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Is Science Fiction the Opiate of the Geek Masses? 747

Posted by Zonk
from the open-your-missives-to-the-book-of-heinlein-chapter-3 dept.
jimharris writes "After reading Geoff Ryman's Mundane SF website, where he promotes a new form of science fiction based on real science, I got to wondering if traditional science fiction is just the opiate of the geek masses? Most science fiction is based on speculative fantasy rather than hard science - the common example being stories built around faster-than-light travel. Einstein rules, and FTL space travel has about zero chance of ever existing. SF writer Ian McDonald replied in his blog, Heads down, there's going to be incoming... and a rather wide-ranging discussion and elaboration of the idea is held over at mundane-sf.blogspot.com. Proponents of the Mundane Manifesto readily admit that traditional science fiction is just harmless fun, but I have to ask, how many people out there have a positive view on life because they believe in Star Trek in the same way that other faithful do."
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Is Science Fiction the Opiate of the Geek Masses?

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  • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Sunday June 19, 2005 @08:37PM (#12859167)


    From TFS:


    Proponents of the Mundane Manifesto readily admit that traditional science fiction is just harmless fun, but I have to ask, how many people out there have a positive view on life because they believe in Star Trek in the same way that other faithful do.

    It's statements like these that make all geeks look bad.

    • by Mornelithe (83633) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @08:54PM (#12859274)
      What exactly is the problem with what he said?

      Are you saying that people who believe in religion don't use it as a basis for a positive outlook on life?

      Or are you saying that people who have faith in a religion or something similar should not be called 'faithful'?

      Or are you saying that believing that in the future, we will live in an egalitarian society without poverty is somehow fundamentally different than believing that the universe was created/is guided by a benevolent, omnipotent entity?

      Or have I missed something? I'm just curious.
      • P.S.: On a side note: I agree, the question was pretty lame. I can't image why it would be front-page material.
    • by PakProtector (115173) <cevkiv.gmail@com> on Sunday June 19, 2005 @09:01PM (#12859316) Journal

      We're still a few centuries away from the Church of Star Trek, though, and then the eventual retaliation where-by all fans of the series are killed in the manner most befitting virgins.

      Guy: *Tosses Geek into Volcano* He's Dead, Jim.

    • Try this perspective (Score:5, Interesting)

      by neostorm (462848) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @09:04PM (#12859333)
      I don't beleive he's saying that a large portion of people only find life worth living because of some geek, sci-fi fiction universe. At least not in that pitiful perspective that you can read it as. I believe what he's saying is that it is human nature to wonder about the unknown, and we find that teasing our imaginations of the unknown through fictional stories and universes like "Star Trek" and the like, satisfy a large part of our wonder despite being highly unplausible. Not only because of thier ability to paint a potential future for mankind, but also paint a positive one.
      So what exactly is wrong with hoping that a future of peacful space travel and exploration that does not involve wanton destruction, prejudice and war (all things currently and constantly plaguing our race on this earth), is a bad thing? That thought alone *does* allow me to be a bit happier in life, because if I look around me right now, there aren't a whole lot of things our people are doing to making life better for everyone as a whole.
      If you take a gander at the world today you can't help but see the damage the human race brings on itself and it's environment. If you see optimistic things though the extincting of animals, controlling populace through fear and war, and the growing of individual goverments world-power over controlled medicines, unhealthy food production and inequality in living conditions, then *your* opiate is to lie to yourself.

      • So what exactly is wrong with hoping that a future of peacful space travel and exploration that does not involve wanton destruction, prejudice and war (all things currently and constantly plaguing our race on this earth), is a bad thing?

        The irony is that a lot of star trek geeks don't get that the utopian universe of star trek is pretty much identical to the utopian world of A Brave New World.

        Star Trek is a world without feeling, without art, and without passion. It's a world where the only difference b
    • how many people out there have a positive view on life because they believe in Star Trek in the same way that other faithful do.

      It's statements like these that make all geeks look bad.

      I think it makes the "traditionally faithfull" look back.

      The fact that people are as devout towards a recent, outrightly fictional show further bellitles the devoutness of those that obsess over older, obfuscated works of fiction. Even as both have enriched the lives of many.

      Of course, anytime you say anything short

      • This is Slashdot. It's defending Christianity that gets you attacked by the moderators-on-crack.

        At any rate,

        I think it makes the "traditionally faithfull" look back.

        It definately demonstrates the innate desire for humans to search after something to obsess after/find truth in. One man might take that piece of evidence to suggest that all of these things we obsess over are clearly wrong, but another man might take it to mean that this desire to seek after a set of ideals or truths suggests that such a

        • As part of my religious ritual, I would now like to chant, "I know I'll get modded down for this, but...." :)

          > This is Slashdot. It's defending Christianity that gets you attacked by the moderators-on-crack.

          Um, no--I have never defended Christianity in my life, nor am I likely to ever do so (except in the most broad of terms), but I have gotten negative mods nearly every time I've mentioned religion in any way.

