Science (optional) fiction

For the last month I’ve been netflixing Star Trek: The Next Generation and am now half way through season 7. (Season 6 was my favorite). It’s star trek, its the bottom edge of science fiction.  They have flashy space ships, phasers, aliens, and lots of amazing technobabble but most of it isn’t scientific, its just story telling with “aliens” that humans (Americans specifically) can understand.  Star trek has a habit of making an entire alien race so uniform that it is rare for there to be cultural differentiation with in the species.

I’m only basically educated in many sciences. I am probably more educated than most, but that still leaves miles and miles of stuff that experts know that I don’t. But I’m pretty sure i know more than the writers of Star Trek. They make huge mistakes in scientific reality and probably do it for writing expediency. When they filmed TNG they only had about a week to write an episode, about 45 pages of script.

Star Trek TNG was over in 1994, meaning they really didn’t get into continual story telling like so many other shows are doing. Deep Space Nine did that a lot more with the dominion war.  Each episode was stand alone, there were very few references to what had happened before.  But the even with all that, you’d think they could find some science guys who would love a low paying job science checking the scripts.

It’s freaking star trek, millions of fans, many of whom grew up on this stuff and went to MIT or Stanford or what ever.

So many aliens are half breeds. Spock for instance, Alexander (Worf’s son), B’lana Torres, and Diana Troy, all were mixed. Aliens who evolved on different planets who happened to look nearly human (for makeup sake).  This is the focus of my rant today because I think this has caused major damage to our scientific community.

Too many astronomers who get to be on TV talk about fining life only on “Earth-like” planets. Meaning they aren’t looking for aliens, they are looking for humans in star trek makeup. Even on earth we find Terran life in very strange places, ya think we might find ALIEN LIFE IN ALIEN ENVIRONMENTS. 

Too many people are unable to think outside of the box.

It’s frustrating.


27 thoughts on “Science (optional) fiction

  1. ” It’s star trek, its the bottom edge of science fiction.” — hardly, it follows the same template as thousands of pulp SF works — no “real” science but lots of speculation…. that does not make it NOT SF…. rather, “soft science fiction.”

    • The fact that it violates a great deal of scientific law and understanding, in my mind, revokes its status as science fiction. I am not saying It is bad, but it doesn’t meet my threshold for science fiction.

      • Bogus. The definition was developed when it was a mostly pulp field… That is such a retrospective definition. By that statement then anything which was written in the past is not SF due to our increased scientific knowledge… And what about social science fiction which isn’t interested in “science”?

      • The definition may have been developed when pulp fiction was really popular but the period when the term was coined has no bearing on the fact that there is almost NO science in star trek.

        My argument isn’t based on our understanding of science, but the total lack of scientific input.

        Star ship troopers written by Hienline in the 1950s is a great example of good pulp sci-fi. The buggers and the skinnies are alien and act alien. The technology follows set rules of operation and the laws of physics. There is even discussion of planetary climate and evolution. While its focus is military, it has good science principles behind it.

        Jules Verne (what little i have read of him) also follows good basic science (if not naive and fanciful)

        I put star trek a lot closer to Star wars which is space fantasy rather than science fiction. Star Trek is really bad in some cases because it pretends to be science and it does it very badly.

      • “(if not naive and fanciful)” — Goodness me — you’re one of those people who dismisses everything of the past because it’s “out of date.” Argh…. put yourself in context… is that that hard? 😉

      • By this preposterous definition how most of the SF classics actually SF? Herbert’s Dune — weird mutated humans bend space moving ships… Weird drugs make humans into computers. NONE OF THIS can happen! it’s all presumption, not science! There’s something called speculation…

        Ender’s Game — in the far future aliens, which we haven’t found any evidence of, fight huge battles (and we don’t even have warships or is it possible to build them) — i.e. speculation….

        Most of the future technology is BY NATURE speculation — we haven’t build these things yet, they are NOT yet possible. i.e. speculation.

      • very simply, you’re claim to know a definition speaks to your incredible ignorance of the field, where it came from, and what our definitions of the field are. Star Trek IS science fiction, has always been considered science fiction, and is just as hokey as 99 % of science fiction… So yeah…

      • From wikipedia:

        Hard science fiction is a category of science fiction characterized by an emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy, or on both.[1][2] The term was first used in print in 1957 by P. Schuyler Miller in a review of John W. Campbell, Jr.’s Islands of Space in Astounding Science Fiction.[3][4][5] The complementary term soft science fiction (formed by analogy to “hard science fiction”[6]) first appeared in the late 1970s. The term is formed by analogy to the popular distinction between the “hard” (natural) and “soft” (social) sciences. The science fiction critic Gary Westfahl argues that neither term is part of a rigorous taxonomy—instead they are approximate ways of characterizing stories that reviewers and commentators have found useful.[7]

        Today, the term “soft science fiction” is often used to refer to science fiction stories which lack a scientific focus or rigorous adherence to known science. The categorization “hard science fiction” represents a position on a broad continuum–ranging from “softer” to “harder”
        This is out of a wikipeida page showing that other people put gradients on science fiction. I am not the first or the last to apply my own specific definition of science fiction. Clearly you don’t agree with me, and that is not surprising, we are different people.

