Page 1 of 10 123 ... LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 141
  1. #1
    Registered User JunkMonkey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Location
    Slap Bang in the Middle of Infinity
    Posts
    1,624

    The Most Stupid Moment in Science Fiction

    Many times I have been happily reading a SF story only to be stopped dead in my tracks by a spectacular lack of logic, or blatant display of ignorance of the basic laws of physics by the author. (This is the point at which I usually abandon the book and move on to something else.)
    Does anyone else have this problem? You are quiet happily reading a book and suddenly realise that what the character on the page is doing is impossible? I mean just plain impossible. By this I don't mean some sort of ultra-nerdy " Well Captain Picard couldn't have used the holodeck that Tuesday because Data had taken it off-line to have it photonic doobidizers defloobed." type nitpickyness but the real honest to goodness everyday physics that affects the real world as we know it. You cannot lift yourself up by your bootstraps, sit in a cabin with one atmosphere of air pressure and casually open inwards a door with a hard vacuum on the other side (as I saw done in a movie the other week), etc. etc. You know. Real physics.

    For example:
    In an ancient (1948?) British SF story that I read recently (but am unable to find in the clutter on my shelves) the heroic crew of a spaceship stranded with insufficient fuel to get to escape velocity managed to effect their escape because the planet they were stuck on was spinning REALLY REALLY FAST - so the added boost of the centrifugal force as they lifted off enabled them to reach space... ???? What? That just made no sense at all! If they didn't have enough fuel to achieve escape velocity they didn't have enough fuel to manage escape velocity - full stop. The speed of the planet's rotation would have no effect on it's mass. The gravity on the surface would be the same no matter how many RPM it was doing.

    Another:
    I have (possibly faulty) memories of rare boner from Larry Niven. In Ringworld someone crawls across a totally frictionless surface. Can't be done. (As I said I may be wronging the man here it was 20 years ago I read it and have looked at it since.)

    So, any others?
    Last edited by JunkMonkey; October 17th, 2007 at 06:34 PM.

  2. #2
    Tom Dean
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Location
    Denver, CO
    Posts
    359
    When Gregory Benford wrote Beyond the Fall of Night, a sequel to Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night, he forgetfully put a lot of action on the Earth's moon, despite the fact that it had been destroyed in the Clarke novel. Oops!! Benford's defense of this in Science Fiction Age magazine was, shall we say, lame.

  3. #3
    Tom Dean
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Location
    Denver, CO
    Posts
    359
    And who can forget Boris Vallejo's magnificent cover of Larry Niven's The Magic Goes Away, which shows the macho swordsman with his scabbard on the same side as his sword arm... Oops!

  4. #4
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Location
    In an Ode
    Posts
    12,215
    Na, not impressing me here. So far, you've got a movie, a fifty year old story, a possible but not definite error in Ringworld (I don't remember this plot point from my reading,) a continuity error for a sequel -- which is not an error of physics but of plotting, and a bad cover art choice (which means nothing since art departments are notorious.) Nothing here seems a likely candidate for stupidest moment in written science fiction.

    Show me some examples of contemporary written sf where the author messed up. Not movies -- that's too easy. I still vividly remember watching Total Recall and trying not to fall on the floor laughing. One day I will have to read Dick's actual story to see if he did it the same way or not. And let's not even think about that recent movie where they were trying to restart the sun.

    I'm not saying there aren't any such gaffes in written sf, and frankly, I probably wouldn't spot something unless it was really egregious. But I'm sure someone can come up with regular examples.

  5. #5
    aurea plectro goldhawk's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    The Great White North
    Posts
    566
    Blog Entries
    3
    Quote Originally Posted by JunkMonkey View Post
    For example:
    In an ancient (1948?) British SF story that I read recently (but am unable to find in the clutter on my shelves) the heroic crew of a spaceship stranded with insufficient fuel to get to escape velocity managed to effect their escape because the planet they were stuck on was spinning REALLY REALLY FAST - so the added boost of the centrifugal force as they lifted off enabled them to reach space... ???? What? That just made no sense at all! If they didn't have enough fuel to achieve escape velocity they didn't have enough fuel to manage escape velocity - full stop. The speed of the planet's rotation would have no effect on it's mass. The gravity on the surface would be the same no matter how many RPM it was doing.
    Actually, it does make sense. That's why NASA located it's launch facilities as far south as possible. It is also there is a floating launch facility that can launch from the equator.

    The Earth's circumference is 25,000 miles and it takes 24 hours to spin around. So, that means there is an additional 1,042 mph added to your velocity if you launch eastward from the equator.