          > It definately demonstrates the innate desire for humans to search after something to o
          • All in all, I liked your post.

            I suppose Christianity today in America really is so deeply rooted in traditionalism that myopia has set in. I think the nonsense about questioning carbon dating is a good example (if you need me to explain, I will).

            Most Christians I've met could have stood to gain more than a bit of wisdom, but I think that goes for non-Christians as well.

            Um, no--I have never defended Christianity in my life, nor am I likely to ever do so (except in the most broad of terms), but I have go

    • by Anonymous Coward
      "Star Wars" was the highlight of my abusive childhoo. My father brutally belted me frequently, and the rest of the family, a term which I use very loosely, just hid what he did to me.

      When I saw "Star Wars", I loved it, and I loved Princess Leia. She was so beautiful. At that time, I had this hope that if I just believed in the values of the Jedi, then I could transcend my abusive childhood. This belief was just like a drug. It created a hallucination that was not real.

      Later in life, I simply gave

    • The line wasn't meant to make geeks look bad. The point of the post was to examine a new challenge to writing science fiction.

      Actually, my last line was edited -- I guess because it used a specific religion as an analogy.

      My point was science fiction has become a kind of faith that brings about a sense of well being that generates a positive hope for the future - not unlike various religions I guess I shouldn't name.

      If the Mundane SF comments about traditional SF are true, they are in reality an attack o
  • So is ... (Score:2, Funny)

    by KSobby (833882)
    So is mixing pr0n and sci-fi the geek equivalent of chasing the dragon?
    • by gardyloo (512791)
      is mixing pr0n and sci-fi the geek equivalent of chasing the dragon?

      I believe the accepted phrase is "leaking the lizard."
  • by theluckyleper (758120) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @08:38PM (#12859175) Homepage
    If you base your "SF" novel on currently accepted science only, then how can you do anything other than create a plot set in the present day? You can't know what "accepted" science will be like in the future... if you try to guess, you'll find yourself back in "standard" SF again.

    Yes, FTL travel is far-fetched, but it's no less a fantasy than any other science-based predictions an author might make.
    • UM Why is FTL impossible again?

      100 years ago Flight was quite literally a dream for 99.99999999% of the world.

      For 50 years one thought they couldn't travel faster than sound.

      in the Late 1970's IBM asked would an home person want a computer.

      Just because you can't figure out how, doesn't mean someone else can't.

      Sci-Fi has presented a lot of good ideas and possibilities. Andromena. Battlestar Galactic, and several others use regular light speed signals for normal space, then use a twist to get them to
    • Right! Current understanding of science says only that an object with mass cannot accelerate to the speed of light. Yet photons zip around at the speed of light.

      So, either photons have no mass, and therefore don't exist, or that we don't have a complete understanding of all the laws of the universe.

      If we all accept that FTL travel is impossible, that breakthru that makes it possible will never be undertaken. That's the positive of science-fantasy, it lets you imagine and dream. Those dreams of 50 year
      • So, either photons have no mass, and therefore don't exist,

        If your definition of "exists" requires that existing things have mass, then you're using a very distorted definition of the word.
    • Agreed. "Speculative fiction" entails a certain level of "speculation". This whole 'mundane' nonsense is grossly oversimplifying matters...there's no SF that's completely 'hard'...if it were, it would cease to be SF. Advocating that authors ought to stick to McGuffins that are more plausible is all well and good...I'm a big fan of so-called 'hard sci-fi' myself...but it's simply not plausible to strip all speculation from the genre...if you do, you have nothing left but modern fiction, exactly as you ob

    • Quite a bit of science fiction has been written using accepted science without a present day earth setting. Possible settings include very large spacecraft that travel slower than light, future post-alien conquered earth, and non-earth planets. I refer you to Gene Wolfe and Octavia Butler as examples of authors who, while not shy to move away from accepted science (let's ignore the works with telepaths in them for these purposes, though) present works which can stand very well apart from improbable science/
    • by NickFortune (613926) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @09:13PM (#12859377) Homepage Journal
      If you base your "SF" novel on currently accepted science only, then how can you do anything other than create a plot set in the present day?

      Well, there is a certain amount of extrapolation allowable. For instance there are technologies that are theoretically possible and for which the science exsts, but which are currently beyond our engineering capabilities. A good example, up until just recently anyway, was the space elevator.

      Not that the MSF manifest sounds terribly attractive, you understand

    • Why would a story set in an interstellar spaceship suddenly become too mundane if that spaceship is limited to light speed? Would there be too much of the "present day" in a story about the lives of some of the quintillions of people an average solar system could support in orbital cities? Are nanomachines too boring when authors are careful not to turn them into thermodynamics-defying magic dust?

