Is that based on real science?

If we go back hundred years and then some in time, we would enter a world we’d recognize but would hardly be able to properly function in. Your own nation would have drastically different culture, ideologies and ways of doing things, and other cultures would be that much more alien as the global cross-pollination would still be curbed by the lack of fast connections. Though we can intellectually say that things were like this or that people thought like that based on books and documentation from that era, otherwise we can barely relate to them. We can’t interact with the past. The same applies to the future as well, but even more so. The present is steel in a forge, constantly being heated to its proper temperature. Human actions are the hammer blows that shape the metal into its proper form, but only after quenching and polishing, we can see what are the results. We might have a plan or intentions, but sometimes those don’t serve us. Other times we’re played like a fiddle by some unseen hand directing us towards something peculiar, like how the recent military coup in Burma, also called Myanmar, took place. Some people see and know what’s going to happen, while the rest have to wait and see until it’s presented to us. By that time, the showcase is over. Future generations will look back to this era the same way we see the past through coloured lenses and read the words of the victor.

If we extend the time span, we’re are being removed from pretty much everything we know. The man of now, be it in the 1800s or present, always considers themselves to be at the cutting edge of science and progress, that this is the best spot. Fifty years from now there will be people thinking the same way and wondering how backwards we were at the change of the millennium. Science probably has taken steps we barely have an inkling about currently, with social and cultural structures have seen a change. Future historians can make educated guesses where all this is going, but that’s all it is. Ask a future historian five years ago if the world would experience a massive scare in form of a global pandemic, and none of them has anything like that. Some of them probably would have guessed that an incoming depression would hit, but that was supposed to be around 2018. They weren’t quite right on the time, or for what reasons.

The concepts we have in our everyday life are magic. We can say we understand how, for example, Wi-Fi works with the signals and how they’re coded and encoded, but only in terms of This things exists. Very few truly understand what’s happening when wireless communication happens, or why. We can easily say that Wireless Fidelity is radio signals, and then expand that radio waves are a form of electromagnetic waves. This means it’s a wave with both electronic and magnetic component to it, meaning the signals are like light rays, except their wavelength is different. This is just going into what a radio signal is, and not even touching how information relies on through it. As a side note, it would be possible to “see” Wi-Fi waves if an organ or a device would have evolved or designed to see at that wavelength.

The Atomic Era and after saw a huge slew of science fiction making wild assumptions about the year 2000, which very few have come to pass. I’m still waiting for my atomic reactor powered flying cars. We have robots doing our jobs, but not in the manner of humaniform robots or androids, but rather as dedicated machines with specific types of arms and hands. General artificial intelligence was assumed to have been assembled already, but turns out making a sentient computer is harder than it seems like. Then again, in strict terms, the AI doesn’t even need to be sentient. It just has to appear to be so. However, we can’t fault science fiction writers for using the science they had in their present. You can’t use or invent what you don’t know is possible or could be done. Star Trek‘s communicators were a natural evolution of radio and wired phones. Nowadays, you can call anyone anywhere on the Earth, and probably on the orbit too, with your phone in your pocket. While teleportation has been deemed impossible, tests have shown otherwise. It’s just a matter of the scale of things and whether or not it would be feasible in the future, but progress has ways to make us surprised. After all, it was thought the world could only have three computers due to their massive size, but now that same phone you can call Frank is millions of times more capable in every aspect than those room-sized computers. Even the best guess based on the information they had then wasn’t exactly on the mark.

It helps if you’re a scientist of sorts when writing science fiction. You’d be in a better position to use that knowledge of how things work to take a few steps forwards. After all, once the reader picks up your book, you are in a silent agreement that this is fiction, and certain parts will be in the realm of impossibility. Even then, too many times the ideas people have supposed to be too fantastical have turned out to be possible. Then, of course, there’s the reverse or the Jurassic Park Effect. Michael Crichton did extensive research for the book, and for a short period in the 1980s, it was based on solid science and knowledge. Even the name of the Velociraptor was largely accurate for a whole year or two, before the species’ status, name and size were updated with further research. We also now know that dinosaurs had feathers of sorts, and have been able to determine some pigments from fossil remains. A few years back, a Texan scientist surmised that T-Rex probably didn’t even roar, but used similar closed-mouth communication we see in alligators and birds. So rather than a lion roar, it most likely had something akin to a deep, ground-shaking subsonic rumble. The whole issue of extracting DNA from amber sadly was also bunked when DNA’s half-life was confirmed, meaning even in the best condition a dinosaur’s DNA would have broken up in 6,8 million years. We’re a few millions of years too late to the party. Science fact of yesterday is science fiction of today.

Nevertheless, we can only base our ideas and guesses what is out there. Very few of us is making any progress on the scientific front, and even those who keep tabs on the latest news and research papers probably can’t even guess what’s the next technological revolution. Science fiction writers overall can’t really use what isn’t there. I keep using the Lensman series and some of the earlier Asimov’s works as examples where there are no computers. The way computers were in the 1950s and earlier don’t even begin to count in ways modern people understand what a computer is. Nevertheless, writers like Asimov and Clarke understood science to make use of it in an entertaining manner as well as discuss themes and concepts through their work. Larry Niven’s Ringworld novels are an example of an author going back to the work and making a sequel just to discuss how such a superstructure as Niven’s Ring could be possible. It points out how it can be made possible, but as it usually is with SF, not whether or not it is possible with our current understanding of materials and certain physics.

