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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Scientific Rigor and Suspension of Disbelief (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Scientific Rigor and Suspension of Disbelief
rcmann
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This has probably been discussed before many times, but I can't find where. The discussion robertq started about Twilight provoked a line of thought that led me into this, and it seemed better to start a separate thread.

I would like to start this with my personal vent, and then invite others to do the same, pro or con. If I'm out of line, please say so.

Isaac Asimov went into this, in glorious and merciless detail, in an editorial (I believe) that he wrote for his own magazine several years ago. More than thirty years ago, if memory serves, but I never forgot it. He was ranting about the then newly released 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind," and what a miserable excuse for a sci-fi movie it was. His complaint was the way the aliens behaved irrationally, and the movie generally ignored logic and scientific reason. I loved it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a science degree. My career was spent in the fields of science and civil engineering. So I am nit-picky about some things. Maybe that's why I get so teeth-gritting irritated with some books that other people find just wonderful.

The one that came to mind a few minutes ago is Jurassic Park. Granted, compared to what I see on the shelves now Jurassic Park and its sequels are at least readable. Barely in my opinion. But they still make my teeth hurt because of their cavalier attitude toward rational thought.

I believe the term is idiot plot, because the only way the plot works is due to the fact that everyone in the book is an idiot. I won't go into the way everyone immediately splits up and goes their separate ways, into the open jungle where the dinos are waiting with napkins tucked and forks drawn back. I won't even touch that part. I want to point out something even more basic. Namely, the dim witted design of the park itself.

Book and movie, the Tyrannosaur breaks out by virtue of the fact that its electrified fence has lost power. It lost power because some dimwit decided to confine a multi-ton carnivore behind a fence on a tropical island that lies directly in the path of monsoons.

Every year, it gets hit with massive storms. So what do they do? They place one of the most dangerous animals the world has ever seen behind a flimsy fence whose only claim to effectiveness is a jolt of electricity - electricity that depends on maintaining power during the height of a massive tropical storm. Brilliant.

It's not as if Crichton even needed to conduct any research. We have a public zoo here where I live. There are polar bears in that zoo. If the zoo loses power, it won't matter. It won't matter if the power stays off a week. The bears are surrounded by a deep moat, which is surrounded in turn by a sheer wall that is too tall to jump and too slick to climb. All Crichton would have needed to do is take one stroll through any zoo and his plot would have collapsed. But of course, that would have defeated his purpose.

I don't know whether to hope he was merely incompetent, or whether to hope he did it deliberately so that he could set up his anti-science straw man and attack it - which he did incessantly throughout the book.

Anyway, that's off my chest. Feel free to disagree, agree, or ignore.

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extrinsic
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Samuel Taylor Coleridge located willing suspension of disbelief as a semantic or meaning space readers enter from into a narrative reality. J.R.R. Tolkien located a second space he called secondary settings that engage readers in a fantastical proxy reality different from the everyday alpha reality of routine existence. Kim Falconer located a third space based on the elusive participation mystique spell readers engage in.

Lévy-Bruhl, a philosopher, named the concept mystical participation. Carl Jung picked up on the concept and applied it to psychology. It has also been applied in the fields of sociology, ethnology, and mythology. As the term implies, participation mystique projects participatory connections to externalities, like objects, persons, places, beliefs, and strikingly, social and cultural and temporal and spiritual relationships. And for writing and reading, participation mystique is all about artful imitation of a constructed reality.

In not so simple terms, participation mystique "refers to the instinctive human tie to symbolic fantasy emanations. This symbolic life precedes or accompanies all mental and intellectual differentiation" ("Participation Mystique"). Where the concept applies to reading and writing is constructing a sufficient imitation of a credible reality for readers' imaginations to fill in the gaps that are naturally part of the totality of the created, secondary world.

However, factual challenges to willing suspension of disbelief prevent skeptical and cynical readers from entering the participation mystique of a secondary world as bystanders or participants. Not credible, they howl.

I've been there: too close a reading, too judgmental, too cynical, too skeptical. Writer cynicism was my go-to reason for rejecting fantastical premises, illogical imitations of human behavior, incredulous representations of created worlds. Not possible, I cried. The imitation calls undue attention to the artificiality of the construct. Participation mystique spell broken.

Reading and enjoying what I read had been a life-long passion and best companion. I was crushed. I blamed studying writing for my misfortune. I was too knowledgeable to stand for such nonsense. The solution for me was consciously suspending disbelief. This incredulity is part of the constructed reality. It's in another world. I'm in another world where such nonsense is part of the everyday world. Okay. Participation mystique spell game on.

Jurrasic Park is not about the setting, though the setting is instrumental for creating problems wanting satisfaction. It's about the characters, their actions, their verbally expressed thoughts or the ideas that inspire awe and wonder, incite fear and pity, raise clashing emotional responses in another world where idiots have free rein to pursue profits by any means to an end. Its central theme is the individual in a nature capable of producing extreme climax predators with the clever assistance of greedy, careless humans.

It's in another world, Providence be praised. I hope. Yet idiots are out there, I'm sure, trying to bring dinosaurs back into existence.

"Participation Mystique." Wikipedia. Web. 12 June 2012.

[ June 12, 2012, 09:11 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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rcmann
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I am afraid that I cannot agree about the problem being with the reader. To me, that's an excuse for poor writing and/or poor planning by the author.

