I have read some interesting discussions recently about science in SF novels, with readers talking about what they see as ridiculous, in some instances ‘deal breakers’ that cause them to dislike any given book that features those things that they see as impossible. This post is a response of sorts to that mentality.
I think that I agree with those who speak of internal consistency. That is essential. Even then, I prefer the ‘science’ to have what I will call ”logical plausibility within context.” In other words, it must always have a theoretical rigor at its heart, even when it is total fantasy. It may be that current theory places a barrier at light speed. We have theories that are discussed in scientific circles which talk about how it might be passed (or at least worked around), but the generally accepted paradigm currently places the limit at light speed. So? if science can’t change it’s mind sometimes, it will never progress.
There are strategic problems within a story regarding travel, etc. so a writer must choose the path they will take to address the problem. Some will employ generational star ships, some will employ worm holes, hyperspace, etc. I don’t have a problem, provided there is science and logic behind it. They don’t have to tell me the detailed physics of the thing with equations etc as long as I can see that logical plausibility in the way it is written. Some modern writers may have failed at this, perhaps leading to the aversion some have to it.
Science Fiction is the genre of ‘what if’, so if we use something that reaches beyond current understanding, we are in fact creating exactly what SF is here for. So if a writer has faster than light technology in their fictional universe, and that is consistent with other aspects, within a pseudo-historical progression of technology that they have applied to the work of fiction, AND that technology is internally consistent and follows a stream of logical thought in its operation, including consequences of improper operation etc, then there is no problem.
We don’t have fusion generators yet. There are barriers we have been unable to overcome. Scientists are still working to find a way to create a reliable fusion generator, and they will continue until they do. It may not be front page stuff, but they are trying. They are also trying to prove the possibility of FTL movement (as seen by the recently debated maybe it went faster maybe it didn’t experiments with the large hadron collider). There are even fascinating things in the last decade or so looking at methods of teleportation, and yes some of those experiments have had fascinating and promising ramifications. This stuff IS being studied, it IS being experimented on, and perhaps one day they will break through the barriers and bring us astonishing new technologies. To deny that something is possible because we did not do it before? well that’s stupidity right there.
Science has an exploratory curiosity at it’s heart that means at any given time, if you say “it’s impossible, it can not be done, this barrier will stop you”, somewhere a scientist or three will take that challenge and still try to break through that barrier. Heinlein said never underestimate the power of human stupidity. I say never underestimate the power of human ingenuity. In fact I strongly believe that to underestimate our ingenuity is to give a prime example of human stupidity, and sadly by staying positive and optimistic about the whole thing, I fear I am forgetting Heinlein’s sage advice!
I can not say and will not say that nothing is impossible. Some things are at this time. However while we still do not know all that there is to know, I can not say that any single thing is not possible, given the appropriate conditions.
The future has untold promise – bring it on!