Where data meet diction: Science and sci-fi's dialogue
Rowena Morrill's painting depicts a plethora of ideas flying out of Isaac Asimov's typewriter.
February 15th, 2012
10:32 AM ET

Where data meet diction: Science and sci-fi's dialogue

When the U.S.S. Enterprise or Millennium Falcon glides by the camera, we take an odd comfort in the signature “whoosh” sound that follows.

Our friend, the stickler for scientific fact, usually points out that sound can never be possible in space. But don’t let the same be said for warp drive and tricorders, or even Starfleet Academy and the “Force.” Science and science fiction follow an intricate dance that toes the line between fantasy and fact. It is, in fact, a love story – a partnership full of symbiosis and reciprocity.

“They’re partners science is the foundation of imagination,” said Bernadette McDaid, executive producer of the “Prophets of Science Fiction” series on Science Channel. “Science gives sci-fi credible underpinnings, and sci-fi imbues science with imagination.” Scientists and sci-fi authors weigh in on “Prophets of Science Fiction with Ridley Scott.” The series, which returns Wednesday night at 10 p.m. ET/PT, takes a question posed by a well-known science fiction author, and investigates the angles, innovations and possibilities through current research.

“Sci-fi is fiction. It’s about entertainment and telling stories, but it has always been trying hard, not necessarily to predict the future accurately, but to explore the implications of what the future might bring,” said astrophysicist and theoretical physicist Sean Caroll. “Science and sci-fi, they have very different toolboxes. Scientists use experiments, theories and data. Sci-fi uses the imagination, spurred by the physical world in which we live.”

The first half of the season focused on Philip K. Dick, H.G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke and Mary Shelley, who is credited with creating the genre of science fiction. The second half premieres with Isaac Asimov, followed by Jules Verne, Robert Heinlein and George Lucas. A break was inserted in the schedule to include exciting new research conducted on the possibility of “the Force as a projection of the mind’s ability to shape reality beyond the walls of our bodies,” according to McDaid.

The episode on Asimov begins with the question: “Will robots take over the world?” There is no “can” in that question, mind you, but a “will.”  The episode also questions if robots will be the key to our future or the tool of our destruction.

“I like the fact that sci-fi is boldly willing to accept that things change,” futurist and author David Brin said. “Sci-fi is the genre that considers that children will learn from the mistakes of their parents. Its tragedies are saying to us, ‘This didn’t have to happen.’”

While science fiction may present apocalyptic futures, it is largely an optimistic genre that encourages taking what we have and making it better, Carroll said.

“The reason why people are interested in science is because they are inspired by the grand vistas that have been presented to us by science fiction,” Carroll said. “It’s part of what makes us human beings – we want to understand the world, to explore it and discover new things. That’s the common thread that runs through sci-fi and science.”

At times, scientists and sci-fi authors become one and the same, driven to explore both sides of the street.

In the 1980s when scientist Carl Sagan began writing “Contact,” a sci-fi novel, he called a friend, physicist Kip Thorne, for advice. Sagan wanted to use a black hole in the story for transporting characters quickly across the galaxy. Thorne said Sagan should use a wormhole – a black hole would kill them instantly.

It was Thorne who walked away from the conversation wondering about the possibility of moving across time and space, and whether or not time travel could be possible in the context of general relativity, Carroll said. Today, Thorne is one of the leading experts on astrophysical implications of the theory of relativity.

Researchers are also striving to develop tricorders  the hand-held scanning-recording-analysis devices so well-known in “Star Trek” to improve rural health care and measure people’s vital signs. For years, NASA has worked with teams to develop an advanced propulsion technology it calls “warp drive,” and half the battle is looking at whether it’s truly possible, or violates physics, said Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute.

A fan of science fiction movies from an early age, Shostak wrote Gene Roddenberry a letter while he was in grad school, asking if Roddenberry would like to have Shostak redline the “Star Trek: The Original Series” scripts “to make the science better.” Roddenberry politely declined. Now, in addition to his work with SETI, Shostak is also a science adviser for sci-fi films. At times, he helps producers “weigh the story value of that ‘whoosh’ versus science.”

Science and science fiction motivate one another to explore possibilities, but it has been argued that sci-fi writers are prophets who foretell the technology of the future, especially when their fictional ideas come true.

While the writings of Dick, Wells and Clarke may have captivated readers with deeply rich stories of rogue androids and invading Martians, Wells said it best in the epitaph he wrote for himself: “I told you so."

That grimly knowing statement is deceptively simple, like the questions these pillars of the science fiction genre posed in their works. Dick questioned the definition of reality, while Wells imagined that our own inventions might lead to the end of our civilization. Wells also accurately predicted nuclear weapons and genetic engineering.