Same old standard, been around for many decades. To wit, if it's not possible today *but* it doesn't violate any known natural laws (so it might theoretically be possible in the future) then it's science fiction. If it violates natural laws and/or has to invent new natural laws (e.g. magic) in order to work, then it's fantasy.

Jurassic Park doesn't violate any natural laws that I know of. I could be wrong, but as far as I know it's premise, although unlikely, is not absolutely impossible. My problem is that it insults the reader's intelligence.

If you watch a cop show, or a western, and the bad guy shoots a revolver 52 times without reloading it's a joke. This kind of stupidity used to be so commonplace that it became a cliche. That's the kind of stupidity that Jurassic Park exhibits. The revolver never runs out of ammo.

Crichton obviously had some preaching he wanted to do. In order for him to set up the situation that would let him vent his preaching, something had to go wrong with the Park. After all, a story where the Park succeeded in its intention, and generations of happy tourists visited it year after year to see the funny animals and take pictures, would not have given Crichton the chance to preach and moan about the evils of gene splicing, etc.

No. In order for Crichton to have his chance to preach, the Park needed to go haywire so the predators could escape. That gave the wacky mathematician his chance to point the finger and crow, "I told ya so!". Also, the Park needed an evil spy inside to sabotage things. The idea that a place like that would not take proper care in selecting its personnel, and that they would not hire experienced designers who knew anything about zoos and how to design confinement for large animals, were required aspects of the book.

All of which made me tired. It would have been just as easy for him to write about a sudden tidal wave from a distant earthquake, or some other natural disaster that could plausibly have broken the critters loose. But no. The scientists were evil, because their work was evil. The people who designed the computer system were mercenaries with no honor, because everyone knows that's how the business world operates. Etc, ad nauseum. So they design a Park that was built to fail, in a place where it was designed to be vulnerable to storms, and staffed it with people who had the moral and ethical standards of rattlesnakes. All because Crichton wanted to preach at us about how evil science is.

It just made me tired. And then, after it hit the fan, the only experienced hunter in the group dashed out like a greenhorn dweeb and got himself eaten almost instantly. God forbid a man who was supposed to have some background in dealing with live weapons might be able to grasp the concept of caution.

Plots that assume the reader is too ignorant/dumb to notice holes big enough to drive a rhino through make me tired. Idiot characters who are supposed to know better, they make me tired too.

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babooher
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Is not part of the desired location in Jurassic Park due to climate? Did they not at least choose an island (pretty big moat there!)?

But I got nada on the bad fence design.

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rcmann
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I have no problem with the island location. A tropical island makes sense. Not digging a pit makes no sense.
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MAP
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They'd have to be some pretty deep pits though. I mean T-rexs are much bigger than bears. [Smile]
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rcmann
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True. That spy guy was pretty pudgy. One the other hand, thinK of the cardio-vascular benefits:)
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redux
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I think Crichton was taking the African safari approach to zoo design. I think the fences were there to silence the lawyers.
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Brendan
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rcmann, is your beef about the stupidity or about the anti-science preaching?

In a recent challenge (shameless plug here for snapper's challenges) I wrote an idea story about mobile phones linked directly to the brain. A key plot element was someone looking for a lost (programmable) contact lens, with which I wanted to create a distinct image of them blindly looking about the floor. One reader pointed out that the technology described to allow mobile phone brain implants would likely also make contact lenses unnecessary. Very valid point. So what am I to do? Take out the contact lens? If I do, there is no story. Rationalise it away (for example, by implying that the technology is very new, and therefore not widespread)? This may undermine the technical feasibility of the story, or worse, endanger it into becoming even more technical than it is, and therefore lose audience. Or simply let it be, knowing the risk that some people will pick up on the issue, but less than those that are alienated if I did attempt to fix it?

As a science fiction writer (and scientist), there is a certain amount of due diligence I believe I should do to make a satisfying story, but at some point there is a comprimise between the story and the expectations of different audience types. As a writer, I need to choose the audience, whether to go the niche or a broader audience. Crichton had an audience in mind, a very broad audience, and so pandered somewhat to their expectations. Even the anti-science preaching is something that resonated at a time when GM dangers were just being exposed. (Note, I am not anti-science or anti-GM.)

Which science fiction writer was it that said (probably misquoting) "Predicting trends is the work of futurologists. Predicting unintended consequences, now that's the domain of science fiction"?

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rcmann
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redux-

even in the african safari type of zoo design there are safeguards in place that are designed to prevent the exhibits from eating the visitors. When you walk through a safari-type trail to look at the leopard exhibit, you will see a carnivore that is confined behind a barricade that it cannot get through. A fence is adequate for some animals. But the big ones, like lions and bears and rhinos, are behind moats and other safeguards that make it physically impossible for them to eat you. Each exhibit is designed with the capabilities of the animal in mind. Wolves are caged, cheetahs are kept in a pit, bears are surrounded by a moat and a wall, leopards are behind heavy wire fencing that they are *not strong enough to break*.

I come from farming stock, and married a farm girl. I can tell you that keeping a large animal confined, when it doesn't want to be confined, is not always a simple matter. You don't want to leave anything to chance, or depend on the critter's good nature. Especially when people's lives might be at stake.