  6. #6
    Mice9
    Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    Not movies -- that's too easy.
    Maybe too easy, but so much fun!! I'm sure some of you had seen the show "Mystery Science Theatre 3000" that aired on Comedy central for a while - the whole theme was bad sci-fi that was so bad it was funny. There was a movie called "It conquered the world" where in one of the scenes, this cone shaped monster came into view, and you could see some of the wooden 2X4 that they were using to push it out on to stage with.

    btw - Ringworld had all kinds of bizzare questionable "physics" in it.
    Spoiler Alert:
    1) Entire castles that could be propelled through the air with what was essentially a flying motorcycle. 2) A city building that had been designed to catch speeders by sucking them into it's interior, and suspend them in the air - which was still operating thousands of years after the society who had built it had long since vanished. 3) Launching their dead space vehicle back out into space by tying it to a thread (made out of some wonder material of course) and attaching the other end of the string to the previously mentioned flying castle propelled by the flying motorcycle, and then flying the castle up the highest mountain on ringworld, and then through a hole in the top, so that the spaceship would be dragged up the side of the mountain and yanked through the volcano into space on the backside of the ring. Whew!

    Some authors have chosen their whole setting and premise to be completely absurd (i.e. Douglas Adams) but I guess it's different if you're doing it on purpose.

    - 9.
    Last edited by Mice9; October 18th, 2007 at 04:17 PM. Reason: added the word "it" somewhere.

  7. #7
    Registered User JunkMonkey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Location
    Slap Bang in the Middle of Infinity
    Posts
    1,624
    Quote Originally Posted by goldhawk View Post
    Actually, it does make sense. That's why NASA located it's launch facilities as far south as possible. It is also there is a floating launch facility that can launch from the equator.

    The Earth's circumference is 25,000 miles and it takes 24 hours to spin around. So, that means there is an additional 1,042 mph added to your velocity if you launch eastward from the equator.
    You are right to an extent. At the equator you would (according to this NASA site) weigh 0.35% less than you do at the poles. But in the story our brain dead spacemen didn't notice they weighed less on the surface of Planet X. The implication was, that like cutting the string of a weight whirled around your head, as soon as they were off the surface they were hurled to freedom.

    Kate G is right about the movies. The normal rules of physics just don't apply to anyone in the movies. (Just try sliding off a roof and catching hold of the gutter to break your fall if you have any doubts on that one.) And just think about the dumb way ships in Star Trek movies (etc.) bank like aeroplanes in airless space.

    The PKD story up which Total Recall was 'based', We Can Remember it for You Wholesale, was, as I remember it, a talking ideas piece. The whole Martian revolution atmosphere replenishment, running around with explosions, hookers with three tits stuff was pure Hollywood hookum added by the scriptwriters, their best friends, anyone else who happened to be passing the office, and their dog. A dreadful film.

  8. #8
    aurea plectro goldhawk's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    The Great White North
    Posts
    566
    Blog Entries
    3
    Quote Originally Posted by JunkMonkey View Post
    You are right to an extent. At the equator you would (according to this NASA site) weigh 0.35% less than you do at the poles. But in the story our brain dead spacemen didn't notice they weighed less on the surface of Planet X. The implication was, that like cutting the string of a weight whirled around your head, as soon as they were off the surface they were hurled to freedom.
    Did I mention anything about weight? What I said was that a person at the equator is traveling at 1042 mph relative to a person at the poles. Escape velocity of Earth is 25,059 mph. A rocket launched from the pole will have to make up all this speed to escape Earth's gravity. However, a rocket launched from the equator needs only go 24,017 mph. The difference is made up by its initial velocity.

  9. #9
    Registered User JunkMonkey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Location
    Slap Bang in the Middle of Infinity
    Posts
    1,624
    Aha! Right. (Penny drops) I get what you mean now.

    Does this mean that if a massively large object is spinning fast enough it's escape velocity at the equator could be reduced to near near zero but be huge at it's poles? - I think I've just reinvented Hal Clements' A Mission of Gravity here haven't I?

    I know this is a redundant argument because you didn't read the story I am talking about - and I am probably explaining it very badly - but trust me, it didn't make sense within the story.

  10. #10
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Location
    In an Ode
    Posts
    12,215
    Here's a fun site for you to guffaw over the physics errors of sf film-making, though I don't think they've updated it lately. But the analysis of The Core is priceless.

    http://www.intuitor.com/moviephysics


    But see, except for this one story -- where you seem to have some debate over whether an error was actually made -- and Adams, who was doing it deliberately wrong, some of the time, you're not providing me with any written material.

    Junk Monkey, you posted:

    Many times I have been happily reading a SF story only to be stopped dead in my tracks by a spectacular lack of logic, or blatant display of ignorance of the basic laws of physics by the author. (This is the point at which I usually abandon the book and move on to something else.)
    So which ones were those?

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by goldhawk View Post
    Did I mention anything about weight? What I said was that a person at the equator is traveling at 1042 mph relative to a person at the poles. Escape velocity of Earth is 25,059 mph. A rocket launched from the pole will have to make up all this speed to escape Earth's gravity. However, a rocket launched from the equator needs only go 24,017 mph. The difference is made up by its initial velocity.
    Without checking into it, I think that the escape velocity would be the velocity directly away from earth which would be the same at any point, except that the earth diameter is larger at the equator so the starting point is a little further from the earth center of mass so the escape velocity would be less. The velocity advantage at the equator is in a direction parallel to earth so take that away from the orbiting speed required. On the other hand, the velocity direction is tangental from earth so probably some of the initial velocity counts in a direction away from the earth. Whatever.

    The moral of the story is do not look for accurate science in science FICTION.

    A minor thing that has always bugged me - In Dune were the starship navagators not regular men (on spice) and in Dune Messiah did Herbert not change them to some sort of mutant fish people (like in the movie)?

  12. #12
    the puppet master ArthurFrayn's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Location
    Floating about
    Posts
    1,692
    A minor thing that has always bugged me - In Dune were the starship navagators not regular men (on spice) and in Dune Messiah did Herbert not change them to some sort of mutant fish people (like in the movie)?

    As I recall the navigators were altered not merely by the drug, but also by their relationship to the space time fabric, which they manipulate.
    I didn't read Dune Messiah or any of the sequels, so I'm recalling their physical appearance as you mention, in the first book. I don't remember exactly , but I'm guessing the descriptive passage would be someone talking to young Paul about the navigators and telling him what they are said to look like, because I think there's an element of secrecy about their appearance.
    Last edited by ArthurFrayn; October 19th, 2007 at 02:53 PM.

  13. #13
    Mice9
    Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by JunkMonkey View Post
    Many times I have been happily reading a SF story only to be stopped dead in my tracks by a spectacular lack of logic...
    Here's one; not with the physics, but rather the romance - of all things. This does spoil a part of the story if anyone cares.

    I read Ringworld this summer. After I had cited those examples about the bizzare physics in Ringworld, I remembered something else about that book that did more or less stop me in my tracks. There was a relationship developed between the main protagonist and a much younger woman early in the story. They went through about 2/3 of the book together, avoiding disaster, falling in love, making love, having lovers quarrels and all, when around page 280 or so they got separated by some accident. The main guy thinks she's dead. The next thing you know she shows up with this brauns/no brains guy who rescured her from some ghouls or something, and she tells her long time partner that this new guy is her destiny or some such baloney. The only reason I didn't toss the book out the window right then is because I cared more about the technology, and how rediculous the end might be than about the romance. The way he had written her character up until then, it was absurd for her to do that. For that reason, I'm not much interested in reading more Niven for now. If you are going to develop a character, you'd better come up with a good reason for them to go off the deep end if that's what you decide to have them do. The main concept of a "ringworld" was a fascinating one, and I'm sure that's what carried the novel, but it could have been so much better. Oh well.

    - 9.

  14. #14
    aurea plectro goldhawk's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    The Great White North
    Posts
    566
    Blog Entries
    3
    Quote Originally Posted by cgw View Post
    Without checking into it, I think that the escape velocity would be the velocity directly away from earth which would be the same at any point, except that the earth diameter is larger at the equator so the starting point is a little further from the earth center of mass so the escape velocity would be less. The velocity advantage at the equator is in a direction parallel to earth so take that away from the orbiting speed required. On the other hand, the velocity direction is tangental from earth so probably some of the initial velocity counts in a direction away from the earth. Whatever.
    The escape velocity at any point on the Earth varies slightly. The question is when do you stop refining it?

    The angular speed at the equator is 1042 mph or 4.16 % of the escape velocity. According to JunkMonkey, the decrease in weight is 0.35% or 88 mph. Then you can factoring in things like wind velocity, atmospheric pressure, lunar and solar tides. Each one will add a little or subtract a little from the final velocity your rocket will have to achieve. When you stop insisting on adding details depends on how nerdly you are .

    Quote Originally Posted by cgw View Post
    The moral of the story is do not look for accurate science in science FICTION.
    This depends on the author. Some authors are very careful about their science, and some are very sloppy.

  15. #15
    Registered User Seli's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    Netherlands
    Posts
    312
    I don't usually have a lot of problems with physics errors.
    But I remember being irritated by descriptions in Ring by Stephen Baxter. At some point stars across the sky start dying, becoming red. And this was visible instantaneously everywhere, and this in a story also featuring relativistic space travel.

Tags for this Thread

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •