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Science literacy in SFTV


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#1 Christopher

Christopher
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Posted 02 March 2003 - 11:38 PM

(Moderator’s note: The posts in this thread got scrambled when we moved, and the only way to fix it is to cut, paste and repost.  To save room I’ve included sigs and custom titles only once per member.  Apologies for the mess.)


Christopher
Posted: Jan 18 2003, 06:46 AM

Group: Moderator


Many of us here were drawn to Andromeda because it was a rarity in television, a
science fiction show that actually took the “science” part seriously.  The abandonment of that science literacy and intelligence is part of the general deterioration of the show.  To help get this new Sci & Tech discussion board going, I thought I’d do an overview of SFTV shows that have managed or bothered to achieve some degree of scientific literacy.  I won’t cover movies, since I’m not as familiar with them.

Tom Corbett, Space Cadet: This 1950-55 kids’ show, loosely based on Robert Heinlein’s juvenile novel Space Cadet, was perhaps the first SFTV show to make an effort at plausible science, hiring famous rocket scientist Willy Ley as a consultant.  Of course, like all science consultants, Ley had to try to balance good science with the writers’ desire for exciting stories, and the show’s realism was no doubt heavily limited by its budget.

Star Trek in all its forms: Gene Roddenberry believed that SF should be handled no differently than any other period piece, and that SF producers should make the same effort to portray the future authentically as the producer of a Western or a WWII drama should make to represent the past authentically.  He consulted with many researchers, engineers and think tanks to try to meet this goal.  Of course he had to make concessions for dramatic and budgetary reasons (whooshing spaceships, duplicate Earths), and he and his writers, being laypersons rather than scientists, didn’t always get the details right.  Still, TOS was better grounded in science than most shows, and did much to inspire its viewers to learn about science.  (I owe my lifelong fascination with space to TOS.)

In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Roddenberry strove to do even better.  His consultants included NASA’s Dr. Jesco von Puttkamer, Isaac Asimov, and Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart (as a spacewalking consultant).  The film had some fanciful elements, but helped to advance Trek science.  Dr. Puttkamer’s technical notes included a warp drive explanation which anticipated the theoretical work of Dr. Miguel Alcubierre some 14 years later.

Subsequent TOS movies abandoned any effort at credible science. Wrath of Khan production designer Joseph R. Jennings speaks on the TWOK Director’s Edition DVD about pushing for scientifically credible approaches and being overruled by director Nicholas Meyer -- although Jennings insists that Meyer’s choice to place drama over science proved correct, given the success of the film.

With TNG, Roddenberry tried to bring good science back, and with the help of advisors such as Rick Sternbach, Michael Okuda and writer/physicist Naren Shankar achieved this goal as well as any SFTV show ever did before Andromeda, though there were still some fanciful elements left over from past Treks.  After Roddenberry’s death, the effort put into scientific credibility in Trek began to diminish, as more and more fanciful concepts and imaginary particles worked their way in.  DS9, focussing more on political and character stories, didn’t do too much to advance this trend, and in my opinion managed to handle the science fairly well (for instance, in the episode “One Little Ship,” they acknowledged the practical problems of shrinking people, really listening to science advisor Andre Bormanis instead of ignoring his suggestions).  But VOY, in search of fresh adventure concepts, pretty much wandered into pure space fantasy.  ENT is avoiding VOY’s extreme flights of fancy, but isn’t making much effort at scientific literacy.

Probe: A very short-lived show from the ‘80s, co-created by Isaac Asimov.  Parker Stevenson played antisocial genius Austin James, who got dragged into using his scientific knowhow to solve various crimes and crises.  Not too memorable, not entirely rigorous in the science, but one of the few shows ever to try.

SeaQuest DSV: In its first season, an unusually science-literate show (aside from the psychic stuff and the ghost story and alien story at the end of the season).  And it highlighted a key problem with science literacy in SFTV -- namely, that the general public doesn’t understand what SF is.  In the first season of SeaQuest, the producers said, “We’re not doing science fiction, we’re doing plausible extrapolations from known science, technology and sociology” -- which is a pretty good definition of what SF is!  Then the new, second-season producers said, “Okay, now we’re going to start doing science fiction,” and they completely abandoned any attempt at credibility or intelligence.

Sliders: In its first season, an unusually science-literate show (sense a pattern?).  Creator Tracy Torme demonstrated awareness of the real name for wormholes (Einstein-Rosen bridges) and the Everett “Many-Worlds” model of quantum physics (which can be loosely interpreted to permit the existence of parallel timelines), and various other scientific principles as well.  Also, the stories focussed more on alternate histories than more far-out sci-fi concepts.  This changed in the second season, when more fanciful concepts worked their way in; and the awful third season was written by people whose idea of science fiction was ripping off old monster movies.  The final two seasons on the SciFi Channel were an improvement, moderately science-literate though still with a lot of stretches.  An interesting example was a late fourth-season episode where Quinn and Maggie somehow had their minds transferred to an imaginary dimension where time flowed much faster (a fanciful concept), while their bodies rapidly aged in a much more medically credible way than the usual instant wrinkles and white hair (organ failures, jaundice, more internal effects than external).

Stargate SG-1: About a TNG level of science.  Sometimes it’s pretty strong on science literacy (it’s the only show I know of other than GRA to use gravitational time dilation as a plot point), but it has its share of real groaners too, along with a full complement of SFTV cliches, and of course it’s based on a hash of scientifically ludicrous, pop- superstition concepts like ancient astronauts and Roswell greys.  But it’s built a nicely consistent galactic political/historical framework out of those goofy premises, making it easier to suspend disbelief.

Andromeda: In its original conception, the most scientifically literate SFTV show ever.  It gave us a whole new paradigm of SFTV world-building, abandoning decades-old cliches like tractor beams and ray guns and force-fields in favor of cutting-edge concepts like nanotech and string theory.  Not only believable, but fresh and different, something we hadn’t seen a hundred times before.  The limitations of credible science (like the lack of faster-than-light communication) created new obstacles which challenged the writers to find fresh approaches.  (The irony was, many viewers were so used to seeing the bad- science conventions of other shows that they found GRA’s good science implausible.)  It tried to move away from bumpy-headed-human aliens to more creative and credible species, though budget limitations would sabotage this attempt.  It told us stories that really made us think about the concepts behind the show, that stimulated the richest, liveliest science discussions I’ve ever had online.

Once Robert Wolfe was pushed out, though, we began getting scientifically lame episodes like “Belly of the Beast” and the final version of “Dance of the Mayflies.”  In the third season the show’s rules have been forgotten and the usual SF cliches have taken over.  Science and technology are merely surface trappings and story conveniences with no depth to them.

The Invisible Man (SciFi): Like SG-1, an implausible premise handled in a plausible way.  No other invisibility-themed show or movie has addressed the scientific problems and ramifications of invisibility in such detail.  Though it didn’t help much when the second- season premiere brought Bigfoot into it....

Firefly: In general not a science-literate show at all -- it even gets confused about the difference between a solar system and a galaxy -- but it deserves honorable mention for pioneering space shots without sound effects.  This is something TOS couldn’t do (though they tried) because the FX shots were relatively crude and needed sound to “sell” them, but Firefly has shown us it can work.  Hopefully this will start a new trend.

Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica: The original BG was pure space fantasy without a trace of scientific literacy.  But Moore’s comments about his reinvention of the series bode well for the science-literate viewer.  Judging from them, his philosophy is the same as Roddenberry’s -- that SF should be told just as believably and authentically as any other kind of story.  He sounds determined to avoid the cliches and bad science of the past.  But there’s no telling if this show will make it beyond the initial miniseries, or if it does, how long it will be able to maintain that standard of credibility.  History shows that series which start out trying for credibility are rarely able to maintain it.

I think the problem is that there are very few SFTV producers out there who are knowledgeable or concerned about science.  And producers have a way of coming and going.  If a show starts out under the guidance of science-savvy producers, a change in producers will probably cause that approach to be abandoned.

So the question is, who out there among TV producers today is concerned with scientific credibility, and/or knowledgeable enough to achieve it?  Let’s see, those I can be sure of:

Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Zack Stentz & Ashley Edward Miller
Ronald D. Moore
Naren Shankar

Other TNG/DS9 producers might be on the list -- Michael Piller, Ira Behr, Rene Echevarria, Hans Beimler -- but I’m not sure.  I suppose I could count SeaQuest’s Rockne S. O’Bannon and David Kemper, since they’ve proven they’re capable of it; but they’re also responsible for Farscape, which is a brilliant show but has no trace of science literacy.  (Ironically physicist Shankar was on its staff for a time.)

But I guess they should go on the list, yes.  Even the most science-conscious producers have usually done fantasy as well.  Heck, look how many former TNG, DS9 and GRA producers are now on Dead Zone and Twilight Zone.

Maybe SG-1's Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner (also an Invisible Man vet) could go on the list as well.  And Tracy Torme.

Of course, as Farscape and the Zones prove, the ability to do science-savvy shows doesn’t guarantee that a producer will do one.  And they also prove, of course, that fantasy is just as valid and potentially good a genre as hard SF.  But hard SF has so rarely been done on TV, and when it’s been tried it’s rarely endured.  I’m hopeful that the producers listed above will manage to bring us more science-literate SFTV in the years ahead, and give us good stuff to talk about on BBS’s like this one.

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"The difference of opinion in my community is a divine mercy" – Muhammad

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Una Salus Lillius
Posted: Jan 18 2003, 07:19 AM

Valentineologist

Group: Watchdog


What about Babylon Five and JMS?

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Stupidity in a woman is...unfeminine.

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CJ AEGIS
Posted: Jan 18 2003, 08:45 AM

Warship Guru

Group: Member


SeaQuest was to me a series that had a lot of potential to be highly interesting without
ever giving up much plausibility.

Quote

Christopher:  Subsequent TOS movies abandoned any effort at credible science. Wrath of
Khan production designer Joseph R. Jennings speaks on the TWOK Director’s Edition DVD about pushing for scientifically credible approaches and being overruled by director Nicholas Meyer -- although Jennings insists that Meyer’s choice to place drama over science proved correct, given the success of the film.


Well I can’t knock TWOK too much on the abandonment of science too much.  For once in the entire history of Star Trek the Enterprise actually looked and behaved somewhat like a military vessel.  That and Star Trek VI were the only times Star Trek seemed to get at least that right.  

Quote

Una Salus Lillius:  What about Babylon Five and JMS?

From what I can gather Babylon 5 would be a case of some good and they had some bad.  They had far too much of a hang-up on the “superiority” of organic to inorganic technology.  That and I think you’d have some serious issues with the design of the Omega Class destroyer besides the fact that the rotating compartment screams shoot me.  I would think a round compartment would be more logical than a square one.  ???  Though the Starfury Fighter and their manner of maneuvering was refreshing to see.

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"History has proven too often and too recently that the nation which relaxes its defenses invites attack." -- Fleet Admiral Nimitz

“Elements of 3rd Fleet reported sunk by Tokyo radio have been salvaged and are retiring in the direction of the Japanese Navy”
-Admiral Bull Halsey

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Christopher
Posted: Jan 18 2003, 09:42 AM


Quote

What about Babylon Five and JMS?

Good point -- that totally slipped my mind.  JMS made a decent effort at credible science in some areas.  The use of rotation for artificial gravity, for instance.  B5's interior garden is the only representation of an O'Neill-type space habitat I think I've ever seen on TV.  The Starfuries and other Earth vessels were rather intelligently designed, so much so that I think NASA actually studied the Starfury design for possible adoption.  And the early seasons made a good effort to depict things like explosions in space realistically, though this somewhat gave way to conventional orange fireballs in later seasons.

But there were always some scientifically weaker aspects as well, especially in the medical area.  I've always been particularly irritated by JMS's ideas about "life force" transference -- that life is like gas in a tank, that you can prolong or shorten someone's life just by adding to or subtracting from their "life force" reserve, or cure a terminal disease with a "life force" transfusion.  Pure gibberish, and in my mind it cancels out a lot of the other smart stuff B5 did.

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Christopher
Posted: Jan 18 2003, 09:51 AM


Quote

(CJ AEGIS @ Jan. 18 2003,16:48)
Well I can’t knock TWOK too much on the abandonment of science too much.  For once in
the entire history of Star Trek the Enterprise actually looked and behaved somewhat like a military vessel.  That and Star Trek VI were the only times Star Trek seemed to get at least that right.

The problem is, it looked and behaved like a 20th-century military vessel, but that included some implausible anachronisms.  In fact, maybe the 20th is the wrong century to mention -- from what they said on the DVD, Meyer was trying to do a Horatio Hornblower movie in space, with slow-moving ships firing broadsides at each other.  The shot of the dozens of crewmembers pulling up metal grates prior to loading the torpedo was meant to be analogous to rolling out the cannons on an 18th-century warship, which is all nice and stylish, but ludicrously inefficient -- in the time it takes to load one torpedo, the enemy could blow you up five times over.

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DWF
Posted: Jan 18 2003, 09:58 AM

Group: Member


I also think SeaQuest took some turns into fantasy, even in it's first season.

However I do think that you can add, Space: Above And Beyond, and the three pure science sci-fi shows, that the BBC put out in the 70s and 80s, Moonbase 3, Star Cops, and Space Island One.

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Una Salus Lillius
Posted: Jan 18 2003, 10:03 AM


Christopher I pretty much agree about the life essence thing in terms of reality.  IIRC
JMS is not a fan of religion but he nevertheless did some significant stories involving religion and the "soul", which to me says he may not be a religion man but that he's quite spiritual.

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CJ AEGIS
Posted: Jan 18 2003, 10:34 AM


Quote

:Christopher: The problem is, it looked and behaved like a 20th-century military vessel,
but that included some implausible anachronisms.

Well to some degree you have certain constants that are going to remain.  The crew responding to general quarters, “clearing” the vessel for combat, and dispatching damage control teams so they are ready for combat.  So to be fair it was a fairly valid extrapolation from TOS of how they would ready the vessel in the Star Trek universe.  