I can see why they didn't bother with much protection for the herbivores. But those raptors, and the T.Rex, needed to be behind something that would be impossible for them to get through whether power was on or off. The fact that they weren't is completely unrealistic.

Brendan-

I don't see how the tech to make the implants you mentioned would make contacts unnecessary. It would all depend on how it was designed, and on the sensitivity of the materials. But I will take your word for it.

In a case like that, I would adjust the basic tech so that the lense *would* fit the story. Either that, or I would change the plot. But that's just me.

To answer your initial question, I found both irritating. I don't like to be preached at. I didn't pay money to that man for the privilege of having him vent his personal prejudice's against the technology that keeps him alive and the people who maintain it.

As for the stupidity, what galls me is that it was so blatant and so easily fixed. Like the idea of raising baby dinosaurs on goat's milk. Goat's milk? LACTOSE INTOLERANT anyone? Mammals are the only vertebrates on earth capable of digesting milk. Dinosaurs, last I checked, are not mammals. I am willing to cut some slack, but that was the same, to me, as describing how someone is raising baby chicks on goat's milk. Or baby crocodiles. Please...

That kind of crap is all through it.

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redux
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rcmann - I literally meant going on safari - there are no fences between you and the lions in Africa.
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redux
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quote:
Like the idea of raising baby dinosaurs on goat's milk. Goat's milk? LACTOSE INTOLERANT anyone? Mammals are the only vertebrates on earth capable of digesting milk.
I won't comment on feeding dinosaurs milk, but I will comment on lactose intolerance. Strangely enough, lactose intolerant individuals can actually drink goat's milk and be fine since it's more digestible.
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rcmann
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Mammals produce a specific enzyme during childhood that allows us to digest lactose. Once we grow up, most of us stop producing it. That fact that some continue to produce it is a mutation, I am guessing an adaptation brought about by a prolonged period of starvation. But whatever the reason, no other vertebrate produces the enzyme necessary to digest milk. It is specific to mammals. Birds cannot digest milk. Reptiles cannot. Fish cannot. Amphibians cannot. None of them have digestive systems capable of producing the enzyme necessary for breaking it down.

Yes, goat's milk is easy for mammals to digest. If dinos were mammals it would have made sense. But they aren't. That's the whole point of being a mammal. Mammary glands. Milk glands. Mammals produce milk. Nothing else does. Nothing else is capable of digesting it.

This is basic high school biology. Or at most, first year college. One phone call to a vet would have cleared things up and avoided having Crichton look like a fool. I don'[t mean that someone is a fool for not knowing this, or not recalling it from long ago class room studies. I mean that simply taking time to do the most basic and simplistic background research would have prevented the mistake. It's called sloppy work. Granted, I am exhibiting a tech writer attitude about this. But I really don't care. There is no excuse for sloppy work.

Poul Anderson wrote something called "On Thud and Blunder". It's about writing heroic fantasy, but the principles he talks about can be applied to all forms of fiction. It's available for reading at the SFWA web site at: sfwa.org/2005/01/on-thud-and-blunder/. In one place he says:

quote:

However, can’t the author do a little reading in encyclopedias, under headings like “Fencing”? And is it too much trouble to delve further than that? Any reasonably sized public or college library must contain some relevant books.


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redux
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I think the book was meant to be a fun read with a light sprinkle of science to make it passably credible to cursory readings. Not to mention Cretaceous Park is not as snappy sounding as Jurassic Park.

It didn't bother me because even though I read science fiction I never read it for the science, but for the fiction.

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MAP
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I'm not trying to defend Crichton, but I do want to point out that there is bird milk.

I'm not sure if it is similar to goat's milk, but it is an interesting fact.

ETA: Fish milk, reptilian milk. Looks like milk production predates mammals. It had to evolve from somewhere. [Smile]

One thing I've learned about high school level science is that it is always over simplified. I still don't think this justifies using goat's milk to feed baby dinosaurs, but it does throw a monkey wrench in statements like only mammals can make and digest milk. [Smile]

[ June 13, 2012, 02:29 AM: Message edited by: MAP ]

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rcmann
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redux-

Yep. Most people don't look at it as critically as I do. The books and movies made a bundle.

MAP-
quote:

The milk is produced by a sloughing of fluid-filled cells from the lining of the crop, a thin-walled, sac-like food-storage chamber that projects outward from the bottom of the esophagus.

In other words, the parent birds of both genders upchuck mucus lining from inside their digestive systems. I can see why the young birds have no trouble digesting it. But it's not actual milk.

I got curious after reading what you posted. A site called exotic pet vet said:

quote:

Once it hatches, the parent birds regurgitate foods that they have eaten to feed the chicks, as they do not produce milk. The food is stored in the crop, an outpouching of the esophagus. In some species of bird, such as the pigeon, the lining of the crop sloughs off, and is fed to the chicks. This is called crop milk, and which is a misnomer, as there are none of the components of mammalian milk as ingredients. Interestingly, both the male and female pigeon and dove produce crop milk. Like mammalian milk, crop milk is very rich in fat and protein, but unlike mammalian milk, it lacks carbohydrates and calcium. The chicks receive crop milk for the first few days after hatching, but later, they are fed increasing amounts of other types of food. Crop milk has no milk sugars in it whatsoever.

