMC
08-08-2016, 07:12 PM
This is how it works, in my head.

Guy operating the scanner: you have incredibly dense muscle and bone stricture
Super strong guy: does that explain how I caught the girl?
Operative: probably yeah, and why the chair broke...

Its handwavium. The question is if its plausible?

It's plausible enough for handwavium IMO, yes.

WriterDude
08-08-2016, 07:28 PM
Thanks Pete. I think I know which way to go now.

Dave Williams
08-23-2016, 09:06 PM
You might search out Larry Niven's essay, "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" for some thought along those lines...

Mark HJ
08-24-2016, 05:22 PM
With my physicist's head on, human bodies are a connected system of rigid bits and squishy bits. When you hit the ground (or whatever else your MC is going to hit) the rigid bits must not snap (unless the plots suddenly calls for it) and the squishy bits must not tear. Bone density seems to give you stronger bones, but if you want to stray further then perhaps the organic matrix needs to change to allow greater deformation before it breaks. That would also offer a 'related' mechanism for the squishy bits - if the soft tissue in your MC's body can stretch further before it breaks then impacts might be more survivable.

Stronger, more rigid materials might not be such a good idea. On any impact, the energy has to go somewhere. If your MC is mechanically stronger than concrete, for example, then that impact energy can go into cracking the concrete. Otherwise, something in the MC's body has to dissipate the energy and the squishy bits (behaving visco-elastically, if you want to get technical, with a high elastic limit) are the best candidate if they can do it without sustaining damage such as blood vessels tearing or cells rupturing.

Bolero
08-25-2016, 08:38 PM
Regarding a post earlier in the thread on tendon strength - conversation down the gym many years ago with one of the guys supervising in the gym. He'd been working away at weight lifting and did too much, too soon. Damaged his tendons. He had to rest for a year (as in no weight lifting) to let them recover, then re-start his muscle building more slowly. What he'd been told was that tendons do increase in strength, but more slowly than muscles so you had to pace it appropriately.

Been watching "An Hour to Save Your Life" on emergency medicine. Something else that is needed in all of this is a better cushioned brain. Rapid deceleration can bounce the brain about inside the skull and cause swelling, which if not relieved leads to brain damage. Nothing I've ever seen worried about with super heroes, but having watched the documentary just before reading this thread, I joined the dots. It isn't about the skull being split (which can happen) but the cushioning available, or how rapidly the tissue swells/recovers from swelling.
You might want to think about bruises and swelling in all tissues, not just the brain.

GeorgeK
08-26-2016, 06:15 PM
Regarding a post earlier in the thread on tendon strength - conversation down the gym many years ago with one of the guys supervising in the gym. He'd been working away at weight lifting and did too much, too soon. Damaged his tendons. He had to rest for a year (as in no weight lifting) to let them recover, then re-start his muscle building more slowly. What he'd been told was that tendons do increase in strength, but more slowly than muscles so you had to pace it appropriately.

Been watching "An Hour to Save Your Life" on emergency medicine. Something else that is needed in all of this is a better cushioned brain. Rapid deceleration can bounce the brain about inside the skull and cause swelling, which if not relieved leads to brain damage. Nothing I've ever seen worried about with super heroes, but having watched the documentary just before reading this thread, I joined the dots. It isn't about the skull being split (which can happen) but the cushioning available, or how rapidly the tissue swells/recovers from swelling.
You might want to think about bruises and swelling in all tissues, not just the brain.
Most of the tendon injuries that I've seen were due to inappropriate training. Too much too soon is certainly one of those but most were people not exercising the whole muscle. they wanted to do the the Ahnold thing and have bulky looking muscles so they did reps only along the middle portion of the muscle, not along its entire length. They do push ups where their chest doesn't even get to within a foot of the ground. They have a very strong center of a muscle with weak edges so they tear. People who are genuinely strong don't look bulky because the strength is derived from the entirety of each muscle and they've worked, not just worked out.

GeorgeK
08-26-2016, 06:25 PM
As for falling, about six or seven metres on to a hard surface, tarmac I think, and not landing on their feet is going to do some damage. More than a bruise, a scrape, and possibly winded.

What I suppose I want to know is what other traits might be manifest if one had this extraordinary strength, without the obvious physique. The two characters in question appear human, but wouldn't check out as homosapien in a paternity test.

I thought being heavier than their size might suggest is one consequence, but not necessarily, when I think about it.I'm not a superhuman. I have jumped 30 feet to ground many times without injury because I knew how to land, feet and roll. I couldn't do it now, but when I was younger I never lost a game of tag. Nobody else was willing to jump off the deck. Now, that's not the same as an uncontrolled fall. If you can convert that energy to rotation it will reduce the energy felt by the soft tissues of the body. If you had better internal tethering of solid organs that would reduce the vascular avulsions. Concussion is still going to be a thing, unless....Hmmm...Maybe they had cerebrospinal fluid more around the brain? They could have smaller cerebral ventricles and an additional layer of CSF with an extra meningeal layer, so a two layered CSF. I could see a Radiologist looking at a head CT going, "WTF is that! It looks like a subdural of the whole brain but it's not a hematoma!"

WriterDude
08-27-2016, 12:19 PM
Thanks. I hadn't considered brain injury, or tendon damage. I'm gonna read round a bit more on this before I finalise the scene. It could change a lot.