I’m sure you’re tired of me kicking this dead horse. However, the more I hear some unnamed contemporary SF writers aiming to write what follows “real science” while arguing that you shouldn’t elaborate, or even discuss, what isn’t possible seems cheating. Certainly, Star Trek Voyager made technobabble a sin in the eyes of hardcore SF fans. However, this is where that whole aforementioned point of having some kind of degree of science, or a deeper understanding of how things work steps in. Bad technobabble throws words in that sound scientific without any meaning. Good technobabble on the other hand does manage to make use of current concepts and take it a step further by asking the question What if… Then again, the highly technical speech itself sounds like technobabble, so the layman and general audience mostly put it as the tone of the work. It’s background noise, something that’s akin to the background music that’s making the beats. In the end, it doesn’t matter if the science or the depiction of vessels or beams is realistic and accurate as long as it serves the story. There’s no drama if we can’t see the lasers shot, or if a crew member is thrown back when using a phaser. While some viewers will complain that Star Trek and similar works are unrealistic how they depict their science and mechanics, the layman often retorts that how that’s a given; it’s television, none of it is real.

It is disingenuous to call any work of SF, like Star Trek, a work of fantasy based on its elements not being possible, at least in terms of the current understanding of how things work. The whole What If… plays an important role in one of Asimov’s best works, Gold. Asimov was dared to write a story with plutonium-186 isotope as the theme, which doesn’t and can’t exist. Yet Asimov took the base and built a story set in another universe with a different set of laws of physics that allowed such thing to exist. Discussing such topics and themes is a hallmark of science fiction as a genre.

All this wondering makes me want a hard science fact story that uses 1600s science as its basis.

Hardy Science Fiction

For the last decade or so I have seen a change how some consumers view science fiction and fundamentally misunderstanding it. The core argument is that something isn’t science fiction after all, despite being labelled so for numerous years, if not decades prior, because it’s not realistic, or the science that it supposes simply couldn’t happen. Sidelining Clarke’s law about Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, for now, this is a patently false view on science fiction. It does, however, fit hard science fiction, a sub-genre of science fiction that is all about diamond-hard fiction without breaking the current understanding of science. By their very nature, their view on science will be obsoleted in a few years as science advances, they’ll turn what some people call soft science fiction.

Haldeman’s Forever War is a personal choice of work if I need to recommend a book with power armours and time dilation

The audience knows that the science presented in a science fiction work is largely fictitious. It’s part of the silent agreement with the author, where the viewer has been presented more or less a world where some elements are more believable than others regarding science. Some stories, like The Andromeda strain, stick extremely close to the guns and doesn’t veer away from possible reality. The suspension of disbelief happens with the whole point about a virus coming from outer space and being able to evolve like it does in the book, the rest what science fiction is at its core; it asks the question What if… SF handles concepts more than straight fantasy does, though SF in itself is a branching genre from fantasy. While fantasy is about grand themes and builds upon those themes, SF explores concepts. For example, in Asimov’s short story Jokester a question was passed to Multivac, a Superintelligent computer, where do jokes come from as they seem to be something that everyone tells, but nobody truly invents. To spoil over this sixty-year-old short story, the end result Multivac ends up coming with is that all jokes humanity tells are by some other extraterrestrial power that is implementing jokes into humanity as a control device. It also came to the conclusion that when the first human figures this out, jokes and humour would cease to be implemented as the testing has now been sullied and a new factor would replace it. Multivac in itself isn’t the science fiction element in this short story, nor are the god-like extraterrestrials, but the concept of humanity being used as lab rats. Asimov took a look at the concept and wrote a small story around it with a humorous, even if dark, angle. Similarly, Haldeman’s sequel novel Forever Free to his masterpiece Forever War was ultimately about the same concept with completely different kind of approach and realisation.

Asimov’s Foundation follows this the same kind of path. To describe the works shortly, it is about how to shorten the Galactic Dark Age that follows after mankind’s Galactic Empire falls. How the Galactic Empire, or how it has formed, how people interact across the planets and so isn’t the science fiction part, neither is the fall itself. The fall, in actuality, is merely background material and is based on the fall of the Roman Empire. That parts historic, not SF. The part that makes the Foundation series pinnacle of science fiction literature, something that makes it practically unadaptable, is psychohistory; a fictional field of science that combines statistics and psychology. Through psychohistory, one can make accurate predictions on how large groups of people will act based on those people and surrounding events, as long as they remain unaware of the analysation. The modern field of Big Data largely follows the same ideas, but in practice, the two are very different entities. Psychohistory is the fictional science element that in itself is a concept worth exploring. It opened more doors for Asimov to explore from how one group of people could control others through representing technology as a kind of religion to how it all can be taken down by one element that isn’t in the calculations. Asimov is famous for setting rules and regulations to his works with Laws of Robotics being his most famous. What most people don’t realise is that Asimov extensively explores these concepts and their failings to the point that his works alone are the best arguments why the Laws of Robotics are flawed. Similarly in the Foundation series, he explored how one inhuman element, a mutant, can throw a monkey wrench to otherwise perfectly working system. He then proceeded to explore how such things could be prevented or perhaps even corrected. Space travel and all that is merely flavour and the background to which the main dish is served.

