Thursday, April 3, 2014

Reality versus Fantasy

Yesterday I did a review of the movie Gravity in which I excoriated the movie for scientific inaccuracy, especially when it comes to orbital dynamics.

And then I started thinking: why do I care?  I've watch Star Wars and Star Trek and hundreds of other science fiction movies that completely ignore science.  And I don't feel the need to correct their science.  Well, maybe if it's completely implausible.  Like the scene in Star Trek: First Contact that's supposed to be in "zero gravity" and vacuum yet you can see gasses interacting with air and people move as if they are in gravity ("magnetic boots" are the supposed reason why).  But I sort of shrug and go on.  Why?  Why did I care that Gravity had such bad science yet don't care that Star Trek does?

I think it's because Gravity was "real world" as in it was set in contemporary times and it involved places (Earth) and technology that exists.  It was the real world.  Star Wars is verging on fantasy (the creature living in the asteroid with creatures living inside it?) and Star Trek, at least before the J.J. Abrams versions, were at least marginally accurate and what wasn't accurate could usually be explained away by some technology that doesn't now exist.  (I lost a lot of respect for Mr. Abrams when I learned he wrote the awful movie Armageddon which has laugh-out-loud science errors).

I think there's a lesson here for writers.  You have to keep your audience in mind for how accurate you are gong to be on your research including science.  In my novel Rock Killer I tried to be as scientifically accurate as I could because I knew the audience for that novel would expect it.  Now I'm fair to middling with math (don't ask me to do calculus anymore) and sometimes I just don't think about everything that you have to think about.  So what I'm saying is, there are probably science errors in Rock Killer.  But I did my best to minimize them.  In my work in progress that is currently at a beta reader, The Treasure of the Black Hole, I also did my best to minimize science errors even though it is not what I would call "hard science fiction" like Rock Killer.

In my Adept Series of novels I also tried to be very historically accurate (they are set in the past) and also scientifically accurate within my fantasy framework.  Because it's a lot easier to check the historic record than calculate an orbit I knew I'd have lots of fact-checkers with those novels.  Someone might read it who know the actual historic details.  Again, that is because I was keeping my potential audience in mind.

How accurate to facts or science your novel is depends how who you are writing it for and what genre.  But I think glaring scientific errors will be pretty much noticed by anybody.  So unless it's a complete fantasy, you'd better get at least the basics correct.

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