The Science of Fiction

6:43 am in Uncategorized by Margaret

Vintage magazine, circa March 1960. (photo: photoscott via Flickr)

I imagine most of us watched plenty of Star Trek, Star Wars and etc. when we were younger, I’ll bet many of us still do. Even those who were never really science fiction fans had to be aware of it. You know the premise: A starship crew travels to far away places, encountering aliens, preventing invasions of the Earth and saving the universe as we know it. More times than not the travellers originate in the Sol system and radiate out to stars with familiar names like Rigel, Vega, Alpha Centauri or Altair. Our carbon based, oxygen breathing heroes almost never need environmental suits when adventuring on the planets orbiting these distant points of light and it usually only takes weeks, days or even hours to get to their destinations. This of course is important in order to keep the plot line moving. I mean who wants to watch a movie that mostly consists of people eating, sleeping, performing routine maintenance or just passing the time? The only movie that I can think of offhand that approached space travel in a realistic way was 2001 A Space Odyssey and it’s important to note that story took place almost entirely within our inner solar system, right up until the climactic and altogether confusing ending.

A couple of films have tried to approach space travel in a different manner. In both the Alien series and in the recently released Avatar film, the sticky, (and boring), subject of long space travel was dealt with by having the crew sleep through most of the journey, thus negating the need to bore the audience silly with make work tasks that will inevitably be the vast majority of any long space journeys. Most books, television series and movies though, use some form of faster than light travel. Battlestar Galactica and Dune used a less common version of science fiction faster than light travel in which coordinates were entered, the engines were engaged and the whole kit and caboodle was immediately folded into it’s destination. The more common versions of fictional faster than light travel is usually in the form of a warp drive arrangement in which space in front of the vessel is dramatically shrunk while the space behind it is expanded by an equal amount.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →