Note: Previously published at this site February 10, 2015
What fantasy fans often confuse for science fiction is not science fiction. The many incorrectly labeled sci-fi movies, books, games, and other fictional goodies that nerds and geeks digest in a daily entertainment diet go far, far beyond scientific reality; these forms of entertainment are fantasy, not science fiction. You know the stuff I’m talking about: a movie scene where a Sith Lord’s telekinetic Force lifts and throws boxes at an angry, young Padawan; a 1960 television series involving an Away Team that beams down to some steamy planet’s surface to seek out new life forms, while someone on that same team ends up making out with a green woman; and a Playstation-created, acid-dripping creature that is attempting to find out how good your playable character may taste. This ain’t science fiction.
Science fiction is not the speculation of scientific possibility if the entertainment incorrectly interprets or incorrectly applies scientific law and theory–impossible characters, scenes, and elements are the realm of fantasy fiction. Science fiction is based on real science as it is understood today: physics, biology, geology, chemistry–all of the systematic enterprises that take a lifetime to understand. So, if a work of fiction defies known current science, if a fictional work is not scientifically accurate, failing to pass muster under Newton’s laws or whatever, the fiction may not happen no matter how many times you hope to Rekall yourself into believing impossible events just did occur on some far away Halo megastructure. Soothsaying predictions about some possible scientific achievement doesn’t prove anything; a soothsayer should never be trusted, anyway (the haruspices sure didn’t divine solutions to prevent the fall of Rome.)
There are relatively few real science fiction works that exist and relatively few science fiction artists that have ever created this entertainment. I can think of a few authors that produce or have produced science fiction books but the list is fairly small: Ben Bova, Stanislaw Lem, Arthur C. Clarke, Poul Anderson, and several others. These authors and their works pale in quantity when compared to the mountains of fantasy works that are available. So, real science fiction entertainment is typically shoveled into some dusty corner of the bookstore where Hard Science Fiction is offered but ignored by most readers until some wandering college freshman might stumble on the sub-genre while looking for a Physics study guide.
A book’s poorly labeled category of Hard Science Fiction is a misnomer. The only thing hard about this category is the book’s scientific background that many readers don’t take the time to understand; therefore, these readers won’t appreciate the book and will dismiss the writing as a sub-genre that is not suited to taste. I feel that dismissing real science fiction by using this bad labeling is a shame–maybe a crime–, so I’ve decided to correct this misnomer, relabeling real science fiction as Scientific Fiction. For further improvement, any other fictional works that fail to meet scientific rigor will be labeled as Fictional Science.
I’m feeling better already, but I’ll go a little farther: I’m going to list a few examples of Fictional Science and punish the Guilty for posing as works of Scientific Fiction:
Star Wars—Fictional Science
I love the movies–well, the first three, anyway–but I’m not going to deceive myself by believing the fiction is based on real science. Metaphysical powers– collectively called The Force–do not exist because these powers obviously defy science. Telekinesis is a study for mediums, not physicists. Higher counts of fictional Midichlorians swimming around in the blood stream don’t make The Force more plausible.
And let’s consider the background of the creator, George Lucas; Lucas has a background in Cinematic Arts–not science. Most likely, his inspirations for some of his work were Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone. I doubt Lucas ever gave a second thought to Newton.
Star Trek–mostly Fictional Science
While there are a few real technologies that bear similarities to Star Trek props, most of the science in Star Trek is hypothetical, embellished, or impossible. Healing rays are a hypothetical of going beyond cauterizing lasers, androids are an embellishment of micro-controlled robotics, and transporters may be flat out impossible. Breaking down someone’s atomic and molecular structure and rebuilding that someone at another location causes me to wonder why that someone doesn’t collapse into dust.
But suppose I accept the idea that transporters could be a real future technology; then transporters are the most underutilized weapon in Federation space and beyond. I can think of a couple of weapon possibilities per Star Trek scenario: during space battles, the transporter would remove an enemy starship’s hull pieces; or, this technical marvel might be combined with a replicator to build a massive army of transporting clones!
To heck with good Kirk, bad Kirk; instead, imagine this: while the Federation is sitting around big tables and discussing how to be nice to everyone, the Klingons and Romulans will transport in an endless army of phaser wielding barbarians–there would be so many of the invading Klingons for the Federation to deal with that those deliberating nice guys would be easily overwhelmed. I guess the Klingons are the nice guys, after all, for not reverse-engineering the transporters.
An ancient halo megastructure–a creation made of the equivalent of all the material available in the asteroid belt–that has not gone unstable, collapsed, or destroyed by meteors? This megastructure might be a scientific possibility? I won’t even address the halo concept as being Scientific Fiction because the idea of a megastructure is obviously not scientifically sound. But maybe Master Chief has an answer.
Fantasy entertainment is a time, a realm, or a planet where impossible fiction happens, regardless if it happens in Middle Earth, at Hogwarts, or on the forest moon of Endor, a long, long time ago. Fantasy elements are in the writer’s imagination, not in a science book; by replacing a Vanishing Cabinet with a space transporter, a magic wand with a healing ray, the impossible now takes place in the stars.
Science fiction/scientific fiction, on the other hand, is rooted in real science; the characters explore planets that have real physical properties, the fictional characters identify story problems using scientific principals, and the technologies the characters use to solve their story problems will pass scientific rigor.
Star Trek fans who want to debate this article and the fictional science labeling, please don’t start flinging modern physics gobbledygook–Wish Science–at me. I doubt many individuals who enjoy Star Trek have also spent much time studying Einstenian relativity. I’m sure there are Star Trek fans who are also scientists, but a horde of Klingons only quoting Wikipedia won’t convince me. Most likely, numerous Star Trek fans have already wasted too much time thinking about whether it would be the Romulans or the Klingons who actually use transporters to invade Federation space. So, I’ll end the debate now: Fictional Science ain’t Scientific Fiction.