      Nobody wants science fiction stripped of the fiction, some people just don't want it all stripped of the science. Science fantasy can still be entertaining, but it shouldn't be allowed to slip into otherwise consistent science fiction any more than traditional fantasy should corrupt traditional fiction. I suspect most of the Slashdot readers currently whining about how "why does everything have to be based on real facts" would turn the TV off in disgust if the next episode of "24" featured a nuclear bomb stolen by leprechauns or if "CSI" started occasionally solving mysteries with magic spells.
    • I agree very much with your first point. However, FTL is more of a fantasy than most other science-based predictions one can make, so I must disagree with your second point. There are some creative ways to cheat on it, but our current ideas make it impossible to accelerate ourselves faster than the speed of light. It really is impossible, in the true definition of the word, if special relativity, a very well-tested theory, is correct.

      A good, creative writer can work within that constraint, and still ha
      • FTL is more of a fantasy than most other science-based predictions one can make... It really is impossible, in the true definition of the word, if special relativity, a very well-tested theory, is correct.

        When I was studying science one of the key things to recognise about any theory of physics was that the theory should be treated as a model which reflects our current understanding of the universe, not as the definition of the universe. The model gets used for as long as it matches all observable phen

        • But you're twisting things around to say that if our current understanding of the universe is wrong, then FTL is possible. Duh, of course. But no experiments violate relativity, so to make predictions based on relativity being wrong would be unscientific. If I wanted to make a prediction about future technology that had a better chance of being right, I'd use relativity, not throw it out. Do you see what I'm saying? I'd predict a spaceship, maybe a variation on a Bussard ramjet, that can travel at clos
  • by Com2Kid (142006) <com2kidSPAMLESS@gmail.com> on Sunday June 19, 2005 @08:40PM (#12859188) Homepage Journal
    This is why I rarely read the newer Science Fiction authors (newer meaning after the 1960s!), I prefer the older authors who actually had Doctorates of Science!

    (or, in many cases, were on their way towards getting a doctorate in science and writing Science Fiction is how they paid for, in part, their education!)

    Often times you can learn a lot about real world science from these authors (albiet some what dated now, as many areas of science have long since surpassed the knowledge possessed when these stories were originally written), something that I find lacking in modern day science fiction.
    • You might want to read some Brin then.
      http://www.davidbrin.com/ [davidbrin.com]
    • So tell me, if you were around in 1865 would you not have read From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne? That was science fiction, Jules Verne had a degree in law, and it wasn't even that accurate in terms of science. It still was very popular and roughly 100 years later we went to the moon.

      If I want to catch up on present day sciences I'll read books about them. God knows I have stuff ranging from cosmology to mathematics for casual reading on my bookshelf. But when I want to read some fiction I like to
    • by da5idnetlimit.com (410908) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @09:16PM (#12859398) Journal
      I seem to remember that one Arthur C. Clark has been officialy recognized as the "inventor" of the satelite concept...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_C._C larke [wikipedia.org]
      And yes, he has a first class degree in mathematics and physics at King's College, London...

      Lets see, hmm, yes it was in a sci-book.

      I agree with having "knowledgeable" people writin sci-fi, but I also remember all I read about nuclear fusion and now I see it made available(ok, in actual testing and producing actual electricity) in a breadbox sized box...

      What I really like about sci-fi is that sometimes you see In Real Life situations or Technologies that you already read about, already had a time to dream or think about or appreciate the implications and possibilities of something that is, for the rest of the world, new.

      Lets take fusion and/or betavoltaics... (both recent /. articles)

      Now take everything you ever read on fusion, interstellar travel, cheap energy everywhere, human facilities and the such...

      I already have 3-4 marketable products popping in my head just from the fact I have a possibly durable, cheap and transportable energy source...

      On another subject, lets take solar sails.

      I'm sure I read about them in some 50's scifi books.

      They're launching the first one in 1 day, 18 hours, and 35 seven minutes as of now...
      http://www.planetary.org/solarsail/ [planetary.org]

      I always thought that books, and sci-fi books moreover, were made to make me think and dream.

      And nowaday, wherever I look, I see the sci-fi from the past in everyday use, and some more sci-fi being announced as coming soon (sic)...

      Well, at least I'm more ready than the rest if just because of that. And so are you 8)

      • I seem to remember that one Arthur C. Clark has been officialy recognized as the "inventor" of the satelite concept...

        Not quite. AFAIK Clarke was the first person to publish the idea of geosynchronous communications satellites, but the idea of artificial satellites in general is much older.
    • by mbrother (739193) * <mbrother@nospam.uwyo.edu> on Sunday June 19, 2005 @09:42PM (#12859521) Homepage
      Check out my first novel, Star Dragon, which came out in paperback earlier this year from Tor. I have a PhD in astrophysics.

      The other current sf writer with a PhD in astronomy is Alastair Reynolds, and I like his work.

      There are quite a few physicists with PhDs who write great books (Benford and Brin come to mind) and some in other fields like Computer Science (Vernor Vinge). And there are a few others who don't have doctorates, but write very good hard sf (Joe Haldeman, Greg Bear, Syne Mitchell, and Wil McCarthy). You do have to look around a little harder, but that's the name of the game, isn't it.
  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DanthemaninVA1 (750886) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @08:41PM (#12859196)
    If we "believe in Star Trek..."? Are you kidding me? Science fiction is ENTERTAINMENT, not religion. It's a genre of books, film, and television, not a protestant denomination or somesuch. If you "believe in Star Trek," I feel sorry for you.
    • Re:No (Score:4, Funny)

      by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Sunday June 19, 2005 @08:49PM (#12859240)


      You really ought to attend a Star Trek con sometime.

