What If Science Fiction Actually Involved Science?

September 20th, 2012

The reason we’ve probably never seen a dramatic TV series involving scientists in the tradition of ER or CSI or Newsroom is that the actual work is usual tedious, boring to most non-experts, with low stakes most of the time (cancer doesn’t get cured every week, or even nearly cured).  This is also the reason that the science and engineering on shows like Star Trek and Stargate usually resorts to quick technobabble followed by 30 seconds of fiddling to solve problems.  Realistic pondering, testing, failure, and more pondering in real time is kind of exciting to do, but boring to watch, especially when many viewers cannot be expected to have deep scientific backgrounds.

Still, I’d like to see more attempts to pull it off.  Science can be powerful and exciting and there are a lot of talented writers who could pull off more realistic stories without cheating the subject matter or their audiences.

A couple of great movies where the realities of science and technology were handled well and realistically were October Sky and Apollo 13.  I wish there were a lot more I could think of, and movies that were science fiction rather than historical dramas.  One that tried and had some partial success was Enemy Mine, dealing with language differences and meteor strikes (although the latter was not that realistic, it did display rational problem solving).  Others I’m not thinking of?

Anyway, I think I’m struggling with science fiction as speculation/entertainment, vs. the idea that science fiction can actually productively exploit the process of science itself and make it an interesting element on its own merits, instead of just enabling a world we can escape to.  I always loved novels where the characters found themselves on alien worlds and had to experiment with their environment or alien technology to figure out how to survive.  I’ve rarely seen that in the forefront of TV shows or movies.



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