While many news has stated teleportation to be science fact, its practical uses are still extremely limited, if not completely impractical

Similarly, Star Trek is often seen as a science fiction show because there are people in space going swish in a space ship. A hard science fiction writer wouldn’t be placing any space vessels outside our own solar system, as the science we have now doesn’t give any realistic methods to achieve even proper portions of the speed of light. We’d run out of time if we’d begin to travel interstellar space, the distances are just too large to get across. Star Trek could be said to be the archetypical positive work of science fiction, asking what if humanity had socially evolved to be a benevolent entity. Much like Asimov, many episodes question the Federation of Planets’ standards and ways of living to creator Roddenberry’s chagrin. Star Trek as the wagon show set in space itself could be regarded as science fiction, though much like with other popular SF works of the time, it gathers science facts of the time and makes assumptions in order to build that veneer again. The science in itself may be spotty, yet the function of science was aimed to be valid. The writing team employed some NASA members to ask what was possible and what wasn’t, but as with anything, the story comes first. Captain Kirk fighting a giant green lizard may seem hacky and laughable, yet at the core, the episode is about two completely alien cultures being forced to face each other to the end. The episode takes the initial What if… about humanity being able to become a force of good and reach the stars, challenging it in face of death and destruction, then given the possibility to destroy this malevolent force. Little things in Star Trek have become reality in a way or another, like the whole thing about portable phones and communicators. In the same manner, Orwell’s 1984 is effectively the opposite of Star Trek‘s positive view and explores the possibility of the world becoming a totalitarian hellhole akin to the Soviet Union. The telescreen technology is a possibility, but that is simply a tool to be able to tell the story through, much like how thought policing is.

While Mobile Suits may be unrealistic, FLAG’s HAVWCs are probably the mos realistic depiction mechas to date with their own specific applications on the field

Mecha, giant robots, is often taken as a method to tell an SF story. However, just like Star Trek, mecha is the framing device for the main dish. It’s the flavour something is painted in. One of the best examples can be found in Mobile Suit Gundam, in which most people would coin mechas and space set to be the whole SF thing. However, the main SF element in Gundam is exploring the next step in human evolution; the Newtypes, humans with an extra sense of space and time that they are able to share among each other. The space setting is necessary, as the show asks What if humanity would need to evolve in space, and how it would proceed. Then it explores what political and social implications it would yield to mankind in the guise of a war story. You could change the mechas Gundam to something else, powered armour or space tanks, and it’d work just as well. However, remove Newtypes and the core structure that holds both the setting and show’s concept together falls apart wholesale. Much like how Asimov explored the faults of his concepts, Gundam has seen numerous entries questioning the validity of humanity being able to share their thoughts across space and time. Yes, everybody knows mechas like Mobile Suits are impossible, impractical at best. That doesn’t take away the fun and interest in building on the idea and enjoying the flavour, basking in the intricate designs and history built on the already set up fiction.

As mentioned earlier, science fiction will always grow old. If SF work emphasize is mainly in the science or how it works based on then-current understanding, it’ll always be out of date. Giving a fictitious explanation based on the scientific method will always age better. Simply leaving something important unanswered often leads to weak world-building. Jurassic Park is an example of a work with extremely detailed and well-maintained world-building and explanations for its science. It is also an example of a work that, despite being heavily rooted in science that was possible, it is now an example of a work where we know about dinosaurs and cloning so much that the book is out of date. Nevertheless, this doesn’t take anything away from the story itself, or from the question What if humans were able to bring dinosaurs back. It brings more than just that on the table and explores more than one concept, like certain applications of the Chaos Theory. SF Debris did an excellent series on Jurassic Park this summer, which I wholeheartedly recommend watching.

The Lens itself could be considered a true and tested SF trope in itself, it being a sort of shared supercomputer

Even older works of science fiction seem rather weird to our modern eyes. For example, the classic Lensman series of books by Doc Smith has no computers in them despite an extremely advanced form of space travel that can cross galaxies and even dimensions. Everything is done by a slide rule, which is an analogue calculator. Or if you want to use the term used for people who used to compute numbers, an analogue computer. Some of Asimov’s earlier works lack computers as we understand them as well. Some of Asimov’s works began to include the aforementioned Multivac supercomputer but described some of them taking the size of whole planets. This was as according to science as understood at a specific time when it was assumed that only a few computers would be built due to their sheer size. Nowadays we have computers in our pockets every day that would have been considered impossible half a century ago. If science doesn’t have answers at the time to a problem a writer has, fiction has to take its place. The writer has to come up with a fictional explanation to the issue that hasn’t been solved or doesn’t have an answer. We can imagine many things based on popular culture and relevant science, but if neither presents any relevant information, we can’t imagine such things existing. There are things we can’t imagine existing because they haven’t been invented yet, nor has the science they’re based on. To use Lensman as an example again, it plays with the concept of negative matter. Not anti-matter, but negative matter, which would react the opposite it as it was interacted with. For example, if you pushed it, it would move back towards you. Anti-matter would be detected only later and its properties were found to be wildly different, but Doc Smith had some foresight into a concept of opposing matter. Lack of any kind of knowledge on the papers, however, forced him to use his artistic license. Even things like warp drive have been suggested to be a possibility, namely with the Alcubierre drive, but even in this, some elements are missing. The drive would necessitate negative energy and anti-gravity, neither of which Einstein’s theory of relativity considers impossible. In practice, it may be, but there hasn’t been any conclusive evidence to either direction.

Science fiction expects the science found in the work to be fictitious. Unless it is hard science fiction, the science itself does not have to be real, merely consistent with itself and the established scientific method. However, it is always taking back seat the moment the story needs it to. Star Trek, despite its science mostly bullshit, is largely consistent with itself. Nevertheless, what the scientific concept ultimately truly is often isn’t all that clear. Spaceships, lasers and all that we consider as old tropes in the genre used to be new and cutting-edge ideas. A raygun was a valid concept in the form fiction often describes it, before further exploration in the technology ultimately deemed it more or less impossible due to materials and physics involved. Material science, science overall, evolves at its own pace, always improved by necessity in burst-like motions. Many times we don’t even consider small things in our lives to be the end result of massive leaps and bounds in technology and science. The fact that we have a small diode, smaller than the size of your fingernail, now being able to be brighter than the sun and lit up a whole room. I’m looking at an old lightbulb on my desk I found today in my mother’s storage and wondering how this more than twenty-year-old bulb can last less time than my LED bulb, how it eats more energy and yet gives less light. The concept of itty bitty lights in a torch from fifty years ago is now a reality. The way science fiction, in general, represents its impossible science doesn’t matter, but what it does with its concepts and how it tells its stories, is.