      Best argument for euthanasia/compulsory birth control on the planet.

      ^_^

      • Re:No (Score:3, Funny)

        by PakProtector (115173)

        I went to one when I was twelve (oddly enough, the same year I joined /., I think. But I digress), and William Shatner was there. No one was allowed to get within ten feet of him, and at one point I remember somebody pointing at his Toupe and shouting, "LOOK! A TRIBBLE!"

        Yes, for the love of the Gods, none of us need to reproduce.

        And not just because of Star Trek. Every person born is another person breathing my precious, precious oxygen.

        My oxygen.

      • If I weren't a Vulcan I'd resent the previous post.
      • So what's your view on Star Wars conventions? instead of Klingons, you have Wookieees. Instead of Borg, you have Storm Troopers. Instead of Starfleet uniforms, you have folks dressed like Jedi in robes. Now, I'm a big Trek fan, I enjoy arguing minutiae from time to time, but I don't put on Vulcan ears and go scoping for chicks dressed like the Duras sisters. But I'd like to know if Slashdotdom has a similarly dim view of the folks who drank too much of the Star Wars koolaid (since /. has always biased toawr
  • by tftp (111690) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @08:42PM (#12859201) Homepage
    Einstein rules, and FTL space travel has about zero chance of ever existing.

    Yes, and Isaac Newton would just laugh if someone told him about weird quantum effects which we accept as obvious today.

    In fact, we know that we know almost nothing about the fundamental nature of this Universe, and it's just pointless to discuss what one can and can not do with it.

    • In fact, we know that we know almost nothing about the fundamental nature of this Universe,

      If we hadn't thrown the goddamned manual out with the wrapping paper on Christmas morning we'd be much better off.

    • Well, I kinda doubt that he'd just laugh, on the grounds that:
      a) he was one of the greatest physisicsts who ever lived, and so would doubtless find QM quite interesting
      b) he was also a bit mad, and so would doubtless find QM quite interesting
    • In fact, we know that we know almost nothing about the fundamental nature of this Universe, and it's just pointless to discuss what one can and can not do with it.

      Accelerating to the speed of light is demonstrably impossible. However, this doesn't rule out stuff like wormholes, however unlikely. I'm being slightly pedantic, but I think this distinction is important.

    • We know quite a bit more than 'almost nothing' about the fundamental nature of the Universe thank you, and while it is quite possible that we might surprise ourselves and find a way around the light-speed barrier, it's highly unlikely.

      Your comparison with Newton is quite flawed; Newton bascically founded classical physics as we know it, and other than the work done by Greek mathmaticians, had basically no 'head start'. By contrast, the physicists of today have much more advanced tools, much broader knowle
    • Relativity does NOT preclude FTL.

      It says you cannot travel AT the speed of light. Important distinction there. Subatomic particles can change velocity instantly without acceleration, one day it may be possible for macroscopic objects to hop up to FTL travel, without actually passing through through the "light barrier".

      Another potential possibility is the Alcubierre Drive [usd.edu] although you'd need a large quantity of negative energy to make this work. (Negative energy is a scientific fact, but not in these qu
  • Is it the opiate? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Apreche (239272) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @08:42PM (#12859203) Homepage Journal
    Yes, yes it is. Notice how most real nerds will frolic and adore anything with a science fiction theme. Even if those things, stripped of their sci-fi theme, are terrible. For example Star Trek is just a soap opera, it happens to be in space. Same for shows like Farscape. And the same goes for many books and fan-fics about various sci-fi universes.

    Not that all sci-fi is actually crap. I'm not one to deny the quality of original Star Wars or great novels from Asimov or Heinlein or Stephenson. But it seems to me that many nerds will like anything and everything sci-fi just because its sci-fi.

    What bothers me the most is that I'm a somewhat well rounded geek, but most sci-fi TV shows really don't do it for me. And when all my friends like a show they act like I'm lying when I have no interest and they think its the best thing ever. Things are good because they are good, not because they have a robot, alien, spaceship, magic, etc.
  • but I have to ask, how many people out there have a positive view on life because they believe in Star Trek in the same way that other faithful do.

    Does it really matter? If you have a positive view on life and you can function, why's it a problem how you become upbeat? Would you rather those people go around grounded in reality but depressed? This sounds like similar arguments that people have about beliefs in God, ghosts, and saucer abductions. They're mostly harmless.

  • by m93 (684512)
    It does not matter how many warp drives, alternate realites, laser guns, or jedi mind tricks a science fition work has...it all comes down to how the story is used to help the audience explore some segment of actual human nature. The science should be there to compliment the characters, not overtake them. What the hell good is a story if it does not give you a new perspective on your own existence/nature? If you want to strictly predict future technologies, that is what essays and doctoral thesis' are for.
    • by 0racle (667029) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @09:01PM (#12859318)
      What the hell good is a story if it does not give you a new perspective on your own existence/nature?