Clarke, whose ideas helped lead to the invention of the satellite, regarded himself as a prophet. He also penned the three “laws of prediction” in his 1962 essay, “Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination.” His second law boldly proclaims that “the only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”

“We’re living in a science fiction world today!” Michael Laine, president of LiftPort, said. “Science fiction leads science, in my experience, but it does it in really unexpected ways.”

Laine’s company has worked in the past on projects like the space elevator, and currently, an elevator on the moon. And while most people immediately point to Clarke’s “Fountains of Paradise” novel that presents the idea of a space elevator, Laine himself is largely influenced by Heinlein, and 20 years ago, didn’t think a space elevator was even possible.

A former U.S. Marine, Laine is also an alum of the International Space University, “literally the closest thing to Starfleet Academy that exists,” he said. But one of his greatest goals for LiftPort, and bridging the best of science and sci-fi, is adding artistry to the science, technology, engineering and math education coalition, known as STEM. Push artists into the conversation, and it’s a full dialogue, he believes. “Not everyone is going to be an engineer. The stories need to be told and interpreted. Artists are a critical but missing component to this.”

The graphic artist for LiftPort creates everything from incredibly futuristic and imaginative sketches to strictly accurate engineering plans. All of the sketches are kept and considered in LiftPort’s designs.

“It’s the romance,” Shostak said. “It isn’t so much the technical details of the ion drive, it’s what you might use it for.”

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    Spike

    Spike A Love Story TOO:

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    March 17, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  4. Buzzzzzz

    Here come the bees.

    March 7, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  5. Jim

    I've always loved sci-fi and marvel at many of the predictions that they go right. However, I also marvel how no one really predicted how ubiquitous and powerful computers and communications would become even by our day. Books and movies set even centuries in the future lack the power of a Droid or an iPhone.

    February 28, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  6. jj

    Always a Star Trek fan, I marveled at its insight and inventiveness. That really hit home when I heard a news story, a few years after the series demise. The Navy was working on an experimental weapon, which shot two laser beams, out of phase, and cooked whatever it hit. And it hit me – that's a PHASER!

    February 17, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  7. GeekFurious

    Isaac Asimov is the herald of the apocalypse, the harbinger of death. They must not follow him.

    February 16, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  8. Ellie Crystal

    On my website, I often blog that science and science fiction are merging. Last week, I did a television show on the History Channel, called "Weird or What?", hosted by William Shatner. During the taping, I talked about Mediumship (channeling) as defined by science and math.

    February 16, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Patrick

      “Mediumship (channeling)” is less sci-fi and more fantasy. Regardless of what you might see on the “Sy-Fy” channel these are not the same genres. Its bases are typically found in ‘fortune tellers and mediums using tarot card reading ect ect. Not to be confused with telepathy this is of a more sci-fi base.

      February 16, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Yamileth

      Okay. Speaking as a mom who had to find a Star Wars cake for her 9-yr old son this year, I know what happened. There are NO cake kits for Star Wars aivlaable. None. Some sort of copyright thing with Lucas. And thanks to the latest (and awesome) Star Trek, there ARE kits for that series.They should have done what I did: have the baker do that "spacey" background, come up with your own "Force" message, and plop on your own appropriate figurines. Done and my son loved it!With not a single sci-fi fan offended! Score!wv: annommo"Annommo, they di'int cross those streams!"

      June 30, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
  9. Major

    Don't forget Jack Williamson (one of the three fathers of "space opera", along with Edmond Hamilton and E.E. Smith) who conceptualized and even NAMED "genetic engineering" decades before it actually happened.

    February 16, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  10. Josh

    Sci-fi brings about reality in ways never even original imagined.

    Capt Kirk's "communicator" eventually gave us clam-shell cell phones. Though, if any of our clam-shell phones were as large as Kirk's "communicator", we would all laugh at it.

    February 16, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • Rbnlegnd101

      The star trek communicator can signal from ground to orbit with no cell towers to provide supporting signal boost and no external antenna. Our cell phones do more, but have a much more limited range. I think with that signal strength, we can justify a bigger device, although a modern interpretation of it would include more functionality.

      February 16, 2012 at 10:52 am |
      • Bob

        Actually, if you had your copy of the Technical Reference, you'd know that the metallic "flip" part on the Star Trek communicator IS the external antenna... ;-P lol

        February 16, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
  11. kyle

    For prediction's sake, those of you who enjoy scifi (not the other spelling) may really enjoy the Hyperion Cantos. It's basic premise is that humanity ruins Earth and embarks on a diaspora at the behest of its AI's (which are definitely coming) until it "mostly" forms a new cohesive government...