Quote

In fact, maybe the 20th is the wrong century to mention -- from what they said on the
DVD, Meyer was trying to do a Horatio Hornblower movie in space, with slow-moving ships firing broadsides at each other.

I was referring to the internal functions of the ship and the behavior of the crew.  The actual combat between the ships as you point out was a little more than ridiculous.  Though the Mutara Nebula Battle would be a mix of Napoleonic era tactics with modern nuclear submarines.  

Quote

The shot of the dozens of crewmembers pulling up metal grates prior to loading the
torpedo was meant to be analogous to rolling out the cannons on an 18th-century warship, which is all nice and stylish, but ludicrously inefficient -- in the time it takes to load one torpedo, the enemy could blow you up five times over.

That sequence IIRC was well before they actually engaged the Reliant the second time.  The grates over the torpedo “tracks” were probably so people could easily move around the torpedo room when the vessel wasn’t in combat.  I doubt they picked up the grates and placed them back down every time they sent a torpedo through.  Personally I would have gone for recessing it further in the floor or a raised “bridge” over it. As for the actual loading speed of the torpedoes on the track that was extremely slow.

Quote

DWF: However I do think that you can add, Space: Above And Beyond,

Highly trained Marine Fighter Pilots switching between flying fighters and being infantry on a regular basis…  :sigh:

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DWF
Posted: Jan 18 2003, 10:52 AM


^^^I don't have a problem with that, they are Marines after all, it's not on Stargate,
where they have Air Force officers, acting like Green Barets. I don't think we've even seen O'Neill keep up his flying time. And we are talking scienctific literacy, since most sci- fi shows are set in the future, who knows what will happen with the military.

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Christopher
Posted: Jan 18 2003, 01:36 PM


Quote

(DWF @ Jan. 18 2003,18:01)
I also think SeaQuest took some turns into fantasy, even in it's first season.

However I do think that you can add, Space: Above And Beyond, and the three pure science sci-fi shows, that the BBC put out in the 70s and 80s, Moonbase 3, Star Cops, and Space Island One.

If you pay attention to my parenthetical comments about SeaQuest, you'll see I did acknowledge its turns into fantasy.  I consider those blots on an otherwise exceptionally credible (if not really very good otherwise) season.

I saw Moonbase 3 once and I'm inclined to agree that it was pretty credible for its day.  It was the kind of SF show that wasn't about way-out weird science ideas, but was instead a realistic, character-driven drama that just happened to be in a near-future setting.  The last episode did stretch things a bit, though, if I recall.  I haven't seen those other British shows, so I can't comment.

From what I saw of S:AAB, I wouldn't put it in the hard-science category.  I don't remember any specific bad science, but I don't remember any good science either.

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Uncle Sid
  Posted: Jan 18 2003, 01:41 PM

I hate you, Milkman Dan

Group: Member


Quote

Firefly: In general not a science-literate show at all -- it even gets confused about the
difference between a solar system and a galaxy -- but it deserves honorable mention for pioneering space shots without sound effects.

Firefly was interesting. I'm not sure that they were science-illiterate, not completely so anyway, instead, I think they made a decision to simply not get into it.  However, when they did do it, they tried to get it right.  

The most glaring wierdness about the science on Firefly was the opening credits where it sounded like they were doing all of the action inside one solar system.  However, they did change the opening voiceover from talking about a solar system to a galaxy later in the series.  

The other thing that they did was admit that they needed oxygen to fire a projectile from one of Jayne's guns in space, and so, used a spacesuit.  Aside from concerns about how a weapon could be fired accurately that way, and also why a starship doesn't have any space-ready weaponry like a rail gun aboard, it was an example of them attempting to do space literacy in bite-sized chunks that didn't subordinate the story to the technology.  

As far as B5 goes, I'd have to agree with the complaints about the "life force" biology as well as the energy being issues.  However, I think JMS was faced with trying to effectively portray ancient races that had extremely powerful technologies and really coming up short on realistic ideas.  Want to show what a highly evolved race looks like?  Make it an "energy being".  Want to show super-weaponry? Make a pink cutting beam weapon or lightning bolts.  Cool ships?  Well make them alive and at least semi- sentient.  Still, since we haven't the slightest clue what a million year old race would have in terms of tech, it seems to me that some of B5's liberties as far as science are forgiveable.

:alien:

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Rhys
Posted: Jan 18 2003, 03:07 PM

Space Madness Victim

Group: Moderator


One of the coolest things, in this regards, on Firefly was the complete silence in space
scenes.  Lots of shows have acknowledged that that's the "right" way to do things, but it's tough to do that when you're doing a lot of big space battles (it's even in the Andromeda show bible).

I think Firefly could get away with it easier because they weren't doing big space battles every week - but even the big explosion-type shots made it work really well.

I'm gonna miss that show. :(

Rhys

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I'll start a revolution... if I can get up in the morning.

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Uncle Sid
  Posted: Jan 18 2003, 04:41 PM


Quote

(Rhys @ Jan. 18 2003,23:10)
I'm gonna miss that show. 

Yeah, me too.  Really the only things I'm looking forward to now are finally being able to see the remaining ZackAsh episodes on Andromeda and the upcoming second season of Jeremiah.  

Still, Joss and Co. apparently have something in the works, although networks are out of it at this point.  There's even been talk of direct to DVD, but I don't know how realistic that is.  Syndication is probably out due to the soft market and inability to maintain the network-grade production values or the actors with a syndication budget.

:crazy:

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MuseZack
Posted: Jan 18 2003, 04:57 PM

Group: Demigod


Christopher:

You might be interested to know that we've gotten together with David Brin and come other people and are in the process of organizing a summit/workshop/conference this summer on the topic of putting the science back in science fiction television.  We'll keep you all posted as it progresses (it'll probably be held at USC this summer).

Zack

===========================
Appreciate
Posted: Jan 18 2003, 05:07 PM

Coffee-holic

Group: Admin


Wow, Zack, that sounds so awesome!!!!

What a rush to work with authors like David Brin!  I totally loved World Con last year, where he and a whole mess of other authors spoke about all kinds of writing and Sci Fi topics.

I look forward to hearing more about this con!

Kathy :)

PS  This kind of dialogue is *exactly* what I was hoping would come to this section when I passed on Christopher's suggestion.  Thank you all for being here!!!

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Edited by Christopher, 02 March 2003 - 11:40 PM.

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#2 Christopher

Christopher
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Posted 02 March 2003 - 11:40 PM

Christopher
Posted: Jan 19 2003, 01:12 AM


Sid wrote:

Quote

The most glaring wierdness about the science on Firefly was the opening credits where it
sounded like they were doing all of the action inside one solar system.  However, they did change the opening voiceover from talking about a solar system to a galaxy later in the series.

In the pilot, they spoke of the "Core Planets" where the high-tech Alliance was and the "Outer Moons" which were the Old West-type places.  That does sound like a single system, one where all the inner terrestrial planets and the moons of the outer Jovians were all terraformed.  That does pose problems in terms of the efficacy of the terraforming, but it would've avoided questions about FTL travel.

I would've loved it if they'd done it as our Solar System, with thousands of O'Neill habitats made from converted asteroids.  The problem there would be the expense of showing the terrain curving up and over on every world.  Would've been delightfully different, though.

Quote

Aside from concerns about how a weapon could be fired accurately that way, and also why a starship doesn't have any space-ready weaponry like a rail gun aboard, it was an example of them attempting to do space literacy in bite-sized chunks that didn't subordinate the story to the technology.

Interesting thought.  As to the rail-gun thing, would a ship like this, basically the equivalent of a large truck or a small freighter boat, normally carry large arms of that sort?  I imagine the operators of such vehicles carry sidearms to protect their cargo, but nothing bigger.  Besides, the Alliance would be wary about allowing such things.

Quote

However, I think JMS was faced with trying to effectively portray ancient races that had
extremely powerful technologies and really coming up short on realistic ideas.  Want to show what a highly evolved race looks like?  Make it an "energy being".  Want to show super-weaponry? Make a pink cutting beam weapon or lightning bolts.  Cool ships?  Well make them alive and at least semi-sentient.  Still, since we haven't the slightest clue what a million year old race would have in terms of tech, it seems to me that some of B5's liberties as far as science are forgiveable.

Another good thought.  Still, it's possible with science literacy to make some plausible extrapolations.  I think RHW demonstrated that with the Spirit of the Abyss, which is a being existing in multiple dimensions and thus able to do seemingly magical things in our three dimensions.  This is a concept based in solid scientific thinking, allowing a kind of "magic" that actually makes sense once you know the trick, and a kind that isn't just a recycled cliche.

Rhys wrote:

Quote

One of the coolest things, in this regards, on Firefly was the complete silence in space
scenes....
I think Firefly could get away with it easier because they weren't doing big space battles every week - but even the big explosion-type shots made it work really well.

I agree... sound is important to our visceral responses, so it might be harder to make a big action scene exciting without sound.  But Ron Moore is going to try it in his new Galactica, and I for one hope he pulls it off.  Though personally I have little interest in space battles.

Zack tells us:

Quote

You might be interested to know that we've gotten together with David Brin and come other people and are in the process of organizing a summit/workshop/conference this summer on the topic of putting the science back in science fiction television.  We'll keep you all posted as it progresses (it'll probably be held at USC this summer).

Yowza!  That's great to hear!  Who else is involved?  Other producers like the folks I mentioned above?  Other SF writers, or scientists?  (I know Mr. Brin is both.)  I'd suggest inviting some producers who aren't normally that concerned with science -- maybe you could win them over.

A large part of the reason, I think, that science is so hard to find in SF/fantasy TV is that Americans on the whole aren't very science-literate.  I've heard that 95% of Americans don't know how the scientific process works.  But that's precisely why the lack of science in TV is a point of concern.  As I mentioned above, science-savvy shows can inspire interest in science.  How many of today's scientists, engineers, programmers, astronauts, doctors and the like were led to those fields by their fondness for TOS?

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CJ AEGIS
Posted: Jan 19 2003, 04:50 AM


Quote

Christopher  :
As to the rail-gun thing, would a ship like this, basically the equivalent of a large truck or a small freighter boat, normally carry large arms of that sort?  I imagine the operators of such vehicles carry sidearms to protect their cargo, but nothing bigger.  Besides, the Alliance would be wary about allowing such things..

I doubt that anyone would bother to arm small freighters.  It sounds like we are talking about something that would be the equivalent of a coastal tramp freighter?  Even with the level of piracy we have ongoing today we don’t exactly see merchant vessels carrying deck guns.

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Rhys
Posted: Jan 19 2003, 05:04 AM


Quote

(uncle sid @ Jan. 19 2003,00:44)
There's even been talk of direct to DVD, but I don't know how realistic that is.

Man, if they could make that work for a show...

I think that direct, subscriber-based funding would be a real boon to "intelligent SF", but the trick is getting it to work the first time.

Oh, and Zack, that sounds just too cool!

Rhys

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Ilisidi
Posted: Jan 19 2003, 06:19 AM

The Nietzschean Diva

Group: Member


{{{{{Zack}}}}}

I'll watch anything that has the nerve to have just only David Brin on it!  That will be so amazing and I hope this project works out!

This is a cool discussion.  The hard s/f feel of 'Drom when it first came out is the absolute sole reason why I kept watching it in the first place.

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"And I speak of spiritual suffering! Of people seeing their talent, their work, their lives wasted. Of good minds submitting to stupid ones. Of strength and courage strangled by envy, greed for power, fear of change. Change is freedom, change is life -- is anything more basic to Odonian thought than that?" Bedap to Shevek -- The Dispossessed by LeGuin.

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Nick
Posted: Jan 19 2003, 09:29 AM

Drunken Banker

Group: Member


Wow.  That sounds really awesome!  Keep us posted I'm very interested to find out
more about that summit.  If it's got you guys plus Brin . . . Wouldn't by chance be open to the public now would it?  

-Nick

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Ex-Smoker.

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Christopher
Posted: Jan 20 2003, 04:45 AM


Maybe something for Zack et al. to consider at their summit: what about educational TV?
I've found that hard science fiction is a wonderful medium for science education.  Nothing helps you understand a subject so well as seeing it work.  I think it would be great for the science literacy of American kids if there could be some hard-SF shows for them.  Not the sort of thing that's contrived to include outright science lectures, but just adventure stories set in a universe that works like the real one.  For instance, an interplanetary adventure that depicts the solar system and its bodies accurately would be great for teaching astronomy.  If the ships moved and functioned like real spaceships would, it would teach a lot about Newtonian mechanics, thermodynamics, etc.  If they had to face the different gravities and atmospheric conditions of other planets, that would teach a lot as well.  (It'd have to be animated or CGI if there were any chance of depicting low gravity accurately.)  If the stories arose from realistic problems that space travellers or settlers on other planets might face, instead of from superpowered archvillains or swirly time warps or whatever, it would show physics and engineering and planetary science in action.  It's like the immersion method, letting kids learn about space and physics as they go without making them feel lectured to.

Of course, the problem here is similar to the one Andromeda faced in depicting credible science.  American audiences have been immersed for so long in a totally false, misleading, fairy-tale depiction of outer space that they might not be able to accept a realistic depiction, might think it felt wrong and off-putting.

I think this is an opportunity that's being totally ignored.  The only kids' space show I can think of that has an "educational" label on it is the cartoon Stargate: Infinity.  But its "educational" content is just stuff about values and life lessons and "Don't do drugs" kind of things, while its portrayal of the universe is as fanciful as any show's.

There was a show a while back called Exosquad which almost came close.  Its writers knew the geography of the solar system pretty well.  But the overseas animation studio (which did a dreadful job on the show overall) got it all totally wrong.  The scripts acknowledged Mars' Olympus Mons as the tallest mountain in the solar system, but the artists screwed it up by portraying it as this impossible vertical needle of a mountain.  They also depicted Saturn's moon Enceladus as a flat slab of stone hovering in space, instead of a sphere.

This is one serious obstacle such a realistic kids' show (and indeed any scientifically realistic show) would have to overcome to succeed -- the production team would have to learn their science as well.  A lot of bad habits would have to be unlearned.  For instance, the chronic habit of animators to represent weightlessness by having people and objects bob up and down like they're floating on wavy water.  I think Exosquad did this too.  It's absurd, and totally ignores the basic laws of motion.

On the other hand, there was the CG-animated Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles, which depicted characters on Pluto (with about 1/17 Earth's gravity) walking around normally, since they used motion-capture of real people (in full Earth gravity) to create the character animation.  This really disappointed me, that even with CG technology that theoretically freed a realistic-looking show from real-world limits like Earth gravity, they were still so constrained by those limits.  I think gravity changes are one of the hardest things for people to grasp intuitively, as well as a hard thing to simulate accurately.  It would take a lot of care and attention to get something like this right.

=========================
G1223
Posted: Jan 21 2003, 06:09 PM

The Ring Bearer

Group: Member


Quote

(MuseZack @ Jan. 19 2003,06:00)
Christopher:

You might be interested to know that we've gotten together with David Brin and come other people and are in the process of organizing a summit/workshop/conference this summer on the topic of putting the science back in science fiction television.  We'll keep you all posted as it progresses (it'll probably be held at USC this summer).

Zack

If Mr. Brin is at World Con I will ask him about the summit. I was in a disscussion group laster with him in it about the issue of Law in the future at last years World Con.

Could someone sen d me a reminder as we closer to August please.

--------------------
Strength lies not in numbers but in spirit.

=====================================
G-man
Posted: Jan 22 2003, 06:44 AM

Group: Member


I think Firefly had more going for it scientifically than you give it credit for.


I interpreted Core Worlds and Outer Moons as being in relation to the old Solar System.  The Core Worlds being the older, more established colonies, whereas the "Outer Moons" were only part of the newly settled frontier.  Albeit, it would've been nice to see a gas giant in the background on one of these outer moons.  But I can see where a Solar System is implied.

The show does actually show weightlessness accurately portrayed, and the limitations to doing stuff in a vacuum.  It actually showed the Artificial Gravity being switched on.  It also addressed the social issues that most SF programs ignore, as well as just how valuable are the things we take for granted would be to cash-strapped colonists.

Yes, Poetic License is taken, but I think just the depiction of life in outerspace is about as good a take as you are going to get.  Afterall, FIREFLY seems more concerned about the people and society, than it is about science.

/s/

Gloriosus
the G-man Himself

--------------------
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe...
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion...
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate...
All those moments will be lost in time...like tears in rain.
Time to die."

===============================
G-man
Posted: Jan 23 2003, 12:03 AM


And in defense of FARSCAPE ...

Kemper & Co. had always maintained that it was Space Fantasy rather than Science Fiction.

OTOH, they have remained remarkably faithful to the rules that they, themselves, laid down and actually explained the Cosmology of FARSCAPE (Unrealized Realities) inclusive of time travel.

/s/

Gloriosus
the G-man Himself

=============================
Christopher
Posted: Jan 23 2003, 01:21 AM


Quote

(G-man @ Jan. 23 2003,08:06)
And in defense of FARSCAPE ...

Kemper & Co. had always maintained that it was Space Fantasy rather than Science Fiction.

Oh, there's no need to defend space fantasy here.  It's a perfectly legitimate subgenre.  The point is simply that SFTV shows are almost always closer to the fantasy end of the spectrum than the hard-science end, and those shows that start out with scientific literacy tend to abandon it sooner or later.  I for one would like to see more of a balance.

And since this is a science forum, naturally the discussion here would tend to focus on shows that have some actual science in them.  That doesn't mean the participants in this board don't like Farscape or want to discuss it, it's just that those discussions would tend to be in other Ex Isle forums rather than in this one.  Although if someone wanted to start a thread asking about how Farscape's wormholes (or SFTV wormholes in general) compare to the "real" ones derived from relativity, that would be welcome.

But the last thing I want to do is stir up some kind of rivalry between hard-SF and science-fantasy shows.  That would be artificial.  Remember, before Farscape, O'Bannon & Kemper did SeaQuest DSV, which was a hard-SF show in its first season (with exceptions).  And Naren Shankar, who produced Farscape for a season or two, is a physicist.

=============================
DWF
Posted: Jan 23 2003, 02:07 AM


^^^The thing is though, it's hard to convince alot of people that, Farscape is indeed a
space fantasy, and not science fiction.

=============================
Rhys
Posted: Jan 23 2003, 04:29 AM


I think a lot of that confusion has to do with people's definitions of "science fiction" and
"fantasy".

Rhys

==============================
G-man
Posted: Jan 23 2003, 05:14 AM


Actually, I think only dedicated SF fans recognize the difference.  The average viewer
just lumps them together and calls it SF.

A tendency not helped by Hollywood, or the Media.  