      I believe that it's then called entertainment, and its the whole reason most people watch movies, read books and play games. Whenever some form of entertainment starts to try and make me get some 'new perspective,' I go to something else. If I wanted that I'd stick with real life, the rest of this is to get my mind off things, to be entertained and relax a little.
      • What you have hit on is exactly the opiate of the masses. The idea of entertainment, disentangled from any thought or life experience, is exactly the sort of pleasurable escape offered by any drug use.

        It's this whole thing that "entertainment" is so sanctified, that it is above any reproach. Really, it's fine; I really am not judging, but I guess that it seems worth it to have a life that's not so bad that one needs escape from it. Once can be engaged in games, books, or movies, and experience them as a
  • some of it is just keeping our ears, eyes and options open.

    There's nothing with stuff that could be, which lets out almost all 'space opera' but still leaves a great deal to the imagination.

  • If to stick to only what is possible today then it is not really science fiction?
  • What about new technology created due to science fiction? For example, I remember reading a few articles about how doctors thought the diagnostic beds they saw in ST: TOS were a great idea. They took an idea from science fiction and made into a very useful reality.

    On another tangent, if you surveyed a large portion of scientists who like science fiction, you would probably see a lot of them having entered the sciences due to the influence of science fiction. So what if FTL is most likely impossible, doe
  • Suspension of disbelief... Suspension of disbelief...Suspension of disbelief... Suspension of disbelief...

    Yes, FTL travel as we traditionally think of it (as opposed to using wormholes) is probably impossible. On the other hand, since most people *aren't* terribly well versed in the underlying relativistic mechanics necessarily to know this, it's not hard to suspend disbelief, and it makes for some good stories. When it takes 2,000 years to travel between stars, it makes it very hard to craft belivable Sp
  • by dmoen (88623) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @08:48PM (#12859232) Homepage
    This is based on how much time I spend reading science fiction, vs how much time I spend reading slashdot.

    Doug Moen
  • New Hard Sci-Fi (Score:3, Informative)

    by FroBugg (24957) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @08:49PM (#12859239) Homepage
    There's still plenty of good hard sci-fi being produced these days. The first one that comes to mind is Kim Stanley Robinson's series about the colonization and terraforming of Mars (Red Mars, Blue Mars, and Green Mars).

    I'm willing to admit that I go in for lots of the more fantastical stuff myself, but I'm sure others here can make good reccomendations.
  • by MagPulse (316) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @08:49PM (#12859241)
    In a warp bubble, you are moving at sub-light speed relative to the space inside the bubble, but space itself is warped so that relative to the surrounding space you are moving at FTL speed.

    My favorite author, Vernor Vinge [wikipedia.org], writes about a universe where we are in a "slow zone", and the laws of physics allow FTL travel in other places but not here. Vinge has a Ph.D. in math, and writes the kind of hard sci-fi that I like most. In fact it might be that writing with Einstein's constraints helped Vinge since he had to come up with a creative solution.
  • No science fiction is the marketing of the geek masses. We grow up with it, we often find refuge in its scenarios where geeks have friends, and are even respected as heroes. So we want to make or have all the stuff we read about in it. It's more like the psychedelics of the geek masses: it opens our minds, plants visions of a present distorted into a kind of future, which we then work to achieve. Either by inventing it, or just "early adopting" it when someone else does.
  • What in the...? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AstrumPreliator (708436) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @08:51PM (#12859252)
    I always thought the phrase, "science fiction" was pretty self-explanitory myself. Why in the world would you want to limit authors to only using current science? Let's just assume for a second that we do know everything and our current model of the universe is 100% accurate and complete (which is such a laughable statement in itself), wouldn't it be more fun to escape into a different universe, one where FTL travel is possible, one where anything is possible? That's the point of fiction. Science fiction wasn't meant to be a rehash of your college physics book with a storyline thrown in, it was meant to be fun.
  • ...but I have to ask, how many people out there have a positive view on life because they believe in Star Trek in the same way that other faithful do."

    HMMMM, as a lifelong SciFi Geek, with a real preference (after the GrandMasters) for the "hard" stuff ala' Charles Sheffield (RIP)..it's an interesting question.

    which seems to me to beg another question...How of much what we are talking about in inextricalby interwoven with contemporary American politics?

    ST:TOS came along during one of the most politicall
  • The whole reason interstellar travel gets ruled out is that it takes too long. But, what if humans could live for 5,000 years. Then, taking a trip to another planet would certainly be within reach.

  • If you read SF and haven't read Vinge you better google for him right now ...
  • I think it's that we have a hope, a faith, a wish maybe, that people will become better than we are now, regardless of if we're flying aroundat thousands of times the speed of light. We look around and see a dirtball with 6.3 billion dirty little people looking for new ways to kill each other because they have the wrong religion, the wrong color skin, the wrong land, the wrong language, the wrong whatever. We're not pleased at seeing this. We see CEOs of megacorporations worth billions of dollars, and not too far away we see thousands of people starving to death because local warlords hijack the sacks of grain good hearted people send to try to feed them. We'd like to believe that in just a few hundred years, humanity will finally have dragged itself out of the stone age. It's a nice dream.
  • 1: As countless others will reply, much of what we take for granted was "science fiction" a very short while ago. People can't fly, because they're heavier than air (I just flew from Iowa to Colorado earlier today. It took me less than two hours.) Everything dies (there are cell lines now that are essentially immortal; nerve tissue has been regenerated successfully in the lab). There are countless et ceteras I could include here, but this thread will be full of then in about ten minutes.

    2: While FTL travel
  • by foreverdisillusioned (763799) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @08:58PM (#12859300) Journal
    As my understanding of relativity goes, there is no real need to go faster than light. We often hera the phrase "light from that star takes blah blah blah years to reach us," but what is so rarely mentioned is we're measuring time from our point of view. From the photon's point of view, no time has elapsed at all. TRUE LIGHTSPEED TRAVEL IS INSTANTANEOUS FROM THE SUBJECT'S POINT OF VIEW. Read that over and over until it sinks in.

    Yes, it is impossible to reach the speed of light, but that's not really a problem. Using slower than light technology, it is perfectly (theoretically) possible to cross the Milky Way in five seconds. Five seconds to YOU that is--the rest of the universe would strongly disagree (probably on the order of many millions of years.)

    The problem has never been traveling faster than light, because such a thing is clearly absurd (what's faster than instantaneous travel?)--the problem is cancelling out time dialation which is really just good old fashioned time travel. For those of us that are joining late, remember that as you move faster through space the universe around you seems to speed up AND space itself seems to contract--from your frame of reference distances are shorter, and you thus do not need to travel as far.

    Anyway, last time I checked most physicists were not comfortable completely ruling out all possibilty of time travel (if not on the macroscopic scale, then at least on the microscopic scale.) If time travel may still be possible, then so is faster than light travel. The two are, in fact, one and the same.

    Appologies for errors, but I'm coming down off of a pretty nasty buzz right now. (Heh... it's a pretty sad state of things when a high school dropout with a hangover has to explain 100 year old scientific concepts.)
    • There's a series somewhere that has humanity establish trans-temporal wormholes, with the ends hundreds of years apart in almost the same place.

      But they don't use them for 'time travel', they put them between solar systems, and fly at slow-than-light (with suspended animation and time dilation shortening the trip) to them, go back in time, and continue their flight, arriving mere days after they left the other planet, after a trip that took hundreds of years.

      They have to have a comm blackout and autopilot so they don't transmit messages back in time, and people protecting both the uptime and downtime end. And some of the series revolves around what can happen if the rules aren't followed.

    • For those of us that are joining late, remember that as you move faster through space the universe around you seems to speed up AND space itself seems to contract--from your frame of reference distances are shorter, and you thus do not need to travel as far.

      Space doesn't contract for the traveler. The traveler seems to contract when viewed by an outside observer, since the speed of light is constant in all reference frames. It's called Lorentz Contraction [wolfram.com].
  • by a3217055 (768293) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @08:59PM (#12859304)
    Science fiction is a review of the world we live in. It asks questions about our soical and moral and even ethical lives we live in. Star Trek is a fine example of the world we live in, with all the problems. Star Trek the Next Generation and even Star Gate seem to touch on this. Sure the technology is cool, but it is not an opiate. An opiate would be a sort of belief people will have saying everything will be alrite. Just like religion, where people think if they lead a certain life style there essence or soul will be saved. For geeks most probably the dynamic world of technology is there opiate. But not science fiction. Science fiction is a sort of technology mixed with a story line. Issac Assimov and Phillip K. Dick wrote stories about how our lives may change in the future because of non-moral and non-ethical uses of technology, even some Japanese Anime ( Mechs ) actually have some ammount of moral dialouge. End result science fiction is a package of a medium, one can read Shakespere for the essence of a story or read Arthur C. Clarke for another lesson. They are all the same yet different.
  • Science fiction originally was science first and fiction second - look at the Grand Masters of Science Fiction, the Big Three - Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Anson Heinlein. All three of them wrote SCIENCE fiction. You have to look for it, but it still exists today. The problem with the science fiction world today is that too many people have grown up with Star Wars and Star Trek - the former is a technological fantasy and the latter is more speculative fiction than science fiction. Science f
  • Opiates are CNS (Central Nervous System) depressants. This class of drugs suppresses neural activity, deadening pain and thought. In contrast, good SF stimulates thought by presenting an interesting what-if with some combination of technical and social contexts and consequences.

    SF may be a mind-altering drug (perhaps a stimulant or hallucinogen), but it is not an opiate.
  • "...but I have to ask, how many people out there have a positive view on life because they believe in Star Trek in the same way that other faithful do."

    You had to ask on /., where people mod up fantasy Sci-Fi posts and mod down those based upon science?

