Quickies

Skepchick Quickies 9.29

Amanda

Amanda is a science grad student in Boston whose favorite pastimes are having friendly debates and running amok.

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  1. Okay that movie blogger just needs to eat some popcorn and chill the F- out. Oh no! God forbid! Somebody somewhere is making a movie that isn’t 100% scientific!

    He does bring up a good point though. There have been an awful lot of hugely successful movies based around the premise that intelligent technology is ultimately going to destroy us. I wonder why that particular subject never seems to get old?

  2. @FFFearlesss: There’s a difference between being 100% scientific and being just plain crap. I like the show Eureka, and it does work the the psuedoscientific alot, such as their season finale mentioned Nemisis-a proposed brown dwarf in our solar system. That being said, they do seem to be somewhat scientific about other stuff, and often deal with real scietific controversies, such as when they were going to turn on their supercollider, people were running around screaming it would cause black holes and strange matter.

    I was personally suprised that something like that was coming from a scifi blog. If you sit down and listen to the scientists, you’ll find out that the science is way cooler than the fiction. Hear Phil tear apart a scifi movie, you’ll be impressed.

  3. I had a discussion recently about the concepts of Justice and the Law. My point was that Law needs to enforce Justice and not be used to simply punish people we don’t like. His point was that Justice is simply another name for punishing people we don’t like.

    I sentenced him to death.

  4. I didn’t think “9” was really sci-fi at all… it’s post-apocalyptic, steampunk, and fantasy mashed together. To be sure, it’s notion of the “soul” is naive, but I chalked that up to the fantasy part.

    A better example of mysticism in sci-fi is probably Lost. I love the show, but more and more I get the impression that J.J. Abrams thinks that the universe is unexplainable and scary and that scientists are just going to upset it. Kinda like H.P. Lovecraft in that way.

    What ever happened to Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov? What about Sagan’s Contact? Why aren’t the top selling sci-fi stories coming from actual scientists anymore?

  5. I’m a little worried about Defying Gravity.

    First because of rumors that it may have been stealth-canceled, and second because it seems to head toward the telepathy, telekinesis, predestination areas sometimes.

  6. The genre of science fiction needs to do a lot of cleansing. The only sci-fi movie released this year so far that I know of is District 9.

    And I don’t really see any other sci-fi movies coming out soon. Maybe I missed one or two.

    Anyway, 9 isn’t any more sci-fi than Coraline is. As banyan noted, it’s steampunk, or maybe dieselpunk, but it isn’t sci-fi. Lost isn’t sci-fi either, it’s a mystery show.

    The main thing all of the self-described science fiction movies are missing is that sense of, “What if?” backed up by actual attempts at science. That’s the core of science fiction.

    District 9 had it down; what if aliens landed in South Africa, and were stranded there, how would humans respond, how would the world be changed?

    Speaking of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, you can see that question and the answer in all of their books. The I, Robot movie was a travesty ultimately, but it at least courted that question to some degree, even if it had nothing to do with the book.

    A great example of taking a sci-fi work and turning it into a pure action movie is Starship Troopers; the book dealt a lot of with technology, politics, and social moors. The closest the movie came to addressing any of those things was a co-ed shower scene.

    So yeah, if a movie is closer to the Starship Troopers movie than it is to District 9, it’s not sci-fi. It’s action, or mystery, or drama, or possibly pure space fantasy (such as Star Wars). I can understand where that movie blogger is coming from.

  7. Whenever this discussion about what is and isn’t sci-fi comes up, I’m reminded of a particular quote (can’t remember who said/wrote it, so this is just the gist of it):
    The purpose of sci-fi is to make you think about our own world, life, universe. To do that, you take our world, past, present or future, and simply change a few things (most often, but not necessarily technological in nature).
    Then tell a story from the point of view of some inhabitants of this now altered universe, who don’t notice these differences because their universe has always been that way. In that sense, even Harry Potter qualifies as sci-fi because, the little change that’s been made is that magic is real.

    Fantasy is a specific set of stories that specifically groups those universes where the change concerns mystical things.

    So (from the bits I’ve read, as I haven’t seen it yet) I would classify 9 as fantasy. And the same goes for “End of days“, “Constantine“, Heck, even “Poltergeist” and many other horror flicks fit that label, even though their primary reason for including the metaphysical is for its freak-out factor.

    Whether fantasy is a subset of sci-fi, or whether sci-fi is a subset of fantasy is another discussion, but they all follow the same basic premise: make a little change to our world and tell a logically consistent story about the consequences of that difference …

  8. The first time I got a flu shot, 3 or 4 years ago, I got tonsillitis THE NEXT DAY. This was VERY strange, because I have never in all my life had problems with my throat or tonsils. It wasn’t even that bad — it was swollen and red and spotted white, but there was no pain whatsoever (a bit tight, but that’s all; in fact the doc was surprised I wasn’t in any pain, because apparently it looked way worse than it actually was).

    It went away quickly.

    It was just odd. Is it possible my immune system was knocked down temporarily and I just got unlucky?

    The only other time I had throat issues was earlier this year, when I ended up with a UTI, a bad cold, an ear infection, and a throat infection (I have never been so sick in my entire life). Even when I get really super awful colds, my throat doesn’t generally hurt much or long, and even that throat infection wasn’t painful (just swollen and angry), so it was just odd.

    I plan on getting a flu shot this year, if only because I don’t want to get other people sick (I generally don’t get sick much).

  9. @exarch: Actually, I’d say the divide between fantasy and science fiction is whether or not the characters/inhabitants of the world are aware of the change. If they’re ware of it, it’s science fiction, if they’re not, it’s fantasy.

    Harry Potter is fantasy because the characters exist in a world where magic always has, and it’s the norm.

    The characters in A Time Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter are living in a world that’s been rent apart and stitched back together by an alien intelligence, and are trying to figure out why and how, being keenly aware of the change to the world, making it a science fiction series.

  10. @LtStorm, I think there’s plenty of sci-fi that explores differences in how people react to something purely based on their being in a different world.

    The only ones who notice the difference then are the reader/viewer.

    Unless you’d want to argue the point that Star Trek is not science fiction because the characters aren’t aware of the fact they live several hundred years in the future (or at least one of many possible futures).

  11. I’ve been a life-long lover of SF and a life-long hater of most SF movies. The last one I really enjoyed was _Primer_. Before that was the amazing _Happy Accidents_ with Marisa Tomei and Vincent D’Onofrio. I also rather enjoyed the deeply quirky _Sticky Fingers of Time_. What these movies have in common is very modest budgets because frankly good SF will always have a very modest audience. When I do watch a good Hollywood movie like _The Matrix_ I don’t even think about it as SF. It’s just action adventure with an interesting idea or two and a smoking hot female lead.

    So, does anyone else here know some good, obscure SF titles they’d like to share?

  12. You guys are so much more academic about your definitions then I am.

    Fantasy = dragons, wizards, and lots of busty chicks in silk and/or leather
    Sci fi = robots, space ships, and lots of busty chicks in shimmery metallics

  13. First off I’d say you are all correct in stating 9 is not a sci-fi movie, technically it’s an action film set in an alternate universe.

    Personally I don’t think sci-fi is a genre, it’s more of a setting. You can make Alien which is a suspense/horror, Aliens which is straight up action, Contact which is a drama or Outland which is a western. They are all sci-fi movies but different genres. Sci-fi is no more a genre than a period film is a genre.

    Full disclosure I was the VFX coordinator on 9 so it’s kind of nice to hear you guys defend it against this guy from syfy.

    And technically it’s “Stitchpunk” ;)

  14. I’ve never seen a problem with any story, scifi or not, saying “This is how the world is.” Those things may be small (single race of aliens, variance in some law of science, etc) or large (external animal based souls, entire world consisting of a single city at night) but they’re there because that’s what makes the story. Whether or not a story makes a world altering change or not doesn’t set the scifi boundary, nor does it do any harm.

  15. It’s easy to fall into the post hoc ergo propter hoc trap. Shortly after my older son got his 12-month shots, he became violently ill – fever, vomiting, diarrhea. As far as I can tell, he picked up a virus from another kid at the pediatrician, but that wasn’t my first thought.

  16. @Amanda: I’ve been sitting here, ready to write “but what about…” followed by a list of movies that don’t fit but I can’t think of any.

    Obviously we need more movies with robot dragons, space wizards, and lots of busty chicks in shimmery metallics and leather.

  17. Hi there!

    Not quite what the first article is talking about, but … there’s one argument that I hear a lot from the anti-vaccination crowd that suggests that immunization causes autism/asperger’s. I’ve never believed this, but I can definitely see how this viewpoint comes into fashion. The Anti-Vacc people will point to the growing number of diagnosed cases of autism since popular vaccinations such as polio and MMR started being enforced, but I recently saw it from a different angle.