    February 16, 2012 at 12:41 am |
    • PM

      There is a concept called Generation Ships where people are on ships over enough generations of space travel that they forget they are actually on ships.

      A great example of this is the book Exodus : the Ark by Paul Chafe. The ship is expected to go for 10,000 years and it explores how humanity changes in such a restricted space.

      February 16, 2012 at 10:34 am |
      • Bob

        Noone remembers the show "Starlost" with Kier Dullea? the ship was indeed called "The Ark", and each area had their own society, with Dullea and his companions being ex-communicated from an amish-like society, and exploring, encountering others. Though it didn't last long, it's on DVD.

        February 16, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  12. Guy Dugan

    I called Isaac Asimov several times through the years as an avid teenage fan. A few years later, I called him again while living in NYC. He did not know me but invited me to his apartment, and after our visit, gave me money for a cab ride home. He epitomized grace, charm, and genius- an extraordinary man who taught his gentle readers many things.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:01 am |
    • Josh

      If you visited him back while a teenager, I would see that cab fare home would be a nice gesture. But since you visited him years later, as now an adult, I would find the offer of cab fare to be an insult.

      February 16, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  13. RichardSRussell

    Did you like Avatar? Then you should really read Poul Anderson's 1957 novella "Call Me Joe" and see if you still believe "screenwriter" James Cameron's claim that he came up with his plot all by himself.

    February 15, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • MandoZink

      Some of the same concepts and ideas can come to people independently. The Russian submarine engine in "The Hunt for Red October" is EXACTLY what I dreamed up ten years before the Tom Clancy novel (and subsequent movie). The storyline from the movie "Inception" is almost an exact duplicate of a Scrooge McDuck plot by writer/artist Don Rosa. The list goes on. There are just so many people with the capability to imagine who are alive at the same time. Many great inventions were created independently at about the same time on different continents. It happens.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:00 am |
      • Bob

        I think maybe the Jet-Ski people might have beaten you to it.... ;-) lol

        February 17, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Loren Davidson

      Actually, when it comes to "Avatar," all you need to do is watch "Dances with Wolves" and "Emerald Forest" to see that there's nothing really new or original in its plot.

      February 16, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • cyberCMDR

      As T.S. Eliot once said, good writers borrow, great writers steal.

      February 16, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
      • Bob

        I didn't know that T.S. Eliot was a programmer... LOL

        February 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
      • Andini

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        September 12, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  14. Jazz

    Regarding the "prophet" thing... I've always felt it was more that these artists were talented at articulating the possibilities haunting our species at a given time based on that particular 'actual world'. For example the communicator in star trek wasn't really a prediction of cell phones, but more a projection of what was possible given the state of human technology at the time of writing. Consider the communicator never ever having "The Internet" or even a camera... They had a separate "Tricorder" for all of that... Smartphones are frankly getting damned close to being tricorder/communicator....in some ways "replicator" hybrids... Granted it is not a thorough example, and the entire topic is so nuanced that any "definite" out of me would be little more than comedy... I find it most wonderful that we all get to indulge in such 'projections' as entertaining novels and cinema, and have our goals and our ambitions shaped by them. "Science Fiction" pretty much kicks arsse.

    February 15, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
  15. Katherine Sanger

    The image is by Rowena Morrill. Would be nice if they bothered giving her credit...wonder if she knows? Anyone want to tell her?

    February 15, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • Keith

      The photo now has Rowena Morrill credited.

      February 17, 2012 at 3:40 am |
    • Cindy

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      September 14, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  16. Richard

    Two things are extremely sad. Scifi often (in the hands of hack Hollywood producers) resorts to complete fabrications of reality, things that are and will always be completely impossible when something theoretically plausible would have served as well. Everyone remembers "The Kessel Run" stupidity from Star Wars.
    The second sad thing is that our only hope to travel (realistic hope) to other planets and the nearest star systems DIED with the killing of Project Orion by President Kennedy and his adoption of Apollo. The political will has to be developed to re-start Orion. The Earth is getting crowded!

    February 15, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • muhron

      The earth is getting crowded?? That doesn't take an interplanetary mission costing trillions of dollars to remedy. It takes a condom costing a penny... Don't talk about what is "impossible" either, the gaps in our scientific knowledge are still huge and many things that were thought "impossible" or were inconceivable in decades past have become reality. In my view, humans won't have earned the "right" to spread themselves through the universe until we learn to take care of our own home better.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  17. dennis

    a painting by WHOM!!!

