Saturday, April 24, 2010

Earthbound Science

The main premise of a science fiction story is that science is in some way, shape or form going to figure into resolving a major plot point. Most of us (I include myself there) assume that requires galactic-scale science. It needn't. In the War of the Worlds, an alien invasion that no human-made power on earth could stop was nevertheless doomed from the moment the first alien ship touched down. Earthbound viruses killed the invaders when nothing else could. (Irony? Viral invaders kill the alien invaders?) It's fascinating to me that some of the most elegant solutions to complex problems aren't always huge, grandiose schemes of technology, engineering and discovery. They're humbler. Simpler. Like viruses, which are so simple, there's considerable debate as to whether they're actually alive. Or like this potential carbon-sink - something that could pull excess carbon dioxide from the warming atmosphere and lock it into the ocean - researched by scientists in Australia. Whether that carbon-sink can have a significant impact on global warming remains to be seen, but the idea itself is a lovely example of being willing to look anywhere and everywhere for a solution to what looks like an intractable issue. It's tempting, when writing on a galactic scale, to believe that big problems require bigger solutions. Sometimes they do. But occasionally, a little virus, or a single flea infected with plague, or a bit of iron-rich whale poop will solve all sorts of problems.

2 comments:

  1. Marcella, I'm in total agreement. Cutting edge science doesn't have to be mind-boggling. In my first novel--P2PC--two civilizations that form a brutal, dominant alliance are brought to their knees in a very quick and simple way, without mass destruction or genocide. It's done via cutting edge technology but with a result that's so basic it's easy for a reader to understand. (Okay, beta-readers, no spoilers please! hehe)

    In another instance, my characters use a device called a PCB--a piece of technology that's very similar in concept to the Star Trek transporter--except it isn't used for teleportation. It has a totally different purpose. :)

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  2. Here Here! Really good well designed technology, elegant and simple, solves everyday problems, and this type of technology has the most profound effect on humanity and the best chance of solving global problems.

    But I believe the premise of science fiction is that technology will play a part in the plot, not necessarily that the technology will be cutting edge or that technology will solve a plot point.

    The really good RSF, or what I consider good, has the conflict arrising from the technology. I'm thinking of Catherine Asaro's writing which often features people falling in love with androids or cyborgs. The technological nature of one of the lovers causes the conflict. And in the great romantic trandition love, not techology, overcomes all obstacles.

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