    I have a sister-in-law has a slightly introverted child. One teacher suggested that the child might have a slight case of autism or possibly asperger’s syndrome. Since then, several child-care facilities have contacted my sister-in-law with all kinds of “Does my child have autism?” pamphlets. They all seem to be very sincere about getting help for these poor autism-diagnosed children, and are very eager to get her child enrolled in a program costing several thousand dollars a year to treat his potential autism. Fortunately, she’s been skeptical about this, but I wonder how many other young mothers are taken in by these companies and start spending buckets of money to treat their poor afflicted children.

    With companies like this, is it any wonder that diagnosed cases of autism have risen in the past 50 years? Blaming it on vaccinations seems like a convenient excuse to me.

    And as for “9”, I’ve always liked the term “speculative fiction”, since I first heard it. But now I like @infinitemonkey’s “SciFi”/”Science fiction” distinction.

    What do we call it if it’s “SyFy”? ;D

  18. @Draconius: There’s a lot of reasons autism rates have both risen, and “risen”, in the past 50 years. A lot of it has to do with the fact the diagnosis of autism has just become a lot more structured and then expanded, so that a lot more children that previously would not have fit into the diagnosis now do.

    And the “proof” of the vaccines causing autism got shot down over a decade ago when the supposed culprit for (mercury-based preservatives) were removed from vaccines and the autism rates continued in a holding pattern.

    And we call SyFy a disease. Syphillis, eating away at the human mind.

  19. What I’d like to see is a truly transhumanistic movie. Where the use of technology to enhance our minds and bodies is fully embraced and portrayed in a good light, with the adherents of safetech that refuse to adapt being the antagonists. But, then, if that movie were released you’d probably find out just how much of the populace are Neo-Luddites.

  20. “The function of science fiction is not always to predict the future but sometimes to prevent it.”
    — Frank Herbert

    Star Wars seems the most popular combination of mystical and science which seems fine as long as the story is well told. My gripe is when you have a good story or movie going and the author or screen writer can’t figure out how to come to a satisfactory conclusion; and they puke mystical crap all over the screen or page and call it good. That was my feeling about “9”; a good story until the D-Pak Chopra soul train pulled out of town.

  21. @exarch: I think I agree with you..

    If something is futuristicc but not overly technology driven, like say The Handmaid’s Tale, is it Sci Fi? It isn’t Fantasy… maybe just “futur fiction”.

    I dunno. I enjoy most things because of how well they do what they are trying to do (make you think, tell a good story, engage you, develope an idea, whatever) rather than what box they fit into.

    I also write general fiction and fantasy.

  22. Perhpas the genres aren’t being clearly enough labelled and defined to avoid some apparent confusion and innaccurate crossover.

    @Amanda:

    Amanda is in a sense quite right. Fantasy must include things like implausible animals, magic, and usually some fairly loosely defined variant on swords and sorcery, and rather ridiculously bounteous and underdressed babes and dudes. If at least one of those things is not in the story, it is not fantasy.
    Science Fiction proper doesn’t usually include any characteristics of Fantasy, but it can.

    There are several different sub-genres of science fiction, including:

    Hard Science Fiction, which sticks to the known laws of physics, and theoretical plausibilities of possible future science, and never includes the characteristics of fantasy, or Space Opera, and usually includes a touch of Sociological and/or Speculative Science Fiction.

    Space Opera, which is usually lots of characters, over a wide range of time, and what science there is can be anything the author imagines however fanciful, and usually far in the future or in an alternate universe, and can occasionaly include characteristics of fantasy as well as lots of neeto-keeno gadgets — Space Opera is often confused or mis-labelled as Fantasy.

    First Contact Science Fiction, which is as it would sound, always about some kind of first contact with aliens, and is usually military with science that generally if not always follows fairly closely the known laws of physics, but does sometime stretch into the realm of “magical” science to account for the unknown technology of the advanced species, and sometimes has lots of neeto-keeno gadgets.

    Sociological Science Fiction, which is what John Wyndham wrote, and which is usually mostly about how human beings, at any time or place, deal with issues of social importance — the Sci-Fi aspect is usually a bed to allow for deeper speculative approaches and/or metpahors than are normally available to your run of the mill contemporary fiction — and usually sticks fairly closely to the known laws of physics, and the whole spaceships and aliens and nifty-keeno gadgets thing is kept to a minimum.

    Speculative Fiction, which can include aspects of Sci-Fi, but doesn’t have to; it is about speculations over possible/plausibile human futures and how we deal with changes, can include neeto-keeno gadgets and so forth, but doesn’t have to (Greg Bear’s Darwins Radio is a perfect exanple of Speculative Fiction — sort of Sci-Fi, but not really).

    There are more subsets, but those are the major ones.

