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PostPosted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 9:50 pm 
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I almost always find something done *wrong* in science fiction. Sometimes I wish I could ignore this tendency, but often even the smallest error is just so jarring that it ruins the entire scene for me.

For instance, last night I was listening to a military science fiction novel , the culmination of a 4 book series called , "We Few" which was really very well done overall. Yet in the big space battle near the end of the story, the authors decided to describe the missiles that had just been launched at another ship. I don't have a print copy of the book, but the missiles were described as reaching a "terminal velocity" of *some specific speed I don't remember*.

My brain went, "ACKK! :shock: Are they bombing the planet now? How did we get here? Did the audiobook skip ahead AGAIN? :bang:

But no, they were describing the top speed of the missiles in a way that can only apply in a gravity well in an atmosphere. :nono: And they did it again a little later. :help: And then a paragraph or so on, the missiles were described as thundering towards the other ship. That's just about the most common "error" you see in space battles in TV and movies, and can *somewhat* be forgiven as a way to make the visual presentation more exciting. But WHY do this in a book? Wouldn't it be more cool to describe them as hurtling along in complete silence?

I've really enjoyed the whole "Prince Roger" series by David Weber and John Ringo. It's a decent "space opera" and the military side of it was very well done. I guess whichever one of them wrote that bit got a little overexcited and started describing the scene in terrestrial terms. Somebody should have caught that!

Does anybody else get all finicky about their science fiction?


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 11:59 pm 
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Mostly, yes. I'll allow wiggle room for a good story. But mistakes like "thundering" and "terminal velocity" would bug me, too. That isn't something like faster-than-light travel, which is impossible (as far as we know) but also necessary if you want to tell adventure stories about interstellar travel. Those are small details that the writer was too lazy, or too contemptuous of his reader, to bother getting right. IMO.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 23, 2014 4:20 pm 
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Or uneducated. Maybe he thought he knew the meaning but was mistaken? If you'd always *known* that "terminal velocity" meant the top speed of an object, would you think to look up the meaning when you used the phrase? Between two experienced science fiction writers, though, you think the other guy would have caught that..... I'm going to have to read more of both their works and see who is the probable culprit. If one of them did it twice in this book, he's probably done it elsewhere in other books.

As far as thundering goes- that's so common it's almost acceptable. It's kind of like smelling cordite in the air after a gun is fired. :roll: Cordite hasn't been used in over a century, but I see it all the time in trying to describe the smell a gun makes after being fired. I've almost given up griping about that, it's so pervasive.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 23, 2014 6:26 pm 
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To me something like "thundering" in a written piece of science fiction is a very large red flag that the author doesn't care and that he (most likely "he") is writing by the numbers, ladling out clichés without pausing to think whether they reflect reality or even make sense.

In the opposite way, when a film or television series shows space as silent (I'm thinking of Firefly here, or 2001: A Space Odyssey), that's a huge green flag to me that somebody did care, and I can hope that the rest of the story is going to be equally detailed and thoughtful.

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“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 23, 2014 6:36 pm 
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I don't think it's necessarily about caring, or not caring. It's about storytelling vs. reflecting reality. Some people sacrifice a bit of the latter to serve the former. Especially when the "science" is primarily a backdrop for a tale that has other purposes, such as creating a mythical resonance (as in Star Wars or Book of the New Sun)

It all depends on what kind of story one is telling, and whether or not an author is more interested in "spinning a yarn," or reflecting scientific reality.

I agree, however, that some authors are simply sloppy. There are loads of genre authors out there, writing loads of bad stuff. But in my view, the bad stuff is bad because they tell stories that aren't compelling, or have a very poor grasp of language. It's not because they use a few adjectives here and there that don't match up with current science. Though in many cases, the two faults are not mutually exclusive!


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 23, 2014 7:27 pm 
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I did kind of fall in love with Firefly in the very first episode I saw, just because that space salvage scene was so utterly quiet except for the noises the people in the suits were making. :love:

Even Babylon 5 --with their excellent space maneuvering of Star Fury fighters -- falls prey to the explosions in space make noise syndrome.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 23, 2014 10:32 pm 
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Yet Firefly not only had artificial gravity in a small spaceship, it was the only thing still working when everything else broke down. :-P

And I don't care. The gravity was essential to the kind of story they wanted to tell - the homestead, the little house in the black. It felt intentional, along with other ways in which Serenity didn't really represent a realistic spaceship.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 23, 2014 11:26 pm 
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I focus more on the story, probably because I don't know enough about weapons, space etc. to cringe. For example, I would have simply glossed over "terminal velocity" and "thundering missile" and enjoyed the book. Now, bad writing... that will make me cringe every time.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 23, 2014 11:41 pm 
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I'm with Inanna. But even if I know about the stuff they're talking about, and I know they get it wrong. :) if the writing's evocative, almost all such things are forgiven.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 24, 2014 8:57 am 
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Passdagas the Brown wrote:
I don't think it's necessarily about caring, or not caring. It's about storytelling vs. reflecting reality. Some people sacrifice a bit of the latter to serve the former. Especially when the "science" is primarily a backdrop for a tale that has other purposes, such as creating a mythical resonance (as in Star Wars or Book of the New Sun)


But when what they're sacrificing is the entire scientific credibility of their story, and what they're gaining is a literally momentary effect produced by a lazy cliché, that tells me something about the level to which they aspire. Their level of taste and ability. And it isn't something good.