    February 15, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • sigh

      My exact thoughts, Dennis. A beautiful illustration used to lure people into reading their column and more importantly their banner ads and they can't even bother to credit the illustrator whom I sure never was compensated for the additional usage of his/her illustration.

      February 15, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
      • sigh

        edit – "used by CNN to lure.."

        February 15, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  18. Don

    This is why I'm glad I'm not a scientist. I couldn't enjoy these FICTIONAL movies otherwise. Sci Fi rules, but please change the name from Sy Fy- that's for the mainstreamers who don't know jack about sci fi.

    February 15, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • Chris

      And also Syfy, get rid of wrestling. That's just plain junk.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
      • M.R.

        I find it ironic that the Science channel, with the prophets & Sci Fi masters series is doing infinitely better science fiction than the SyFy channel.

        February 16, 2012 at 9:18 am |
  19. jj

    The technical detail is Star Trek is just fine. Tech the tech tech.

    February 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • jj

      I meant "in" Star Trek, of course.

      February 15, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  20. Scott Hedrick

    I'd like to see music used in place of sound in space. There should be some way of using percussion instruments instead of "blaster" sounds, and drums for explosions. Cymbals can be used instead of the "whoosh". It might take much more effort for a composer, but it would be more scientifically accurate AND I think more dramatic because it would make suspension of disbelief much easier.

    February 15, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Lindley French

      If you haven't already, see Serenity. It does exactly that, with the exception of the climax battle sequence. The excuse there is it takes place in the upper atmosphere of a planet.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
      • Christen Stephansen

        Hah, you should both watch '2001: A Space Odyssey' from 1968.

        I mean, Serenity was a nice movie based on the nice pilot series Firefly (which was too expensive, they said) – but Stanley Kubrick's breakthrough is so much more worth mentioning.

        February 15, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • JenniferUCD

      I'd like to see more silence used in place of sound in space. There's scene in Star Trek 2009 where the ship is being attacked. Chaos is all around, sirens, warnings, people yelling, explosions. Then the hull is breached and a crew member is sucked out into space. Dead silence followed. It was incredibly effective in revealing how empty space really is.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
      • Germdoctor

        Actually, as commander Data once commented, the correct term is blown out into space, not sucked out.

        February 15, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
      • cyberCMDR

        I really don't have a problem with the sounds of whooshing or ion engines screaming in space, as long as they put it in context. A spaceship can have sensors that detect the electromagnetic emanations from another ship, and translate that into sound. It could even create a stereo effect, so that the pilot could tell which direction the sound was coming from. This would provide an intuitive way for a pilot to maintain situational awareness during a battle. Different engine types would have different EM signatures, so the pilot could discriminate what kind of ship was nearby.

        February 16, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
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  21. B-rad

    I wish when people or articles talk about Scifi they would mention Frank Herbert and his masterpiece Dune.

    February 15, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Livin' Legend

      If they mentioned the original Dune, they'd probably also mention the literary abortion that was every crayon-scrawled word written in the Dune Universe by Herbert's hack of of a son and the other near-illiterate.

      February 15, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Gwen

      Herbert gave us the planetologist which we call "environmental scientists". Herbert probably caused more people to go into current world related science than any of the other writers. The ideas about transforming the natural world presented in Dune are vital to preserving our world today. See the article about water rationing in China. I just wich he would have written one more before he passed. If there is any justice, Frank Herbert will be one of (the first) people I meet in Heaven.

      February 15, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
      • kyle

        Kines was one of the most inspired side characters of the books. A planetolgist (geologist), he was also the the father of the protangonst's wife

        February 16, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • Aletheya

      Well, "Prophets of Science Fiction" is only halfway through its first season. They'll probably get to Herbert if the series continues. It would be difficult to talk about ecology, genetics, or even what Asimov called psychohistory without involving Herbert.

      February 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  22. Jeff DeWitt

    Sci fi world indeed. I'm writing this on my Blackberry tablet connected to the internet through my cell phone. I've been reading science fiction since the 60's and never read about anything like this!

    February 15, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Jason

      Read "A Logic Named Joe" for an early internet reference. Your cell phone is a Star Trek communicator. It is also mentioned in a number of Heinlein novels, the one that come to mind is where the protagonist in space cadet refers to leaving his phone in his luggage. As for your tablet I can't think of a specific example but most Sci-Fi stories have some form of portable communication equipment that is roughly equivalent. So I would say yes we are living in a Sci-Fi world.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
      • Alpha Centuri

        They had tablets in the original Star Trek. Yeoman Rand was always getting Capt. Kirk to sign this portable electronic pad – presumably it linked into the ship's computer.