    Maybe you just wanted a bunch agreeable answers.
  • ...to imagine a world of 2050.

    It's not easy. [taoriver.net]

    However, I have some puzzle pieces.

    One of the characters is raised by the N'th generation upgrade of his parent's pokemon data. They started on the Gameboy, transfered them to the N64, then the GameCube games, and then with Revolution, to the Nintendo servers, where the pokemon AI were continually upgraded until such an age where people purchased back the hosting of their pokemon, who were, at that point, highly intelligent creatures.

    There is a religious gro
  • The Hard SF Dogma (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mbrother (739193) * <mbrother@nospam.uwyo.edu> on Sunday June 19, 2005 @09:07PM (#12859348) Homepage
    I hate the word "mundane" to start with, as sf fans have warped the meaning of the word to indicate those who have little vision or imagination, so I'm already biased against this "movement." Taking an objective step back, I still think it's full of crap. It's possible to play with the entire universe and stay within the realm of known science, which is something I try hard to do myself. I've even been funded by the National Science Foundation to edit an anthology [mikebrotherton.com] to be used in conjuction with astronomy classes.

    I teach this stuff. I live this stuff. I'm a working scientist and a published science fiction writer, a big believer in the positive power of science and the positive power of fiction to educate, illuminate, and enlighten.

    Sure, write some "mundane" science fiction, but don't pretend it's intrinsically better than anything else. Do recognize you've put yourself in a box that will limit the stories you can do, and will eliminate some perfectly wonderful stories containing very good hard science. I have to say I pretty much agree with Ian McDonald here in his criticisms.

    If Ryman wants to be such a "realist" and limit himself to what is known, he and similarly-minded people should probably write mainstream and forget the future entirely. His guesses are going to be as unlikely as aliens visiting us tomorrow, and he's foolish to think otherwise. Robert Heinlein, a visionary writer to be sure, had his characters using slide rules as they flew from planet to planet. While I think we can still use some thoughtful stories about near-future cloning, I think elevating such tales above and beyond those extropolating into a future where interstellar travel is possible is clearly hubris.

    My personal manifesto is to use only known science, or new science that doesn't violate known science. I enjoy fantasy as much as anyone, but it does irk me when writers don't understand enough science to write science fiction. Star Wars is a fantasy, and a good one, but it's not science fiction.
  • ...Or rather, too much of a focus on fantasy, anyway.

    Fantasy can unlock new ideas to the imagination, and can be a font of material for creativity. Things such as FTL travel, "The Force", etc. can act as great catalytic plot devices, so long as they aren't relied upon to stand place in lieu of an actual plot. (And as long as you don't demystify them with skepticism-tickling 'explanations', like midichlorians.)

    Also, anything that we create with our hands was first created within our mind's eye; the nexus
  • In a word, yes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by be-fan (61476) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @09:20PM (#12859418)
    Modern Sci-Fi has very little science in it. Somebody, I don't remember who, remarked of Star Wars: "it's not really sci-fi, it's a cowboy western set in space." Perhaps what pisses me off the most is the "geek culture" that's arisen around sci-fi. It is at once ignorant (most sci-fi "geeks" know jack shit about real science), and arrogant (most sci-fi "geeks" think sci-fi is better than, say, cowboy westerns). The superior attitude a lot of people have about sci-fi reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend about comic books. We came to the conclusion that comics like the X-Men are fundementally little different than soap operas. Sure, the plot lines are completely different, but both focus mainly on the characters, their growth, and how they cope with the world around them. Really, the main difference between "Apartment 3G" and "The X-Men" is that Cyclops gets mopey and emotional about a completely different set of problems.
  • Star Trek does convey a powerful positive view on life. No poverty. No money (inside the federation). No "alienated work" (people work to develop theirselves as human beings, not just to manage to simply exist). No religion.

    Is amazing that such an obvious reference to the Marxist utopia came from Hollywood... =)
    • by zippthorne (748122) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @10:39PM (#12859779) Journal
      It's the ultimate extension of a safety obsessed communist culture. Life seems good for the ruling class (Starfleet) but for everyone else? Like the workers in Metropolis, they are hidden from view. Pretty much any form of self-improvement except new-agey personal well-being is frowned upon. No one in the federation travels without papers (in fact, there is not enough industry to support heavy starship building. Let alone interplanetary shipping and travel.) Intra-planetery movement is limited as well. Transporter usage is heavily rationed for civillians. (And why should this be the case in a civilization that has the technology to mine the stars for energy?) Unless you're in the ruling class, life is very prison like. It's a prison with glass walls and satin sheets, but it's a prison nontheless.

      ST and the world from Minority report are very similar in this approach. After analyzing the situation, I would not want to live in either world, yet people (and i assume the creators as well) believe these societies to be goals for the future. (everyone has the same car? and like soviet russia, car drives you? what's up with that?)
  • The main problem with realistic sci-fi is, you have to be updated on scientific discoveries and technology (well that shouldn't be so hard for us slashdotters, would it? :) . Let's take an example. Suppose you write a story around 2040 where cars don't fly. Suddenly in slashdot there's a story about flying cars to be appearing in 2030. Darn. You have to rewrite everything. Or how about this: You imagine a world where computer viruses are spread over common videoplayers. But then turns out that videoplayers will run Linux. Wham, no viruses.