/s/

Gloriosus
the G-man Himself

==============================
Rhea
Posted: Jan 27 2003, 10:34 AM

Captain Tightpants Aficionado

Group: Member


Quote

(Rhys @ Jan. 19 2003,04:10)
One of the coolest things, in this regards, on Firefly was the complete silence in space
scenes.  Lots of shows have acknowledged that that's the "right" way to do things, but it's tough to do that when you're doing a lot of big space battles (it's even in the Andromeda show bible).

I think Firefly could get away with it easier because they weren't doing big space battles every week - but even the big explosion-type shots made it work really well.

I'm gonna miss that show. 

Rhys

Me too.

One of my favorite uses of this technique was in "Out of Gas" where there was a fire aboard Firefly and they decompressed to extinguish it. You hear the roar of the fire inside the ship and dead silence when they switch to the outside POV.

==============================
Rhea
Posted: Jan 27 2003, 10:37 AM


Quote

(MuseZack @ Jan. 19 2003,06:00)
Christopher:

You might be interested to know that we've gotten together with David Brin and come other people and are in the process of organizing a summit/workshop/conference this summer on the topic of putting the science back in science fiction television.  We'll keep you all posted as it progresses (it'll probably be held at USC this summer).

Zack

Ooooh, David Brin!  :cool:

I LOVE his books. The Kiln People, while difficult to follow sometimes for reasons which I won't go into for fear of spoilers, totally blew my mind. I always know when I pick up one of his books that he's going to delight and enthrall me - sort of like a couple or three TV writers I know. :D



--------------------
The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.

-George Bernard Shaw

==============================
Delvo
Posted: Jan 30 2003, 11:44 AM

Group: Member


Sometimes it's not a matter of science knowledge or lack thereof. Firefly did pretty well
on scientific accuracy, not by saying scientific things that were accurate, but by not really saying anything scientific, and thus running no risk of saying something wrong. Even the silence of the space scenes is just done because Joss Whedon likes to make dramatic use of that feeling of being nowhere, surrounded by nothing, and it just doesn't happen to conflict with reality. This lets them be close to scientific illiterates, or not, and still make a science fiction show that's not suffering huge realism problems. They're just not telling stories in which it matters. (In fact, JW originally wanted to do a plain old Western, but put it in space in the future to avoid conflicting with HISTORICAL reality, which, unlike scientific reality, was an important issue to him that he felt a need to deal with.)

Some have said that the fact that Firefly tells stories merely set in space, rather than really based on something about the technology or such, which could have been set in the present or a century or two ago with practically no changes, means that it's not SF...

Anyway, completely unrelated to that, I think it's worth noting that a show can be very good in one area of science and very bad in another. For example, Battlestar Galactica was consistently awful about physics, but they never did anything really wrong with medical science. And Andromeda (before it got ruined into its current incarnation as a cheesey paragon of SF patheticness) stuck to real physics when it came to space battles but was pretty much hopeless in biology even at its best right from start (including glitches in the physics of life-forms).

===================================
Corwin
Posted: Feb 19 2003, 12:25 AM

Group: Member


Quote

(DWF @ Jan 18 2003, 09:57 AM)
I don't have a problem with that, they are Marines after all, it's not on Stargate, where
they have Air Force officers, acting like Green Barets. I don't think we've even seen O'Neill keep up his flying time. And we are talking scienctific literacy, since most sci-fi shows are set in the future, who knows what will happen with the military.

I didn't like the way Space, Above and Beyond handled that issue, but I can see it being vaguely plausible. However, as far as SG-1 goes... I don't recall having heard that O'Neill was a fighter pilot...(if I'm wrong, I'm wrong)

In reality the vast majority of Air Force officers are not pilots and the Air Force does have its own Spec Ops people that are just as well-trained and deadly as the Green Berets or SEALS.

--Corwin

=====================
tennyson
Posted: Feb 19 2003, 01:07 AM

Group: Member


O'Neil was always described as a special forces operator and not a fighter pilot. He
might be rated on different vehicles but that wasn't his primary mission specialty. The Air Force has its own chunk of the Special Forces Command just like the Army, Marines and Navy do, it just doesn't recieve the same level of publicity that the Seals, or Delta Force recieve. As far as Carter is concerned, one of my fellow physics majors here at WVU was just like her, in being a person with a high-end physics degree that did want to fly but didn't really expect to due to physical limitations. He's talk about flying a desk in some research lab sometime after he finished and as far as I know he's doing that down in Florida now. The Air Force also has thier own ground troops for air field ecurity, ground patrol and the like. They were the first military arm of the US to buy M1gs and operated Colt Commando APCs for base defence during the Vietnam War among other things.
"You don't use science to show that you're right, you use science to become right." -- xkcd

"The first man to raise a fist is the man who's run out of ideas." -- "H. G. Wells," Time After Time


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