Foundation of disappointment

Much like Apple TV+’s teaser starts, people have been trying to adapt Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels for fifty years and have failed. Even Dune is more adaptable than Foundation. This may sound overtly exaggerated, but it’s all about the fundamental nature of Foundation; it is about the sociology of humanity, not the psychology. What I mean by this that Foundation has no protagonist we follow through or witness heroic events. Foundation is all about concepts and promises of action, much like how Hitchcock would plant a bomb underneath a table to make two men discussing something suspenseful. Even the creator of the novels’ psychohistory, Hari Seldon, is not seen in the flesh after the first story, par prequel novels.

Perhaps I need to get back to what Foundation is about. It is not exactly about the fall of the Galactic Empire. The fall in itself is not important, it’s background material, the start of it all. Foundation is about humanity’s actions and how we can use psychohistory, a fictional statistical science combined with psychology, to statistically predict how humanity will act in the future. While seemingly a success at first, Asimov moves towards proving faults and weaknesses in psychohistory later in the series, much like how he established the Laws of Robotics and then proceeded to explore all the ways they could be broken and how faulty they innately were. As said, the fall of the Galactic Empire is just the background, the kick-off point where the Seldon Plan begins, a plan for Seldon’s established the Foundation to nudge humanity bit by bit to certain directions with careful manipulations to shorten the galactic Dark Age that follows after the fall of the Empire from thirty thousand years of barbarism and violence to mere thousand. Everything goes right at first, there are no deviations with the plans and Seldon’s recordings are correct what happens long after he has been dead. These Seldon Crises are predicted events that put the Foundation to the test, first being how the Foundation has to deal with four different kingdoms who broke off from Empire during the fall. These crisis are dealt with in a manner how Seldon has predicted, until an element outside humanity throws a monkey wrench into the gears. Psychohistory can only account humanity and its actions, but not unknowns from outside. Though even that becomes somewhat questionable due to introduction of Robots into the Foundation series and Hari Seldon being aware of future plans of one R. Daneel Olivaw.

None of this would make terribly exciting television of film though. Foundation lacks punching action that most other science fiction works might find themselves under, like the Robot novels. Supposedly, Asimov himself had said how he regretted how much of Foundation was people sitting around and talking. It works in book form, especially when it’s the concepts and realisation of those concepts matter, but on television it is jarring. You simply can’t be faithful to the Foundation novels when adapting them, which is why Apple TV+’s adaptation takes the predictable action-romp route. It’s extremely easy to take the first Foundation story and simply set it during the Fall of the Galactic Empire, with all the violence and murder that would take place at Trantor, the capital world of the Empire. However, all the interesting spots for television and films happens removed from what’s truly interesting in the novels. Take for an example the Second Seldon Crisis, where the Foundation has provided nuclear power to its neighbouring kingdoms after the first crisis, but has tied its running and maintenance into a guise of religion of the Great Galactic Spirit. When one of the nations try to advantage of their superior military power and attack the Foundation, the population revolts against the rulers as they have violated against the Galactic Spirit. For television and film, all the military parts and people revolting would make good entertainment, but what’s on paper is not this. What Asimov wrote was about discussing how and why the Foundation enacted these religious rules, proceeding to a discussion about the nature of this religion and how much power this religion truly holds as the mastermind of the attack futilely tries to act on his plan. This is one of the motifs in Foundation, where there is heightened tension, which is solved because of plans and solutions build into the problem itself, negating violence. Violence is the last resort of the incompetence, as the series states.

Foundation is space opera and political thriller with heavy emphasize on solving problems. Hollywood must have something bombastic. Science fiction as a genre on TV and film require huge front-up savings, be on streaming services or in the theatres. Thus, resorting to Star Wars-ifying Foundation with battles and action, be it in riots or shoot-outs, is the easiest way to it easily palpable to the generic audiences. This is why, for example, the SciFi original mini-series adaptation of the Dune had some added action elements, or why its 1980’s movies version changed and added things to make carry more impact on the screen. Sure we can argue that milking a cat is a very Lynchian change, and making it rain on a desert planet makes a great looking ending even if it is absolutely retarded. What the Apple TV+ teaser promises is not Foundation, but Foundation as adapted by Hollywood; a dreary looking series filled with action and violence in space. Is that all SF is now? Ever since rebooted Battle Star Galactica science fiction on television has become more and more depressing and violent, making shows like Star Trek effectively remove their true core in exchange of violence and swearing.

If adaptations for the Foundation has been attempted for the last fifty years, why would it suddenly be feasible? Technology has never been the issue. We’ve had great script writers who have been able to adapt books before into movies in faithful and successful manner well before the millennium change hit us. The only thing that seems to have changed is streaming and companies wanting to find themselves IPs they can market and gain viewers. Foundation, being a cornerstone in literature, seemingly would fit just fine among all the other SF works that streaming services are offering. It only makes sense to actionify it then, seeing it’s going against shows like modern Star Trek shows, Mandalorian and whatever else Star Wars stuff that Disney’s going to throw out, and even The Orville. The name is used to drive a similar vehicle just to match these other titles. This adaptation has been lingering in development hell for a decade and then some. It’s no surprise it’s getting out in this form at this time. As such, what hopes there are for an adaptations that wouldn’t bastardise the source material? There ‘s no love in here for Foundation. If you’ve read the original novels, or have heard the terrific radio drama by BBC 4, you can expect this adaptation to disappoint.