    In the end, this turns into a massive speculation. How accurate are your current predictions going to be?

    Still, I find realistic sci-fi much more appealing than say, Startrek, because of the possibility of such future ACTUALLY happening. This has a very good potential.

    Now - the second problem is, the future might be much darker than we imagine. Suppose you write about a near future (2050) where ecology is rule #1. But recently on physorg I read that global warming cannot be stopped easily and that the current trend is that the planet will heat about 1 degree centigrate per year. This means that in the future there would be a scenario of overheated regions of the planet (i.e. deserts), something like Mad Max. Not exactly a post-nuclear wasteland, but certainly worrysome.

    So, the question is: How much realism do we want to impregnate our stories with, and how benevolent are we going to be with the future?

    Well, there's got to be some degree of freedom. Besides these obstacles, writing a realistic story is very appealing, at least to me. I've been slowly losing interest for unrealistic sci-fi. Why? I know it's not real. There are no time portals, warp speeds, so I know this thing will NEVER EVER become real. So why think about something that will never happen but PRETENTS to be possible?

    When Star Wars was created, I fantasized about all those things becoming real. (After all, that's the catch, isn't it?) Space travel was thought far-fetched, but NOT impossible. And this is what lets us dream.

    Because, sci-fi and fantasy is about dreaming, isn't it?
  • by 5n3ak3rp1mp (305814) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @09:53PM (#12859569) Homepage
    Oh, I'll just give the Google link to the ton of search results: here [google.com]

    Regardless, I was (once) a physics major and I couldn't easily find a flaw with it. Implementing it would require some funky spacetime/gravity manipulation, however. If you have not read it yet (it's been out a while), it will certainly fire up your imagination!

    I find it interesting that all this sci-fi stuff seems intimately linked to gravity, which is not well-understood (yet).
  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @10:16PM (#12859679) Journal
    ...has been caused by these people who think that Science Fiction and a Physics textbook should be much the same thing. It's been an ongoing problem. Years back people like Asimov basically enforced rules in the magazine over which they were influential stating what the laws of physics had to be in anything they published. The same has happened in TV science fiction. It's reached the point where you can have a series like Firefly which has been so denuded of Science Fiction that it doesn't have aliens and the characters use regular firearms.

    The whole point of Science Fiction is to be speculative. The question to ask is "what happens if I change the rules?" not "what can I do within these rules?"

  • by multiplexo (27356) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @10:23PM (#12859718) Journal
    Clarion workshop, from everything I've read they combine the masturbatory inclusiveness of a bad SF con with the masturbatory inclusiveness of an academic conference. I fail to see how any of the ideas they lay out for SF in the Mundane Manifesto are in any way new or interesting. Poul Anderson wrote Tau Zero and The Stars are Only Fire, which didn't use any magical FTL physics. Larry Niven wrote A World Out of Time which didn't use any magical FTL physics. A lot of P.K. Dick's stuff is, quite frankly, crap (Clans of the Alphane Moon anyone?) and Neuromancer is as dated as disco and cyberpunk fanboyz are every bit as annoying and disconnected from reality as Star Wars fanboys or Star Trek fanboys.

    Those who have actually been reading SF, and not wanking at SF writing workshops, realize that there is more to SF than human looking aliens in latex prosthetics on badly written TV shows. It seems to me that the authors of the Mundane Manifesto have stopped their navel gazing long enough to set up a straw man and weakly thrash at it in the appearance of doing something cool.

    There are plenty of authors out there writing SF that is thoroughly grounded in our understanding of physics and does not rely on any magic such as FTL, time travel, parallel universes, etc, etc, etc, and there have been for years. Of course these authors probably aren't hanging around Clarion East wanking away writing articles with titles such as Was Marx a Mundane.

  • by iabervon (1971) on Sunday June 19, 2005 @10:25PM (#12859723) Homepage Journal
    Hard science fiction, done well, is generally an exploration of the consequences of a universe which could be real but happens not to be (or isn't currently). Consider Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars series; it raises a huge number of issues that arise as consequences of technology which is not yet available, but probably will be. When the real world catches up, we will have to deal with these issues, and it's probably worth starting now. (E.g., if we find ways to cure everything at a high cost, which seems likely, how will we deal with rich people who live forever, which the poor die of old age and the young have reproductive urges to replenish populations that aren't dying?)

    Soft science fiction, done well, is generally an exploration of aspects of how the universe really is, projected for expository purposes into a universe that is different in many ways. The original Star Trek, for example, was a discussion of 1960s American gender and race relations, with a veneer of unreality that made it acceptable to broadcast in explicit detail. Aliens and FTL travel were just props; the vision of the future was a black woman on the bridge and nobody finding it notable.

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