It makes sense, then, that milk and products containing milk would be totally foreign food items to a bird that spends its time in the rainforests and jungles of the world. Birds eat seeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables, shoots, leaves, blossoms, nectar, flower petals and such. Nowhere in its natural environment would it ever be exposed to milk, cheese, yogurt or other products containing milk. It should also make sense that birds would not have developed the enzymes necessary to digest milk sugar, lactose.

What happens if a bird ingests milk or products containing lactose, the milk sugar? Since it doesn't have the enzymes necessary to digest lactose, it will often pass through the bird's digestive tract unchanged. Because it is a foreign sugar, it may draw fluids into the intestinal tract, resulting in diarrhea, if ingested in large amounts. Small amounts of milk and products containing lactose are probably not harmful to most birds.

Since the latest info I have been reading indicates that dinos are closer to birds than anything else today, this would probably apply to them as well.

[ June 13, 2012, 02:33 AM: Message edited by: rcmann ]

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MAP
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
redux-

Yep. Most people don't look at it as critically as I do. The books and movies made a bundle.

MAP-

quote:

The milk is produced by a sloughing of fluid-filled cells from the lining of the crop, a thin-walled, sac-like food-storage chamber that projects outward from the bottom of the esophagus.

In other words, the parent birds of both genders upchuck mucus lining from inside their digestive systems. I can see why the young birds have no trouble digesting it. But it's not actual milk.
No it is actual milk. Maybe it's not exactly like goat or cow milk, but it is milk.

Here is a quote from this source.

quote:
This is real milk, secreted by a special gland – not regurgitated, half-digested food from the parent’s stomach. (Regurgitators put their bills into the chick’s mouth to deliver food, whereas in milk-providing species the chicks put their bills inside the parent’s mouth to nurse.

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rcmann
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I suspect its a semantics issue. Mammalian milk, like the goat's milk mentioned in Jurassic Park, is the product of mammary glands. maybe dinos could digest the kind of material your sources mention, i don't know. But I would bet my favorite pocketknife that they couldn't digest goat's milk.
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MAP
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Lol, I think this whole thing goes to what is the definition of milk. [Smile]

I still think it is interesting that biology isn't as cut and dry as high school makes it seem. Everything had to evolve from somewhere, including milk production.

ETA, I didn't see your post. Just to be clear, I was never trying to justify feeding dinosaurs goat's milk. [Smile]

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rcmann
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There was no plot justification for getting into the whole issue anyway. But if he wanted to do it for atmosphere, or background, or whatever you call it, he could have had a far more interesting time exploring the effort involved in experimenting wih each separate species of dino to find out what they would or would not eat. But nope. Instead he just had them all drinking something that they were not equipped to digest and let it go at that.
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rcmann
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Is ANYBODY else bothered by this kind of thing? Am I the only one in the world that this irritates?
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MartinV
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Late for a rant race, I see.

Crichton was a pretty intelligent guy, I think, but he wrote for common mortals, not people who strive to be writers and whose hobby it is to find mistakes in other people's books so they don't make those mistakes themselves.

The problem with being a writer is that it is very difficult to find enjoyable books. Out bars are placed so high that the majority of books falls short. The only way to find fodder for our inner-reader is to lower the bar intentionally or to spend more time looking for books and tasting them than actually enjoying them. I'm sure someone will vent over my books some day. That's the price of being what we are.

Hm. I can hardly believe that Crichton missed the fact only mammals can digest milk. Either it was huge blunder on his part or maybe he knew something we don't.

And for the record: mammals predate dinosaurs. Those mammals laid eggs.

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Robert Nowall
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The thing with lapses in logic is that if there was none, there might be no plot. The denizens of Jurassic Park couldn't wreak havoc if the park builders put some thought and work into plans for penning them up. The murdering weirdo couldn't pick off the teenaged campers if they stuck together like they should have instead of wandering off one by one. It was said of Edgar Rice Burroughs that if a man, a woman, and a saber-tooth tiger were were alone in a thousand square miles of jungle, they'd all meet up in the same scene.

*****

I thought all mammals laid eggs---they just don't lay them outside their bodies.

*****

On digging a big ditch to keep the animals in...not bad, but not flawless. There was a widely publicised incident in the San Francisco zoo where these two idiots teased a tiger behind one of these ditches, and the tiger reportedly did a Bob Beamon and jumped across the ditch some two feet farther than tigers were known to jump, then went after those two guys and only those two guys. (Some of the later press reports of the subsequent wrongful death suits disputed the distance the tiger jumped, but it was still obvious the ditch wasn't effective if the tiger really wanted to get out.)

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
Is ANYBODY else bothered by this kind of thing? Am I the only one in the world that this irritates?

I have been and am bothered by factual challenges to willing suspension of disbelief. Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games has two. The plant Katniss is named after is a species of arrowhead. While not toxic in the usual sense, the tubers contain oxalate compounds that only long and careful preparation will prevent from causing severe gastric distress. Katniss finds them and eats them like there's no problem. But not in her world. Okay.

Using snow for drinking water. Fine champaigne snow weighs as little as 4 pounds per cubic foot, up to 40 pounds per cubic foot for wet slush. Not sufficiently dense or efficient for survival or nearly practical ice that weighs 55 pounds per cubic foot or water that weighs 62 pounds per cubic foot. Melt enough snow for drininking water in the situations Katniss is in. Absurd. Speed bump. Artistic license. But fine in her world. Okay.

Robert Heinlein's Farnham's Freehold gives a recipe for making nitrogen triiodide that's pivotal to the plot. No way on Earth that recipe could conceiveably result in the desired product. I knew that when I was a teenager. But applicable in Farnham's world. Okay.

I have not read any fiction or creative nonfiction or journalism or even physical or social science or math or history or geography textbook that to some degree doesn't challenge willing suspension of disbelief. Frail human beings and their private agendas are involved.

Actually, I've earned a few bucks here and there from notifying textbook publishers about factual errors. A mislabeled river on a map. The wrong superscript or subscript in a polynomial equation, math or chemistry. A missing article, number agreement, erroneous subject and pronoun referrents. Missing nondiscretionary punctuation. At least a dozen or more nondiscretionary mechanical style issues in any given novel, that each is a speed bump to reading. But fiction publishers don't pay bounties anymore for reader style feedback.

And history textbooks with a reconstructionist agenda that bend factual circumstances for the sake of glorifying or diminishing persons and events and circumstances. Oh my.

I used to be irritated. But the alternative was being annoyed and harshing my mellow or giving up reading altogether.

[ June 13, 2012, 04:27 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Crystal Stevens
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Something that came to mind about the contact lens thing;
I know in one of the Star Trek movies that Kirk had to wear glasses because he was alergic to a medication that was necessary for his eye condition. Couldn't something similar be used for a person to need a contact lens in a high-tech society?

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MattLeo
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Well, getting back to scientific rigor per se, all but the hardest of hard sci fi is riddled with scientific impossibilities and extreme improbabilities. Take rocket propulsion. People never seem to have any difficulty with specific impulse or conserving reaction mass. Doc Smith was one of the most careful sci fi authors in this respect. He ruled out relativity as a mistaken theory, and punctiliously adhered to Newtonian mechanics with a few well-chosen exceptions. He *explicitly* addresses the fact his ships use reaction-less drivess and don't need to carry reaction mass in both his Skylark and Lensman series -- not that many readers are likely to have noted the importance of this.

Or consider terraforming, a very common sci-fi trope that I've used myself. Only the grossest ignorance of the true complexity and richness of the terrestrial biosphere could find this notion even remotely credible. Do you want to find a species previously undescribed to science? Go to your backyard and sift through a few shovels of dirt looking for nematodes and you've got a reasonable shot at it. The over 28,000 species of nematode that have been described in the literature are estimated to be less than 3% of the total. Most people don't even know what a nematode is; does that make nematodes insignificant? Well, nematodes comprise over 90% of life on the ocean floor and skimping on them could result in the collapse of the global ecosystem.

Explorers on virgin, non-terraformed planets are never astounded to find landscapes dominated by trees, flowers and grass (albeit of alien appearance), even though if they visited Earth at some randomly chosen times these would not exist or be very rare unless it happened to be the present Quaternary period -- half of a tenth of a percent of geologic time. And planets with surface gravity other than 9.8 m/s^2 on the dot seem to be rare exceptions. If gravity were ten percent off either way, it would be extremely noticeable.

We swallow enormous scientific whoppers in sci-fi all the time. In comparison, the idea that lactation evolved *before* the emergence of the Theraspida order is no big deal.

Science in sci-fi is like dialog in fiction generally: it has to sound credible while not being very credible at all. The kind of purposeful dialog that moves the plot forward in fiction is an extreme rarity in real life, and then seldom as nicely crafted. The art in either case is to make the implausible sound credible.

Except for the very hardest sci-fi, sci-fi isn't much more credible from a hard science standpoint than magical fantasy. The real difference between sci-fi and fantasy isn't physical or biological science; it's social science. If you examine a magic wand, it's power comes from performing a frankly mystical ceremony upon it. If you disassemble a ray pistol and follow the bill of materials back, you'll find an economy behind it: engineering companies, foundries, electronic component firms, commodity markets and mining operations. The hero in a fantasy may act a certain way or accomplish certain things because he symbolizes an idea or embodies an ideal; the hero in a sci-fi story may be motivated by these things, but they are transformed by ordinary psychology into purely physical actions.

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redux
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
There was no plot justification for getting into the whole issue anyway. But if he wanted to do it for atmosphere, or background, or whatever you call it, he could have had a far more interesting time exploring the effort involved in experimenting wih each separate species of dino to find out what they would or would not eat. But nope. Instead he just had them all drinking something that they were not equipped to digest and let it go at that.

Zookeepers frequently feed baby animals formula with goat's milk as a supplement. However, the question still remains, whether it would be of any benefit to genetically spliced baby dinosaurs.
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Foste
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My reaction to the whole science issue could be summed up as:

"Science? WHOA, DINOSAURS RUNNING WILD!"

Simplistic? Maybe. But I tend to have more fun than most people.

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rcmann
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I'm willing to suspend disbelief, in terms of the book's premise. What bugs me is when things that have nothing to do with the book's premise jump up and smack me. In fantasy, I won't blink an eye when someone throws mop water on a witch and she melts. because it's fantasy, and all bets are off.

But science fiction, imo, should be different. To me, science fiction is supposed to make people consider possibilities. Sci-fi should get people to asking "what if". What if someone actually did manage to grow dinosaurs? Well, thanks to the way Jurassic Park was presented, we have no idea what would happen. Because the book paid no attention to real world practicalities.