Hovering hands are the devil’s workshop

There’s a thing I personally have grown hate more and more with science fiction; Holographic displays and controls. Long story short, they’re hammy way to make stuff look futuristic and cool while being absolutely retarded.

Minority Report may have popularised holographic displays in cinema and television like no other (it wasn’t the first of its kind but sure made an impact) but that’s what they are; movie magic. In practice a lot of SF tropes don’t really jive well with reality, ranging from giant robots to particle or beam weaponry, at least in our current tech. However, we can already create a simulacrum of holodisplays and controls thanks to VR setups, which can emulate these in a virtual environment. You’re already seeing where the first point is where they fail, it’s the title after all.

The above vid makes a point how the user interface is gesture based, something that’s become an everyday thing for us on mobile devices, and to some on laptops, but the vid completely ignores how stupid this scene is. Just try acting this scene out yourself flail your hands about like that with those large motions sweeping across the scene. It’s very dramatic and works in the movie itself, but of course you don’t see how tiresome it is. Even if you’re a buff guy like Liam there next to you, waggling and waving your arms at your head’s height, or at times higher, it tires you the fuck out. The ergonomics and the stress this sort of work is terrifying to think and nobody should ever have to work in that kind of position to any extended period. It’s a good workout, but as with any workout, you’ll end up taking breaks between sets and won’t do the same stuff day in, day out. There’s a reason most of the shit in your house and everywhere else sets usable levels below your shoulders, because that’s where stuff is comfortable to work with. Actually, you don’t even need to try to act this scene out like a flailing monkey, just glue your phone or tablet to a well at your face’s height and use for an hour there while listening to Rock Shop.

The ergonomic issue is one major issue and it leads directly to the second, which is the layout of holographic controls. They make little sense when in actual use, as they’re almost always spread across the scene. Any and all user interfaces you have in your life are laid out so that they’re easily accessible and make sense. They’re not there for show, they have a reason and intention. SF holocontrols have jack shit this, especially in movies and television where the actor just has to act whatever shit they have to make the scene work. That’s why the holodisplays and controls are at face height, as its much easier to put the effect there rather than underneath hands where they could work. Sure, there are exceptions, yet those are rare and obscure at best.

Then you have the issue of having no feedback. With holographic displays you’re tapping into empty air and you will never had any feedback at the tip of your fingers what the hell you’re doing without some kind of gloves that give some kind of tactile feeling or are necessary to work the displays in the first place, which kinda defeats the point of holographic shit in your face. You could say that it’s really a hardlight construct, but you could have an anti-grav display or floaty display 0-G environment while you’re at it. This is exponentially worse if the holographics control goes around your hand and a wrist to make it look like you’re holding someone’s joystick to wank around. Again, there is no feedback from light, unless there are additional hardware solutions in the middle, and when the software fails, you wish you had that actual stick in your hand to grasp and yank.

There’s also a technological issue the projection, that it is projection. You need multiple spots where the light comes from to form the hologram, and if one fails, you better have more than one spare that can take over the projection. You can actually disable a ship that uses holographic displays and control just by taping or breaking the projectors’ lenses. Weak argument maybe, but consider how stupidly expensive and complex the projectors need to be. Not only they need to have software and hardware that is able to project and recognise “presses” on buttons, basically where your finger breaks the light’s barrier, but also do this in less time than a physical controls. The software has to make extra jumps to get the same end gain, Future tech may be able to do that, just as future tech needs to be self-cleaning and adjusting. All the dust and other particles will start cover the sensors and projectors eventually, and someone needs to clean them. All the displays also need to be adjusted from time to time to show the screens properly and scale on a whim. Such tech will always be less reliable and more expensive than physical controls and screen that, ultimately, do the same stuff in a more effective manner.

Look at the scene here from different Star Treks, mostly the scene from Picard where Daahjz or whatever the hell her name is uses a holodisplay. Not only her hands are high and uncomfortably positioned, but she’s tapping thin air and everything is spread out. Yet her main working area is in front, or in this case, just above her head where she has to bend back to look at the holodisplay. The layout makes no sense and there’s nothing intuitive there. It’s not like LCARS was any less cumbersome to get, but you could see what it was displaying. Holodisplays like in the vid above look terrible for the audience, especially when you realise that they don’t really cast any light on the actors, which leads to the third point; how the hell you’re supposed see them?

Almost all holodisplays have the issue that they’re transparent. Holograms are made of light, and a well lit environment you shouldn’t be able to see them properly without harsh contrast and brightness settings. Holographic displays make the best of themselves in dim environments, and your Chinese cartoon has taught you when you pirated it, you should watch screens from a distance in a well lit room. Not only they’re a bother to see, they’re always showcased with less than ideal edges and full of bloom. The sheer lack of proper sharp shapes that define the layouts and what you see makes holodisplays a lousy experience (imagine reading a book or your screen you’re staring at this very moment with glasses that fog and distort the text and colours.) We’re just starting to get a point where these modern LCD screens and other thinsplays are slowly matching CRT screens in colour and depth but apparently it is the future to throw all that away for eye ruining bloom filled shitfest that makes your shoulders and neck muscles stiff and are extremely uncomfortable to work with. You could make the holodisplays and controls solid and prevent any light passing through either side, but that’d be like having a real screen in front of your face, which in all honesty, would be a better option.

