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Science Literacy in SFTV


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#21 G-man

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Posted 23 January 2003 - 08:06 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/

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#22 G-man

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Posted 23 January 2003 - 01:17 PM

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/

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#23 CJ AEGIS

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 04:48 PM

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

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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.  

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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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#24 Bad Wolf

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 06:06 PM

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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#25 Christopher

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 09:39 PM

DWF, on Jan. 18 2003,18:01, said:

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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#26 MuseZack

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Posted 19 January 2003 - 01:00 AM

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).

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#27 Rhys

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Posted 19 January 2003 - 01:07 PM

uncle sid, on Jan. 19 2003,00:44, said:

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!

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#28 Christopher

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Posted 20 January 2003 - 12:48 PM

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.

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#29 Christopher

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Posted 23 January 2003 - 09:24 AM

G-man, on Jan. 23 2003,08:06, said:

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.

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#30 Rhea

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Posted 27 January 2003 - 06:37 PM

Rhys, on Jan. 19 2003,04:10, said:

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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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.

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#31 Delvo

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Posted 30 January 2003 - 07:47 PM

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).


#32 Corwin

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Posted 19 February 2003 - 08:28 AM

DWF, on Jan 18 2003, 09:57 AM, said:

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.


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#33 tennyson

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Posted 19 February 2003 - 09:10 AM

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.
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