Does Crichton write a good action scene? I would say yes. Are his characters interesting? To me, yes. Is he a skillful and talented wordsmith? I think so. Did he do an effective job of burying the fact that he was preaching at the reader? Nope. JP was a morality play, just as much as Pilgrim's Progress or Inferno. Except Crichton was preaching the gospel of anti-tech.

I don't mind if the author has a message. We all have something to say. I do object to having that message shoved down my throat. Especially when it's a message I disagree with. Conceivably, he might have been able to make me re-consider my opinion if he had presented his position rationally and paid attention to logic.

But to me, a man who can['t even be bothered to visit the public library and check out a few books on animal husbandry, zoo keeping, and basic biology is not going to earn my respect for his opinions on science and technology.

The characters are fun to read about. But they are still idiots. It jars me when the teenagers all wander off separately in the slasher movies. it jars me when the stranded castaways wander into the jungle alone or in unarmed pairs. It jarred me when JP characters, supposedly intelligent scientists and an experienced big game hunter, went frolicking and cavorting amongst the carnivora whilst venting light-hearted giggles.

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redux
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
Well, thanks to the way Jurassic Park was presented, we have no idea what would happen. Because the book paid no attention to real world practicalities.

Well, Jurassic Park did tell us what would happen if you went about it entirely the wrong way [Smile]
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rcmann
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Touche
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
Is ANYBODY else bothered by this kind of thing? Am I the only one in the world that this irritates?

Oh, yeah. When I notice something like that it irritates the heck out of me (and the book can go flying across the room and smack into the wall). More about that in a minute.

It might help in the case of Michael Crichton to remember that he is not a science fiction writer, and he never considered himself to be one. (For that matter, neither did Ray Bradbury--I know because I actually asked him in person, and he told me he wasn't. Though Ray Bradbury cared about what he was writing and understood the need for internal consistency in his work.)

Michael Crichton was a mainstream writer who used science fiction tropes and ideas to tell the kinds of stories he wanted to tell. His poor science, as rcmann has pointed out, was poor because he wanted it to be poor, so he could show that scientists were greedy, feckless idiots with no concern for anyone else.

The real rub is that by writing mainstream fiction using science fiction tropes, he was able to sell books to so many people that he was a best-selling author (a BS author--with the other meaning of "BS" applying as well).

He wasn't writing for science fiction readers and he didn't try to make his stories work for people who know even a little science. He didn't care--all the way to the bank.

I am also irritated by other mainstream writers who think they can use science fiction tropes and motifs and get away with it. P. D. James wrote a novel about a future in which children stopped being born, but it certainly wasn't written for science fiction readers. (I quit reading after the first three chapters because the author was still explaining things and setting the story up--"maid and butler dialog" anyone?) Norman Mailer tried to write a novel using science fictional ideas, and I believe (I hope) it was a total flop. Margaret Atwood was surprised (really?) when the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America awarded her A HANDMAID'S TALE a novel award for science fiction (for the writing--in my not-so-humble opinion, there was no strong sociological support for a society developing in that way and surviving long enough for the story to have taken place), because she didn't think of it as science fiction at all (uh-huh). And so on.

Real science fiction, that works for science fiction readers, has to make sense and have internal consistency, even though it may be about things that aren't exactly scientifically possible (yet). So, no, rcmann, you're not the only one.

But what is also irritating to me is that such stuff is lumped together with real science fiction (thereby confusing the issue). Or, on the other hand, that "literary" or "mainstream" work that uses science fiction themes isn't considered science fiction because it's "literary" or "mainstream," and of course, science fiction isn't either of those things.

Hmm. See what happens when you get me started?

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rcmann
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A Handmaid's Tale?

Gah. I disliked that book intensely. How in the name of ...well, anybody did the author think that western women would put up with that kind society? Or that western men would, for that matter? I get a mild headache thinking about it. I suspect it wouldn't fly anywhere, but I know it wouldn't fly in our part of the world. The women in my family tend to be better shots than the men.

I couldn't finish it. I tried to skim through the last half, and couldn't even force myself to do that.

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MattLeo
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If we only had one of Terry Pratchett's "Lancre Army Knives", which sport an attachment for resolving ontological disputes!

Let's examine the case against Jurassic Park being science fiction.

Accusation 1: the science in JP is inaccurate. Guilty, of course, but so are most sci-fi stories. This criterion bars any story with FTL, or time travel. So scientific accuracy, while very admirable in sci-fi, is not a requirement, making this accusation irrelevant.

Accusation 2: JP is anti-science. That is not so clear. One could just as well say it is anti-capitalism. It is true you could infer a certain anti-science stance on the part of Crichton because of his climate change skepticism, but it is the book that is on trial, not the author.

Let's examine the nature of the charge. Where in this book is the pursuit of knowledge condemned? Nowhere. The substance of the accusation seems to be this: the plot of the story is driven by inadvisable use of technology, but the *resolution* does not involve displacing that technology with a better one.

But does a science fiction novel have to have a technological resolution? I think not. Would you bar Kate Wilhelm's *Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang* because the resolution of the problem of relying on cloning for reproduction was to stop doing it? So this accusation also has no relevance to the charge.