Holodisplays being transparent also lead into security issues. If you’re able to see the screen from both sides, anyone could snap a high resolution image and just flip it to read what it’s saying. In a military environment or otherwise this would be a high-risk matter and no force would ever think including holodisplays outside entertaining guests or showcasing post-post-modern art. Not only the see-through nature of these displays make them unsafe, but because they have low definition and are bloomy, being able to see everything beyond the screen makes them somewhat hard to focus on, which again translate to the whole straining your eyes. Solid displays don’t have any of these problems, because you can’t see through them.

Holodisplays and controls are there for effect in shows and movies. They look fancy and remove the necessity to design and create physical props when you can do the same nonsense cheaper and easier by slapping a camera tracking overlay of something that looks nice. However, even at a closer glance holopgrahic displays make little sense and how they’re portrayed is often more or less completely off or false for effect. In case of Star Trek Picard, it even breaks the logic in-universe, as holographic technology is at a point where you can have whatever object or person look and feel like the real thing. Picard using stereotypical see-through crap is vehemently against the whole replication/holodeck tech they already have. They could have displays and controls that simply come from the air wherever they need, and would look like real paper and feel like you’re pressing something.

It makes no logical sense why would anyone downgrade their holographic projectors to garbage when in Star Trek you can have projections that are, in all effect, sentient and alive. The only reason holodisplays exist like in the videos above is because they’re a science fiction trope to allow more dramatic effect. Rhyme or reason need not apply, only rule of cool. Even that rule can skip the class, seeing nearly all holodisplay designs, and how they’re used, are low-tier cool factor and a moment’s thinking breaks the immersion they aim to create.

The hope for something better

When Star Wars was first time released in the theatres, it was a smash hit. Part of the reason to this was that it offered hope and reminded that there is more to life than bitter stories and grim visages. American Graffiti did this too, perhaps even more so that Lucas thought. Similarly, Star Trek came out at a time when America was still working out its heftier social issues. After the Second World War it was not uncommon to see hatred blazing here and there, but in Star Trek people could work together for a better tomorrow, despite their flaws.

After Star Wars and the fall of New Hollywood, science fiction, exploitation and high fantasy became entertainment to the masses as Hollywood itself began to produce what used to be regarded as low-budget, low-brow movies. For someone who has lived in post-Star Wars all of his life, it is hard to understand the impact it did. SF was essentially relegated to a lower tier of film making and all space adventures and such were meant for kids. After Star Wars, and to this day, science fiction and its fantasy brethren are mass entertainment to the point of long time fans of certain stories demanding that the stories should cater to them. After all, they’ve been consumers of a media for whole of their life.

I’m not sure when science fiction began losing its light in the mainstream media. Perhaps it was the 1990’s eXtreme that did it. The first time I began to notice it was when the 2004 Battlestar Galactica hit the scene. Certainly it is a series that demands its high acclaim, at least early on, but the show seemed to lack hope of sorts. Rather than hopeful like its originator, the remake series was grim and dirty. A friend quoted it to be Science fiction for people who don’t like science fiction.

This was around the same time I noticed the lack of hope was with the revival of Terminator franchise. The future couldn’t be stopped. The doomsday will come, it just got postponed. You can’t change your fate. Whoever decided to undo the core message that Terminator 2 had essentially shot himself to the leg. The Terminator franchise has more potential to it than just exploring the same old story of mad computer sending cyborgs to past to kill someone. One of these stories could’ve been what happened during the Future Wars, before it was prevented. How Kyle Reese fought in it and how he was ultimately chosen to go back to the past. There is no negative validation in telling a story that, in-universe, was unmade.

This sort of thing has continued with the zombie boom, especially with The Walking Dead. It’s not a secret that there is a sort of wanting for a modern man to be set free of society and all of its demands. In a world where everything just breaks down and we can become our own masters of sorts again, things are easier and more straightforward. Or at least that’s how some have argued for me. It’s a poor argument, much like the argument for returning to a rural simplicity to live with nature. Mankind created tools to simplify our lives and to get rid off mundane tasks that would take hours to complete. Hell, this has gone to the point of libraries suffering due to the Internet offering all the knowledge it can hold, knowledge that we all know is more often biased than not.

Star Trek more often than not offered the lighter side of things. Or in case of Voyager, the crazy ass side. Deep Space Nine may be the most morbid of the current shows we have, but even that hold hope for humanity. Dr. Bashir was an insufferable character, who grew up to be something better. This is a good example how show writers took upon themselves to make the series superior by organically allowing the characters to grow to a better direction, whereas in Voyager everything was left to rot.

The Roddernberry Box was a rule set that put limitations on the writers during The Next Generation era. One of the main rules was that the main cast of characters couldn’t have conflicts with each other as humanity had supposedly grown out of this. No grieving, death has been accepted a cold fact of life by all. It’s not a pleasant box to work in, especially if you’re doing drama, but it did wonders to Star Trek, especially in hindsight. Here we have, holier than tho people who get taken down a peg or two by force mightier than them, enslaving part of their people for their own collective purpose. By the end of the series, these stiff and poorly written characters had grown to accept their faults and yet striving for something better. In Deep Space Nine we see Benjamin Sisko, a single father and a man who’ve lost his wife in a new frontier, struggling against his own ghosts and wants for the future. Ultimately Sisko moves on with his life, just as everyone else does around him.