On the other hand, when writers sacrifice strict scientific accuracy to allow their story to be a story—to be told at all—well, that's another thing. Like Firefly. They didn't have the budget to fake zero gee convincingly, and rather than do it unconvincingly, they ignored the issue. To me that shows style. It let them get on with the story! It was a sacrifice, but a necessary one—to make the entire story tellable. Not to produce a "Wow!" that lasts three seconds, or half a paragraph.

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“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 25, 2014 1:26 pm 
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I don't mind things in stories that haven't been invented yet like artificial gravity. That's kind of the point of science fiction anyway! I object to the misuse of a term. Terminal velocity does not mean "top speed". It's a specific idea meaning that a thing that is falling cannot go any faster because of the wind drag on the item. Something falling in a vacuum will continue to accelerate until it hits the gravity source. A feather has a much slower terminal velocity than a lead weight, but if you drop them both in a vacuum they fall and continue to accelerate at the same rate. Minus the gravity AND the atmosphere and the term ceases to have meaning.

I also object to things that are flatly impossible, like hearing in a vacuum. I can explain away some things like that, such as space fighter making zoom noises , because obviously this is what the pilot is hearing in the cockpit and the manufacturers have programmed in that kind of special effect to help the pilot's reaction time. But explosions in space making a noise someone in another ship can hear? That is a whole different thing. Well, maybe. I suppose one's onboard computer could supply the same sort of special effect for the purpose of keeping one more alert to surroundings. ... including providing "thundering" noise to a display showing oncoming missiles! :bang: OK, I just talked myself out of that one.


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 25, 2014 2:52 pm 
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Passdagas the Brown wrote:
I'm with Inanna. But even if I know about the stuff they're talking about, and I know they get it wrong. :) if the writing's evocative, almost all such things are forgiven.


I wonder how I would react to stuff I know is wrong. I suspect if I am lost in the story I will brush it away like PtB.

But Maria, see, you have to know what terminal velocity is and remember it... Even after you've told me I doubt it would jump out at me.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 26, 2014 2:56 pm 
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Maria--

Have you ever read a story where the author actually used that justification for the sound in a space battle? Because I think it's both plausible and kind of cool, but I don't recall running into it. Then again, I don't read much military SF these days--there's only so many ways to blow up a planet--so it's quite possible someone did and I missed it.

On the other hand, I suppose Ancillary Justice counts as military SF, and I liked it, though I think it took a little too much pleasure in being confusing for its own sake toward the end.

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 26, 2014 3:18 pm 
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In a larger sense of course, the problem is less one of storytelling vs accuracy per se, and one of the constraints of the genre, or in this case the subgenre. If authors are aspiring to write hard SF, there's no wiggle room for thundering or terminal velocity or their ilk, because the storytelling must take place within the established, fairly rigid framework.

If they're writing space opera, the framework is more of a loosely crocheted comforter.

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 26, 2014 5:19 pm 
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As an artistic choice, though, I'd argue for getting everything right that you can, and certainly against deliberately getting things wrong if it doesn't really matter to your story. Even in space opera. Building a strong structure based as far as possible on reality (or plausible handwaves) gives you good footing for some of the wilder swings you may be planning to make.

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“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 26, 2014 5:47 pm 
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IAWP And breaking that rule should be a deliberate choice, not negligence or just to get out of a plot problem.

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‘It’s a lot more complicated than that -’
‘No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.’
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 26, 2014 6:37 pm 
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Well yes, of course, perfect writing would be perfect.... But that's not always the case...


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 26, 2014 7:48 pm 
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Is it ever the case? Other than Pride and Prejudice, I mean.

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“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 27, 2014 2:33 am 
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Oh please! Not p&p.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 27, 2014 7:49 am 
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I'm being facetious. I happen to think it's perfect, but I know not everyone shares that opinion (nor should they). I once met a very intelligent, scholarly, well-read man who honestly believed that the pinnacle of literary creation by a human being was, and must universally be acknowledged to be, Dr. Johnson's Dictionary. To each according to their tastes.

I do think it is a gift to discover one's own personal perfection in writing, whatever that may be. It's good to have a goal. It's good to understand why you see it as perfect. For me, with P&P, it's the wit, it's the insightful characterization with astonishing economy of words, it's the complete lack of any extraneous elements. And despite the fact that I actually love the extraneous elements (amounting to entire chapters) in Dickens and Trollope, and King for that matter (and others)—despite that, the feeling I get when I read P&P tells me that what I want to strive for in my writing is that same brilliant economy.

I've certainly never achieved it. But when you set out on the voyage of getting better at your art, it's always nice to have a destination. Even if it's unattainable (which it is—I'm no genius), it gives you a compass and a map, and you end up closer to where you wanted to be than you would have otherwise.

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“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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