      • Exactly, but you called one almost NOT SF! I tried to put gradients on it as well — but hard isn’t “more” SF than soft. As you seem to think…

    • Here is a great example I just thought of why ST isn’t Sci Fi.
      In season seven the Enterprise came across a place where warp drive was destroying the galaxy (ozone analogy episode). Bad stuff happens and a place where warp drive can not be used is born. So they need to get across to save some stranded crew on another ship. What do they do? Saturate the warp nacelles with particles and “Coast” (at warp) through the zone.

      Warp drive doesn’t work like that. This is the first example i thought of of the writiers making shit up and not using the rules set down for the fictional universe. Real Sci Fi creates rules (and we can argue about how plausible they need to be) and follows them. The rules define the story, not the other way around. Many examples of bad sci fi. As Lucy Lawless said in an episode of the Simpsons “A Wizard did it…”

  2. Actually we have human computers now…. From what I saw of dune (I actually have the book around here somewhere) it seems really plausible. We can figure out how to mutate humans do to a lot of funky things, or it can happen by accident. Nothing unscientific about the idea of warping space time with thought.

    I wasn’t dismissing Jules Verne at all, I said it was naive because it was written in a time period when science was blown up to do a lot more than it could. I failed to make that clear in my response.

    To your comment about 10 years, I disagree, a lot of the solid science of the 19th century still stands, it has just been clarified and cleaned up to a finer point. Many parts of it have been abandoned, but many other parts are still thought to be accurate and valid.

    In your comment, you have started talking about speculation. all fiction is speculation. For science fiction to be scientific, that speculation has to be based in understood scientific data. Star trek fails this because there is no currently understood method for natural hybrid human alien birth. Nearly every hybrid in star trek, until Enterprise, is assumed to be naturally occurring. Also all the aliens look like people with no explanation why.

    Your last comment accuses me of ignorance of the field, which is a bad argument. I gave you my definition in my original post and have supported it further in these replies. My argument is that any fiction that doesn’t base itself in some scientific principle fails to meet MY criteria for science fiction.

    Star Trek isn’t Hokey, its fantasy, non scientific. Using techno-babble doesn’t correct for flat out missing science.

  3. From Wikipedia: Science fiction is largely based on writing rationally about alternative possible worlds or futures.[2] It is similar to, but differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated laws of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation).

    Star Trek doesn’t even keep up with it’s own development of “Scientific laws”.
    1) They use big warp nacelles to create a warp bubble, OK, this checks out. But this drive requires a great powerful warp core that contains a matter-antimatter reactor to generate the massive power needed to power the warp field. This too seems to fit, until you look at those shuttles that are so tiny yet can do the same thing. Things start to break down.

    Also the computer on Enterprise D has a warp field around it to allow it to work faster than light. Well, this creates a major problem. The warp field allows the ship to travel FTL because it’s bending space time. For a computer’s electrons to go FTL each one would need a warp bubble. This is a major problem.

    2) the previously mentioned aliens, both in breeding and looking human. (The human looking aliens are a result of a budget issue, I guess it’s costly to come up with strange aliens every episode, all though the original series managed with Andorians and Klingons etc…)

    3) The ability of the replicator. What the hell can and can’t this thing do? It can make food but no one ever tried cloning organs until that one episode when Worf broke his back? Why don’t they use replicators to make copies of Commander Data? He talks about being alone, yet he seems to have to build parts of himself and other androids they encounter, by hand.

    Just because your story has space ships, ray guns, aliens, time travel, set in the future, set in space, etc, does not make it science fiction. Star Wars has all that and it has no elements of science in it at all. Its a Samurai movie set in space. Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon Were both better at science fiction than Star Trek, and no, I don’t really call them science fiction either.

    Just because EVERYONE CALLS SOMETHING A NAME doesn’t mean it actually is. Millions and Billions can be mistaken. Words matter, definitions need meaning or else we have nothing at all.

    • You are creating a definition that is ahistorical, fallacious, ignores the majority of what is considered SF, and is incredibly privileging to WHAT YOU enjoy! It’s useless to define a field based on your personal preferences….

      ‘Just because your story has space ships, ray guns, aliens, time travel, set in the future, set in space, etc, does not make it science fiction. Star Wars has all that and it has no elements of science in it at all. Its a Samurai movie set in space. Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon Were both better at science fiction than Star Trek, and no, I don’t really call them science fiction either.” — yes, this is all soft space opera SF and pulp SF….

      And hard science fiction — which you clearly ONLY care about defining — is SF with more scientific basis….

      And science isn’t the only thing that can be speculated about in SF — social issues as well — which you nicely ignore…

      • Joachim, I am making an argument that Soft Science Fiction is not science fiction at all. You are saying I am wrong, and your only support for my being wrong is “Everyone else disagrees”.

        It doesn’t matter how many people agree or disagree, take a look at my argument and oppose my argument on its merits, not the tradition of everyone else.

      • I understand your argument….

        But you seems to think that science content is the only thing that makes something science fiction. Which is untrue… and fallacious. Future social speculation for example…

      • Why can’t I hold that opinion?

        Why does Future Social speculation have to be lumped into science fiction, which can take place in any location on the space-time continuum.

  4. Yes, the human computers in Dune were called “Mentats.” In that universe, a war against robots led to a galaxy-wide ban on “thinking machines,” which included even simple computers. Thus, they selectively bred the smartest humans to create a caste of people so smart they could do with their brains what advanced computers did with circuitry.

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