Star Trek Discovery, for all intents and purposes, is Star Trek in name only. In an interview Sonequa Martin-Green described the series as bigger, rawer and grittier. Pretty much all the leaks on the Internet are talking about the series another reboot to the franchise and is more in-line with J.J. Abrams nuTrek/Kelvin timeline movies, as the series was done under a license that allowed creation of a parallel Star Trek product. All the descriptions we’ve gotten thus far from any and all sites does make STD look like a generic modern science fiction than Star Trek. Nobody thinks Star Trek should be raw and gritty. Not by a long shot. That’s for Galactica or Blade Runner.

Traveling to the Moon gave humanity hope as a whole. Star Trek tapped to this same core. Space travel has always given us a chance to look beyond ourselves as we are know, towards a better future. If we want to make it. Star Trek recognized people’s differences, yet celebrated them and allowed each person to become something better.  You could become something if you worked for it, you’ve given all the chances. The world depicted is utopia for a reason, though not even in a post-scarcity world things would go like that. People still would like to trade, money would be necessary. There would always be people better than you. Nevertheless, there was hope that things would get better, if we would go for it. Not by taking people down, but by allowing them to flourish.

Where am I going with all this? I’m not sure myself. By all means, there seems to be a wanting demand for stories of grim survival. However, I can’t place this haunting need for something with more lighter side of humanity.

Music of the Month; Lotus Turbo Challenge 2

Lately I have had some discussions with numerous people about the nature of realism in our entertainment. Some feel that realism, in many ways, is the sole best option with anything, be it portrayal of science or character design. Somehow I feel that the word fiction is lost nowadays to some extent to certain people the same way others wish to remove the cartoon element from their animations altogether. This isn’t distressing as much as it is depressing.

Hard science fiction is a self-contradicting genre to a large extent. It idolises the realism to the fullest length and practically demands the author to stick with what can be proved with scientific methods. Sounds all good and fine, until we get to the point that the genre itself allows to stray path from the realism and allows some plot device to be used despite whether or not it’s plausible or possible. Faster than light travel is the most commonly used device, yet it is by all means physically impossible task and only theories of it are about.

This is interesting as there are numerous things can be made to fall into the whole ‘one allowed device’ approach the hard SF has, which basically undermined the whole premise of the genre; why would you call yourself rooted in realism if you’re allowing complete fiction, even pure fantasy, to be used in the work?

With this speculative approach, a lot of series could fall under the flag of harsh SF. There are number of fantastic franchises that are completely logical within their world while allowing that one device. Something like Dunbine could be described as hard SF, as we could say that the one device it uses is the alternate world of Byston Well. This is playing within the boundaries, even if this is deliberately stretching the boundaries the way the authors won’t admit should be possible.

However, harsh SF mainly loves harsh, realistic science. The portrayal of human interactions and characters can be anything but real in some occasions, and many times I have found myself reading an interesting SF book with a premise holding numerous possibilities to be great, and putting the book down because the characters are idiots and act like puppets for the author to play with rather than normal humans. Sometimes they’re merely named archetypes, and certain events are forced on them simply because certain things ‘need’ to be there, like romance. Romance is, in the end, perhaps the most complained matter on the long and the most forced thing in fiction. Not to say that a SF works don’t usually have well written characters, however the juxtaposition between the science and humans often do clash, and sometimes in a very favourable way too.

Ultimately, hard SF is as much fiction, a fantasy formed in the human mind, as Moomins or FOX News.

Ah, but a Monthly Music post shouldn’t be this heavy handed. These are supposed to be more lighthearted than the usual stuff.

This months has been rather tight with my schedules and I don’t doubt it won’t let go any until the end, so some of the updates may be spastic and come out at an irregular interval. This is, of course, because of the interval where things start and end. Prioritising first things first is something we all have to juggle with. There’s some interesting stuff coming up, namely Muv-Luv Photon Melodies, of which I’d like to do a comparative package review with Photon Flowers. There’s a lot of neat little stuff that both of them design-wise, and that also gives me an excuse to scan most of the stuff for my own archives. Total Eclipse PC saw that pushback, and we can flip a coin if it’s getting another pushback at some point. Perhaps âge will step up their game with this and start working on Kimi nozo Muv-Luv again at some point.

Other stuff that are coming this way are some game releases. Ultra Street Fighter IV was released last Friday, and we really do need to ask whether or not this model of releases CAPCOM uses works nowadays anymore to the same extent. It should be also noted that CAPCOM has been making some updates for the Rockman Xover, which doesn’t amount of anything. The most high-profile thing regarding Mega Man as of late has been the upcoming release of Ruby-Spears’ Mega Man Complete Series DVD set. The Virtual Console releases barely amount to anything on the long run; they’re still the same old games released again.

In better news, the  2014 Godzilla is estimated to have grossed $507 663 953 worldwide at the moment. That’s slightly better than the 1998’s Godzilla  at $379 014 294. I expect the sequels to hit similar numbers.

Does fiction have the right to be fictional nowadays?

Around a year ago I had a discussion with my friend about his upcoming book. The book’s going to be about humanity in space to continue his ongoing series. He aims to stick with realism with the spaceship, as in no fighters, high speeds and the ship was supposed to a have ship-long cannon that shoots stuff. Of course, there wouldn’t be hyperdrive because faster-than-light travel is unrealistic. Ohwait.

At one point we began discussing jet fighter designs in fiction, or rather what we had scribbled during our free time. The difference in the designs was that his was (arguably) more rooted on realism, whereas mine was more fictional. The arguments went from me having variable geometry wings that swept front and back as well as having them “the wrong way” ie. forward swept. His design was basically a flying wing, a tailless delta. Sure, Boeing has given out some concept art on what the next generation of fighters might look like, but we can’t really know what the next gen fighters are until they’re here. Chinese J-20 is a delta configuration fighter, and the Sukhoi PAK FA follows the suit, but the thing was that the design he had proposed was… well, to put it bluntly, it was uninteresting and rather ugly without any of the interesting bits  real jet fighters have.

