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March 5th, 2003, 08:12 PM
I was just browsing the fight thread and I had a few thoughts about the conflict of writer's expertise and the intelligent reader. The question I shall pose is the following: what do you do when someone makes a statement about something you have written - claiming it to be impossible - when you know in fact that it is possible?

As a case in point I recently received a critique of a chapter of mine that involved a space battle. In it I described the effects of a laser beam colliding with the hull of a space ship. I described how the exchange of momentum rocked the ship. My reader pointed out that photons have no mass, and by the relation p = mv, could not carry momentum. Now I'm quite well versed in physics and know for a fact that for a photon p = hf/c where h is Planck's constant, f is the frequency of the light, and c is the speed of light. Granted this is very small, but it does exist. And for a laser to be used as a weapon against a space ship, the intensity would have to be so great that the momentum carried by the light would actually have a kinetic consequence.

March 5th, 2003, 08:45 PM
Could you rephrase the question please? :rolleyes:

March 5th, 2003, 09:17 PM
In speculative fiction there are many things that are physically possible, that to the intelligent layperson may seem impossible. For example - parrying a sword with a dagger, or a photon carrying momentum.

Naturally these things are pointed out when a work is read. How should one handle these? Is it worth getting worked up over? Should you as an author look back over your work and find some way of explaining how your "impossible task" actually is possible? Should you bother to point out that you are indeed correct?

March 5th, 2003, 09:59 PM
In the contact of the light photons with the ship there is a transfer of the frequency (not exactly either but it will all be explained). The concentrated beam of light is being fired where there is quite a bit of light in the beam. When the beam hits the ship the contration of photons causes the ship to resonate at the same frequency as the photon. The higher the concentration, the higher amplitude in the transfer. The damage to the ship comes from the plates of the hull vibrating at the high frequency and coming apart. This may also cause i feedback in a sort of energy shield, causing things like burnouts, power drops, and the exploding panels you always see on Star Trek.
Momentum of the beam doesn't "really" exist, but you could think of of that transfer sorta like a momentum shift. What i do is just write it only to the precision i know, but i make sure i have that right.

BTW I'm only a Grade twelve student that am not actually taking gr12 physics till next year but I believe this is acturate for our purposes.

March 6th, 2003, 01:45 AM
This is a quote made in an online discussion by the author Peter Morwood (his lady wife is Diane Duane)

If you get it right, 1 person in 1000 will praise you for it - but if you get it wrong, 995 people will write/fax/email/phone to point the error out, and the other 5 will track you down and tell you face to face. But not one of them will tell you how to fix it...

I am not sure if the words are Peter's they do have the sound of his wit. But I find them very apt.

In my writing I try to get things right, if a reader disagrees then it's their right I suppose. But as long as I know I got the facts right in my research, or based the "facts" in the piece on a real or known piece of knowledge, then I consider my job as a writer of "fantasy" done.

I, Brian
March 6th, 2003, 11:33 AM
If faced with the example you cited, I would err on the side of caution. I'm not too sure how much momentum could be transferred anyway, and if you're talking "speed-of-light" photons then you're in dangerously relativistic territory (ie, someone else always knows better!). Personally, in the example quoted, I would make an issue of the kinetic distrubance caused by the heating of said laser. I figure that effect would be more prominent. But that would simply be my own solution.

As for the original question -
The question I shall pose is the following: what do you do when someone makes a statement about something you have written - claiming it to be impossible - when you know in fact that it is possible?

Simple ensure that you know precisely what you are writing is supportable! This could be especially important with spec fic.

March 6th, 2003, 11:54 AM
Alright, I have a few answers to this question.

First, it's possible to try to explain the physics involved and the math and what not, but chances are, that won't work. A simple explanation won't change what people "KNOW" to be true, especially coming from the person who just "LIED" to them. At best it will be seen as a self-defense justification thing but a lot of people will think you're trying to insult them.


You can play the 'it hasn't been invented yet' or the 'we don't really know' gambit because, after all, considering that our space program is still young, we really don't know what would happen. Theories can only take on so far, but they always make assumptions and take out nasty little details that will drastically alter the specifics. That will sound like a cheap cop out.


Don't go into that much detail in things. Don't call your weapon a laser beam, call it simply a beam. It can then be anything you want it to be and don't explain HOW or WHY it damaged the ship, that isn't important and can get you in trouble. Explaining that the beam hit the ship and that the ship rocked, electronics exploded, and what not.

Getting too specific will get SOME SMALL % OF PEOPLE trying to debunk the theory and people will point out that 'photons have no mass' though they DO impart energy even if it's not a momentum transfer. Another thing I'm surprised somebody didn't say is that "even IF photons have mass, the respective mass of the ship would negate any affects there (like shooting a marble at a volkswagon)

The average reader will not really mind minor errors if the story is good and what not. There are always some that like to pick apart things. Remember to take all critiques with a grain of salt.

March 6th, 2003, 12:13 PM
The arguement to me seems to be that..

Light has no weight, or the weight it has is negligable and therefore cannot move objects of greater mass.


Space is an almost weightless environment so the slightest force can act on even the largest mass.

But as Choppy was giving the example of a laser beam striking a ship in space and being rocked I offer these possible solutions..

A) The ship was rocked by the resultant repulsion of the laser by an energy shield (happens all the time!)

B) Some minor/temporary hull breach may have occured causing a momentary change in the internal/exteral pressure of said ship, causing the rock/jolt effect.

C) Space (despite common misconceptions) is not a "pure vacuum" as there are various gravitational forces, heavy/high speed particles flying about all over the damn place, which can indeed cause subtle currents in space (such as the "solar wind" etc).

D) The laser struck a part of the ship that controls the vessel, causing a loss of control etc.

If someone beefs at you about the "realism" of the science etc in a book just tell them this ...

"Hell, it's science fiction for crying out loud! Fiction! Want me to spell it out for you!
If it was real and physically possible I wouldn't be writing about it, I'd be patenting it and becoming incredibly rich!
Now shut the Hell up and give me my Big Mac!"

:p :D ;)

March 6th, 2003, 01:43 PM
Writers are Liers.

Readers had better accept that.

I do. ;)

March 6th, 2003, 03:50 PM
Originally posted by choppy
Is it worth getting worked up over?

No. Especially if you know you are right. Only get worried if someone catches an obvious mistake...

...and then you can just admit it if it comes down to it. I think people respect that.