    @Kaylia_Marie:

    Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale is actually Dystopic Speculative Fiction, neither science fiction nor fantasy.

  23. @Steve: “…a lot of it probably has to do with awareness, diagnostic methods and shifting definitions.”

    Right on the money. I read a similar article and have had discussions with my colleagues in the field (child psychology) about the “rise” in autism, and we agree that it is just that: not a rise but just a shift in how we define the disorder.

    @durnett: Completely agree. I have not seen a single good show on “SyFy” since Farscape and Firefly. And what’s with all the “ghost hunting” shows? Blech.

  24. @LtStorm & @Steve: It doesn’t surprise me that the “proof” of vaccines causing autism was shot down years ago. Since when has a little thing like PROOF ever stopped anybody?

    It is, however, a little disheartening that I believed whole hog that autism rates WERE rising. I figured that there were more cases of autism now than then, simply because it was that much more profitable to get children into expensive treatment programs if they’re actually, … y’know … eligible. I didn’t attribute it to any kind of alarmist pseudo-science, just greedy treatment center executives. Leave it to me to not check my facts. :)

    I may be skeptical of ghosts, extraterrestrials, angels, God, anti-vaccination propaganda, chiropractic, miracles, homeopathy and crypto-zoology, but I’m rarely ever skeptical of the capacity for human greed. :D

  25. Oooh! Also: (boy am I chatty today)

    Is the controversy about speculative fiction genres less about semanticsdefinitions/cataloging and more about geeks like me not wanting to have too much woo in their science fiction or too much hard science in their fantasy?

    Because I thought that The Prestige was like the most awesome movie ever until just after Tesla showed up, and that’s really saying something. :(

    Um … I’ll shut up now. :(

  26. @James Fox:

    My gripe is when you have a good story or movie going and the author or screen writer can’t figure out how to come to a satisfactory conclusion; and they puke mystical crap all over the screen or page and call it good.

    Seconded! Deus ex machina may have been a cutting-edge literary technique for the ancient Greeks, but it’s pretty lame nowadays.

    My favorite example of that was the novel Kiln People by David Brin. The first four-fifths of it, or more, was brilliantly creative and incredibly entertaining — and then he screwed it all up with mystical mumbo-jumbo to pull all the loose threads together. For me, a bad ending makes for a bad book, no matter how good the rest of it was.

    ~Wordplayer

  27. A guy affiliated with Sci-Fi trying to lecture people on how to do good Sci-Fi?? Does he watch his own channel?

    I can’t quite go with anyone’s definition of Sci-Fi fantasy. Both can include impossible things. Just because we know it’s impossible for us to do doesn’t mean it’s impossible for anyone to do. The difference comes in how the characters deal with it.

    Fantasy is where something happens that is impossible by what we know of how things works, yet some character insists that it’s happening. 2012 and “9” fall into that category. 2012 also has the additional problem of it being billed as real science, but it clearly isn’t “The Day After Tomorrow” had the same problem.

    Science fiction is where the science is extrapolated from what we know and if it goes into the realm of what we know as impossible, it is simply not explained. The three Star Wars pre-quals were science fiction (they were also crap). The first movies with the original cast were fantasy. If it hadn’t been for the “Force” the first three movies could also be considered science fiction.

  28. Sean: “So instead of calling science fiction works that have a heavy involvement with mysticism, should we call this off-shoot “science fantasy”?”

    I don’t really see the point. Hybrid names like that don’t make much sense as every movie or story has some science in it. You’d need a science fantasy, a science drama, a science horror, etc… Needlessly complex. It’s really easy to understand: Deep Impact was science fiction. Armageddon was fantasy. You can’t get much more of a stark contrast than that. They’re both about exactly the same thing and they go about trying to save the world in pretty much the same way. One of them reasonably accurately showed the science involved in a cosmological crisis. The other just made up shit that sounded like it would be cool on camera.

  29. Allow me to complicate matters some more :D

    In fantasy roleplaying, there’s often a distinction made between “high fantasy” and “low fantasy“. What separates the two categories is usually how different they are from our current middle ages, or more specifically, how much more it differs from the world as people in the middle ages thought it was.

    I.e. back then, people believed in ghosts, goblins, trolls, witches, spells and hexes, etc… So low fantasy is anything that doesn’t wander off from reality too far.
    When you get to the Dungeons & Dragons stuff, there’s people throwing fireballs, riding dragons, more magical items than you can shake a wand at, and dwarves and elves walking around among the population, etc… This is high fantasy.

    I’m pretty sure a similar distinction could be made in science fiction. The further it veers off from reality as it might possibly one day be, the more it becomes … what?

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