I felt really bad at the end of that discussion. He had clearly put a lot of work and thought behind his plane drawing, but so had I. The difference was just that I did something fictional in a fictional setting, and he was aiming for realism and didn’t like my approach at all. This was the second time I had to ask myself whether or not fiction can actually stay fiction nowadays? Why can’t fantasy be fantastical? Should different fictions become tales of series of facts? From science-fiction to science-fact…

The same question lifted its head last Sunday when I was watching Skyfall, the newest James Bond film. There’s a scene where the new Q says that they don’t do exploding pens anymore. Why don’t theydo them? Are they too expensive to manufacture? Have they been too hazardous? Why would they take away a piece of equipment that has saved lives of their agents multiple times around? Then, sitting there, I realized that what the film was saying to me was that it was too silly for this hardcore realistic setting. I liked the film alright, but my countering reaction to this one scene pointed every un-Bond characteristic of the film to me; less actual spy action, the wholly grim and dirty way certain things were made, the movie logic of finding an unchained chain on top of a moving train and discarding a handgun when there wasn’t any reason to do so. While Skyfall might be arguably better a film than its predecessors, its worse as a Bond film by far. Drop the British accent and change the main characters’ names, and you’d most likely end up thinking that it’s just another spy flick we’ve seen during the last ten years.

Is it that the skill to suspense one’s disbelief has been lost? No, people still watch more traditional fantasy movies and do not complain about anything. While I do like sword and magic stuff, I’m always bothered how certain points are presented. Magic especially, which has very few and rare good examples how it works in any given franchise outside certain video games. I do like how Final Fantasy VII presented them as power summoned through gems that are connected to the very life of the planet. Kalevala is my favourite over all in that it is the skill of singing that determines what happens and how strong. [Editor’s note: And the skill of using the power of words, too, in general. I always liked that too.] Then we have something like the Lord of the Rings, in which magic basically allows you to light up a light in your staff. Actually, Gandalf didn’t have to stay back on that bridge at any point. If we go by the movies, the bridge would’ve given away because it clearly wasn’t strong enough to carry a hulking hellbeast.

While some things just bother me in fiction, I can say “OK, this works as explained.” Why should I think more about it? Within the universe of this story this things exists like this, and there’s an explanation. Good, I’m content that they gave a reason for things to be. Now let’s see what the story does with these things.

I find extremely jarring when people ask me Why thing X exists in the story when thing Yis more realistic. Not because I don’t like to explain and give out information, but because most of these people are already in the point of not accepting any explanation because of their own idea what should be in their stead. Open mind is a golden virtue I do recommend for everyone to have, as it will not strain you or your conversation partner. There are also people who simply do not like something, and only wish them to go away within a setting, like the mentioned magic in some cases.

Overall, I found it dumb to complain about something that is fictional. Giant robots will never be reality or realistic, and yet we have loads of stories about them. Actual deep space travel will most likely never exist and yet my friend is writing about one. Vampires, werewolves and all other mythological things are not realistic at any point and yet we have dozens of franchises surrounding these entities. I never complained about Twilight having vampires because vampires are unrealistic to have and yet I’ve always wondered why the hell are vampires portrayed so badly in them. Truth to be told any author has a “right” to portray fictional characters as they please within their own works, even if it’s completely stupid. They design the characters and entities to work the way they do, and the audience has the final word whether or not the designed characters were good.

I don’t bitch about wuxia movies for having completely unrealistic fight scenes, rather I’ve sat down and enjoyed what’s going on in the scene.

There are some stories that are badly written and do not explain a thing. In stories there always needs to be a proper reason forwhy something exists, but even then the reader needs to have the suspension of disbelief to accept the explanation. Yet, it’s still fiction. If the explanation flows well in the story, why should it matter any further? Are we in such a sad point in history that we can’t enjoy what’s presented in front of us and ask something to be completely tied to realm of reality?

If so, then why are some of the most popular TV-shows so unrealistic in their approach to realism? For example, House would’ve been fired long ago from his job because of how he acts, no matter how good he is. Dexter has even less reason to actually go as long as it has, as there is no perfect murder, especially the way Dexter shows them. That, and the police investigators are not nearly as clueless as the show makes them to be. Don’t let me start with CSI or similar shows that just make my head hurt.

Honestly, I’m a bit pissed off now. I was completely calm before writing this and now I want to strangle a kitten. If you want your damn realism and things always making every kinds of sense, watch the news and go to the real world… and even then there’s far too many things that just don’t seem to work like they should.

Just… just accept what the story is giving at the time, and go with the flow. People should just enjoy stories first before starting to analyse them from every and all angles. This is rather difficult overall, when we’re taught to analyse everything from the ground up and pick thins apart bit by bit. It has become… well, the main way people can enjoy things any more. If you would start analysing Dredd 3D, you’d find it rather lacklustre film, but if you just enjoy it without starting to pick every little detail and error here and there, you’ll see that it’s a damn entertaining movie that has pretty kickass 3D effects (opinions way vary on that.) Enjoying things the way they are rather than thinking through them is a skill we lose as we grow. I wish more people would re-learn this skill a 4-year old has.

As such, fiction may still be fiction. We just need to stop thinking in limited way of it and start allowing the impossible to be possible. After all, that’s the case most of the time.