Accusation 3: JP is mainstream. So is *Hunger Games*, which fits pretty well in the category of dystopian sci-fi. So again this is neither here nor there. In any case the non-mainstream criterion would bar all popular culture sci-fi (Hitchiker's Guide, Firefly, Dr. Who).

Now I'm cheating here by applying Wittgenstein's notion of "family resemblance"; I can take just about any criterion you propose for defining "science fiction" and show that there are notable examples which violate that criterion. Not having the family nose doesn't automatically mean you must be illegitimate. But I think that JP has enough points of resemblance to other stories we accept as "science fiction" that by any reasonable literary standard it ought to be counted as SF. It might not be science fiction you enjoy, but you can no more argue it out of the family than you can your good-for-nothing brother.

The strongest argument that JP is not science fiction is that it isn't stocked in the science fiction section of the bookstore (unless it's an online bookstore). By that definition science fiction is simply literature marketed to people who self-identify as seeking science fiction.

[ June 13, 2012, 08:05 PM: Message edited by: MattLeo ]

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rcmann
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i don't, and never have, disputed that it's science fiction. I simply regard it as poor quality craftsmanship.

As far as him being anti-science? I don't know about that. Anti scientist? Yes, absolutely. Scientifically illiterate? Yup. Intellectually lazy? To me, indisputable.

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rcmann
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BTW MattLeo, FTL and time travel mightbe theoretically possible, depending on who you ask. I have heard Hawking himself state that time travel might be possible, in theory. Whether or nto it might happen in practical application is another matter. But you can't call it impossible. At least, not yet.

Same for FTL. We don't know enough to rule it out yet. There may be ways to sneak around the light speed barrier. it depends on which theoretical physicist you ask and how drunk they are.

I never knew he was skeptical about global warming. Maybe he's not as much of a fool as I initially thought.

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babooher
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Uh...even Shakespeare got a few things wrong. Ships from Milan, church bells in ancient Rome, shipwrecked off the coast of Bohemia?

Just a grain of salt to ponder as ya'll discuss this.

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redux
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Reading everyone's responses, I suppose the issue is not so much the plausibility of the science; rather, it's getting the known science wrong. Is this the case? Otherwise, there would be little pleasure to be had in reading Jules Verne's works for instance.

I do sympathize with this issue. After all, when watching the Star Trek reboot in the theater I had a hard time deciding what was more distracting: the blindingly prevalent lens flare or the laughable science.

PS
Stephen Hawking left a message for a future time traveler to meet him at an appointed time but the traveler never showed! So either the time traveler was excessively rude in refusing the invitation or time travel is impossible [Smile]

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Brendan
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quote:
Stephen Hawking left a message for a future time traveler to meet him at an appointed time but the traveler never showed! So either the time traveler was excessively rude in refusing the invitation or time travel is impossible.
Or the time travellor is making a killing with the comedy film of Stephen Hawking sitting, waiting, while the time travellor is preventing any person arriving.

Or the time travellor was there, but in a different part of the multiverse. (Note, if the multiverse theory is correct, then all this proves is that we currently live in the part of the multiverse where the time traveller didn't make himself known to him.)

As great as Mr Hawking is, I am sometimes surprised at his lack of imagination on some issues. E.g. 2D life impossible???

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Hm. I could have sworn that I based my "Crichton is not a science fiction writer" on the fact that he himself didn't consider himself one, mainly because he was not writing for science fiction readers* but for mainstream readers.

(Bradbury, on the other hand, knew he was writing for science fiction readers, even if he didn't consider himself a science fiction writer.)

Just because what is produced can qualify as science fiction doesn't mean the producer is a science fiction producer. There are those in the science fiction culture who assert that everything ever written qualifies as science fiction, and that mainstream is merely a subset of science fiction. <shrug>

*science fiction readers know how to read real science fiction--mainstream readers don't and have to be given the kind of fiction that Crichton wrote. It's a matter of reading protocols.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
Accusation 3: JP is mainstream. So is *Hunger Games

Huh? How is HUNGER GAMES mainstream? The same way the Twilight series would be? I don't understand your logic here.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by redux:
I do sympathize with this issue. After all, when watching the Star Trek reboot in the theater I had a hard time deciding what was more distracting: the blindingly prevalent lens flare or the laughable science.

Well, it could be argued that STAR TREK is actually space fantasy. I love to pick apart the laughable science in STAR TREK, by the way. But it doesn't generate the same irritation that Crichton's "science fiction" does. (again, <shrug>)
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rcmann
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quote:
Originally posted by redux:
[QB] Reading everyone's responses, I suppose the issue is not so much the plausibility of the science; rather, it's getting the known science wrong.

Bullseye. It's like making a movie where part of the plot depends on two weights that are dropped at the same time from the same height dropped at the same time falling at different speeds. Or a plot device that requires a normal human to hold their breath underwater for 25 minutes while diving to a depth of 300 feet. Or a plot that requires a rocket being diverted from it's planned launch trajectory because it ran into a flying chicken at an elevation of 23 miles. I have no objection to speculation, even far out speculation. I just don't like being insulted.

[ June 14, 2012, 02:30 AM: Message edited by: rcmann ]

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rcmann
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Well, that and plots that only work because the characters are idiots. That's nothing but laziness on the part of the author.
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Brendan
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Go Kathleen [Smile]

Actually, I wonder if it is the screen-writing expectations (or perhaps the action genre sensibilities) that makes Crichton seem more "mainstream". I find that he goes deal with science in a science fiction manner - at least in the two books by Crichton that I have read (namely Sphere and Prey). Asimov (often) and Clark (sometimes) would explain as much as he. But they would also think things through further than just the immediate needs of the plot.

