Where’s the Science in my Science Fiction?

20 Jun

Why is it that most of the time, the science presented in the science fiction is nothing more than fiction? Or is missing completely? Sometimes you get the odd bit of reality- like Joss Whedon having space be silent in Firefly & Serenity; usually, there’s the sound of engines or phaser blasts or what have you- even though there’s no atmosphere/oxygen in space in order for there to be sound. In fact, we at NerdLush are watching the late ’90s/early ’00s series, Farscape, right now. In the first mini-cap, Em questioned why the lead character- who’d spent most of the episode up to that point reminded the audience that he was a scientist!- got out of his spacecraft and took off his helmet without checking for breathable atmosphere. She has a point- what kind of scientist would do that?

Is it just me? Or do you watch these shows and movies too, and wonder where the fact is? Don’t get me wrong- 99% of the time, I am A-OK with letting reality go and just enjoying the entertainment. I mean, it’s not like I’m sitting in a drama- it’s probably an action movie and I’m there for the adventure. I get pissed at other genres too when they miss something- I love Criminal Minds, but there’s an episode that kills me because what it says to the audience is that people in my world (in real life I’m a forensic psychologist) do things by our gut (Derrick Morgan actually says during a parole hearing that his gut says the inmate should be released) instead of using assessments, probabilities, years of training and experience. Love the show… but I fast forward through that episode.

This post was actually inspired not by a sci-fi program but by a marathon of Crossing Jordan. When the show premiered in ’01, I wouldn’t watch it. But I adore Miguel Ferrer and couldn’t stay away. The reason I couldn’t watch it was because according to the mythos of the show, coroners solve crimes. Um… no. Coroners investigate death, by looking at the body, and provide that information to others who then solve the crime. The others got left out. But Miguel… and then Jerry O’Connell joined- and I’ve adored him since Stand By Me (I was once one my way to the Cat Club on Sunset (years ago) and he was jogging next to my car at a light- it was a fun moment). Anyways… So I was intrigued and the show got to me and now I love it. I honestly hadn’t watched it in years when I started my marathon a week or so ago. Generally, they get the science right. Of course, it’s TV so DNA can be processed in 3 days. And everything else that normally takes time or outside sources is sped up or there’s a magic person in-house who can do it (the same thing happens on my beloved Bones, I’ve learned to live with it). I’d like a little reality in my TV… why can’t it take a few days? Why can’t the characters whine about time and have to deal with real-life issues? Do you remember Hill Street Blues in the early ’80s? They got it right. Of course, everything took months, if not years back then- so they had to rely on other bits of police work…

I digress.

Where did the science go? What science fiction program or film does the best job of combining fiction and fact? I’m really curious.


8 Responses to “Where’s the Science in my Science Fiction?”

  1. stewartmoncure June 20, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    It’s really a matter of tolerance to leaps in logic. My brother-in-law once mentioned how he checked out of the recent Star Trek movie when the “red matter” was introduced. Mind you, he’s a big Star Trek fan and can accept giant ships using warp speed and traveling through space and time, so to each his own.
    The thing about science in films/tv/books these days is that its generally there to serve the story being told, until it becomes a crutch in the storytelling that needs to be ignored. One of the biggest complaints about the Prometheus movie I’ve been hearing is that for a bunch of top scientists, they do some very dumb things (like say, taking off their helmet in an alien environment, or reaching out towards an alien creature). You could argue that it isn’t much of a horror movie if people avoid every conceivable terror, but it can also be seen as lazy storytelling.
    I don’t really think there’s been a consistently scientifically accurate sci-fi tv show or movie in my lifetime, only because of expediency in storytelling. It is bizarre when I find a show like Breaking Bad more scientifically accurate than something like Fringe or Bones, but with more serialized storytelling, you can stretch out time more than a procedural or “case of the week” kind of program. Its a problem of time and research, and the amount of both tends to affect the final result.

    • elizabeth ann June 20, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

      Ack! no spoilers! Haven’t made it to see Prometheus yet. 😦

      But yeah, exactly- being real gets lost to the storytelling. I get that reality can be boring (though Mythbusters is “real” and not boring) and artistic license says that you need to keep the audience entertained… I’d just like to see something that stayed real thoroughout. I haven’t watched Andromeda Strain in years (or ever seen 2001- I know, I’m a bad nerd)… can’t remember if it did a good job or not. I bet the original version had more fact than the recent remake though.

      I’m also much better at forgiving those programs/films that are blatantly not factual. I got so pissed at the last Indiana Jones movie because after having 3 films of adventure that (though the immortal knight was impossible) were probable, suddenly there were dimension hopping aliens. But one of my favorite shows as a kid was Misfits of Science. Sure… science was in the title but… there was no science. Ever. And I was ok with that because it was silly fun.

  2. TheBruce June 20, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    I’ve come to terms with the whole “sound in space” thing. At least, I’ve chosen to accept that Hollywood does it for “dramatic” reasons and not because they’re really that stupid. There are some terrible offenders of this though, like the WING COMMANDER movie, where they attempt to recreate a submarine movie… IN SPACE.

    In fact, I’ve pretty much come to terms with Hollywood and the entertainment industry and its acceptance of stupidity. They can’t even portray baseball games realistically.

    That said, I think THE CORE (2003) is one of the dumbest movies ever made.

    Unfortunately, science fiction films routinely ignore the “science” part, like the “fiction” part is carte blanche to make up whatever shit you want.

    Not sure about the best though. Try 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, GATTACA or CONTACT (I didn’t like this film as a whole though). ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER are also pretty damn realistic and believable despite the fact that they’re attempting to portray a reality far-removed from our own.

    • elizabeth ann June 20, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

      I recall GATTACA actually gave me an interest in DNA and biology that I hadn’t had in school. And CONTACT was great until… well, after the first half. Slow though. I’ve managed to avoid THE CORE (or I blocked it out completely).

      Yes, I mostly came to terms with it… but it’s dumb that I had to. I’d like to see some smart Sci-Fi. I have a masters degree and am most of the way through a doctorate- I don’t always want things dumbed down! (Though admittedly, there are days that all I want is some mindless SHARKTOPUS or PIRANHACONDA awwesomeness, with a dash of SHARK ATTACK 3, and PINATA)(In fact, I love those movies and all horrible bad ones because they own up to their ridiculousness)

      It’s good to know that I’m not the only one out there who wants so reality. Thanks for commenting!

  3. froonwp June 23, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

    I always maintained that FARSCAPE’s motto ought to be “We take the science out of science fiction!” One could certainly argue that the show was more fantasy than science-fiction (and What’s Wrong With That?)…

    That said, one of the few times FARSCAPE actually got its science right was — well, forgive me for flogging my blog, but here’s the story: http://froonium.com/?p=316

    • elizabeth ann June 24, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

      We are big fans of FARSCAPE here and are having a lot of fun with our rewatch. Thanks for popping in and sharing the story! Hope you’ll stick around and share more thoughts as we continue our viewing posts. 🙂

      • Froonium Ricky June 25, 2012 at 8:45 am #

        Will do; thanks! Enjoy your rewatch!


  1. Where’s the science?, take 2 « NerdLush - July 16, 2012

    […] inspired by conversations with friends and the constant rumblings in my head to write a post asking where the science in my science fiction was. The response was great! And essentially it came down to the audience, money, and storytelling. […]

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