With Prey there were certain science fiction elements that I thought were terrific, but having set up the problem, he didn't really know how to resolve it (and so he changed the real enemy, solving a different problem).

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extrinsic
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Not in defense of but by way of explanation. Maybe not even explanation or forgiveness or permissiveness. Something like allowance for a subtle, generational personality condition, disorder even. A make believe game, actually, involving credulity and ability to determine misinformation for the sake of thinking consciously and critically for one's self.

Michael Crichton comes from a generation that played make believe as a competitve game, when young, when grown, still to this day. Telling tall tales and using bovine feces, elaboration, exaggeration, bluffs, and outright untruths to one up the competition are part of the game's strategy. Truth or dare maybe. Dare to warp the truth; dare the competition to call the bluff. Does it pass the smell test, the common sense test.

The Baby Boomer Generation masculine, yes masculine, game uses untruths to test gullibility of the competition. The taller the tale, the more unbelievable the tale, and the more incredulity that yet is accepted as believable for whatever reason, the more points the teller wins. The game is as much about the persuasiveness and gullibility and intelligence status of the players as it is about lacks thereof. The game is or was part of growing up, imitating an adult behavior for the purpose of becoming a knowledgable, consciously, critically thinking adult.

Preceding generations engaged in the game to a degree, though it began to decline in subsequent generations. Nowadays, with widespread, instant access to knowledge, the tall tale game just isn't the same. Demand for credibility has spoiled make believe. C'est la vie.

Currently-coming-of-age generations have their own status games that replace those of past generations. Communication divide. For example, it's coming out that part of the Z Generation thinks it's cool to not try to be cool and being cool for it. Ironically cool.

[ June 16, 2012, 12:02 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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redux
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
quote:
Originally posted by redux:
I do sympathize with this issue. After all, when watching the Star Trek reboot in the theater I had a hard time deciding what was more distracting: the blindingly prevalent lens flare or the laughable science.

Well, it could be argued that STAR TREK is actually space fantasy. I love to pick apart the laughable science in STAR TREK, by the way. But it doesn't generate the same irritation that Crichton's "science fiction" does. (again, <shrug>)
Well, the reboot bothered me because they didn't even try to get the science right. I didn't expect the science to be perfect, but the supernova plot simply made no logical sense.

I think this just goes back to audience's expectations. If something gets labeled a certain way and it doesn't meet the general standards of that label, then it can be a frustrating experience.

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Robert Nowall
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When I was back doing my original collecting and reading of science fiction, I took Crichton's early stuff to be SF---The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, and a paperback of the screenplay for Westworld wound up on my SF shelves, along with books from George Orwell, William Golding, and some others whose names slip my mind. Later, I suppose, I wouldn't have, and later on I didn't. (Crichton wrote some fine pseudonymous mysteries, I found out much later when some turned up under his real name.)

If you just say SF is what SF writers write, you miss some stuff---on the other hand, it includes some stuff that, really, isn't SF at all. (A lot of Harlan Ellison's stuff clearly isn't SF but usually gets stuck in that section, often with the SF publisher's logos on it. But, despite his denials, I still take some of his stuff to be SF.)

Bradbury's stuff usually got stuck in the SF section in those days, though a lot of his much later books were mystery novels. I certainly took The Martian Chronicles to be SF---what would you take a book set on Mars to be?---but, on reading it, it sure wasn't like the Mars of Burroughs's A Princess of Mars or Heinlein's Red Planet

*****

Of course the science in SF is fudged a lot---if you knew how a faster-than-light drive actually worked, you wouldn't be writing a story featuring it, you'd be out building it and flying it to the stars.

*****

Michael Crichton was born October 23rd, 1942---which makes him too old to be a Baby Boomer. (None of the 1960s music much beloved by the Boomers was actually made by the Boomers---they came along in the 1970s, and, you'll notice, the quality of it went down.)

I'm unfamiliar with the game extrinsic says the Boomers played---from when I was born, I'm either the last Boomer or the first Xer.

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extrinsic
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'42 is on the early side of the Boom Generation, '46-'64 birth years technically, in like flint for the Silent Generation, '25-'45, but late for the Greatest Generation, '01-'24. Preceding generations played the tall tale, make believe game, peaking in the Boom generation. Postmodernism's mid 20th century cynical, self-aware challenging and questioning put paid to that game's popularity. Dissing to get someone's goat replaced it.

Gen-X, '65-'79. Y-Generation or Millenials, '80-'99. Generation Z or I for Internet Generation, some as early as early '90s, though technically '01-'24 (??). Generational overlaps galore occur.

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Robert Nowall
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The traditional definition of a Baby Boomer is someone born in the years immediately after the GIs returned from World War II and set about conceiving---which would put the first births at the beginning of 1946, and no earlier. So I can't see anyone born in 1942, like Crichton, as a Boomer.

*****

Somewhat belatedly, I endorse tying "lack of scientific rigor" into what rcmann originally called "idiot plot." Sometimes the story just doesn't work if somebody doesn't do something stupid to get it moving.

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