        February 16, 2012 at 9:44 am |
      • Glen C

        First tablet I recall was in the movie "2001." Remember, when the crew of the Discovery was watching the news?

        February 16, 2012 at 10:39 am |
      • Rbnlegnd101

        The ipad and other tablets, are straight off the bridge of the enterprise. Science fiction had the ipad back in the early days, and I think it's kind of funny how overlooked that one was. We won't all be traveling by warp drive, even if that one is someday invented, but tablet computers are widespread, and in another ten years, will be everywhere.

        February 16, 2012 at 10:58 am |
      • Phillip

        twburr on February 8, 2011 The Best housld had a couple of sprit drinks before he started that normally works to wear off the nerves, to bad im a best man on 3rd april, and i dont know what to say LOL

        March 4, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • doughnuts

      See the first chapter of Heinlein's "Space Cadet" for the cell-phone. It was published in 1948.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Mike

      For your Tablet read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Pretty much hit the nail on the head on that one.

      February 15, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
      • Mylittlecutebaby

        David,If this post is truly intended only as an nitlaeapxon of your own tastes, then I guess there's no reason to comment at all all I can do is nod and say hmmm. But your assertion that this can be a starting point for discussion leads me to believe that you see your views as somehow indicative of a wider pattern. I don't believe it to be so. I believe most people who are fans of either/both genre are looking for the same thing an interesting story to pass the time. The fact that you say that reading fantasy implies a desire to escape to a more pleasant world than the one in which we live shows me you haven't read much fantasy. The worlds of most of the fantasy I read are fundamentally much, much worse than the first-world nations most of the readers of this blog live in. Orcs, trollocs, endless war and pillage, demons and sacrifice not really what I'd call pleasant.You yourself kind of admit that you read SF as an escape just one that you honestly want to make real. Fantasy readers certainly don't believe that their books can become real, nor that they should, so the overly credulous one in this scenario appears to be you In fact, your final assertion seems to imply that we are now in some kind of bad place that is not on track to become a your desired science-fictional universe, which puzzles me. What science-fictional universe do you want to be living in? The universe-in-eternal-war of John Scalzi's OMW books? The post-human slave state of Dan Simmons' Hyperion or Olympos series? The stratified social horror of Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age sequence?How are any of the non-Golden Age SF universes better than the one in which we now live, in any way other than technologically more advanced?

        March 7, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • Bob

      You mean that you are using your Star Trek PADD (Personal Access Display Device) ;-P

      good arcticle here http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2010/08/how-star-trek-artists-imagined-the-ipad-23-years-ago.ars

      February 16, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  23. Rhea

    It sounded pretty good- though unsure about Lucas– until I got to this:
    "A break was inserted in the schedule to include exciting new research conducted on the possibility of “the Force as a projection of the mind’s ability to shape reality beyond the walls of our bodies,” according to McDaid."
    Uh oh– sounds like typical woo-woo pseudoscience cable TV territory.

    February 15, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Micah

      People love talking about Quantum Uncertainty and how potential reality doesn't collapse into certainty until it is observed. But they seem to think that this potential observation is the same thing as control. It makes a better story to suggest that people can control reality with their mind then try to explain the more mundane reality which is even if quantum uncertainty did exist on a macroscopic level and your observation is what forced Quantum Uncertainty to collapse into one of two or more possibilities, it still wouldn't mean you control it. You didn't choose a specific outcome and make it happen, a specific outcome was required because there is no more uncertainty for it to exist in.

      February 15, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
      • Karolyne

        Cool, the sheer amount of preoid-correct detail in this is amazing! The audio track sounds like it's from a genuine gramophone record instead of a downsampled modern recording, like most silent-film remakes. The cue cards are sometimes in slightly-off angles and the scene transitions are rough, like in genuine old films. The Enterprise artwork looks straight out of A Trip to the Moon. A++ would watch again!

        July 3, 2012 at 12:33 am |
  24. Jonathan Laden

    Much of the YA being published today is pretty decent science fiction. There is hope for a new generation of readers, after all.

    February 15, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • jj

      And the kids are reading it!

      February 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
      • Adri

        GiedreStankeviciute on April 5, 2010 How did you get it unfrzoen? Please let me know! Mine is frzoen at 316 but i have over 3000 real views (I printed the insight report). Please, let me know!

        October 15, 2012 at 3:30 am |
    • ElectricLion

      If you'd like to read a very solid YA SF novel, pick up "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH." The movie "Secret of NIMH" is kiddie fantasy, but the book was very intelligent. Really, the only thing in it that needs serious suspension of disbelief is that rats and mice can talk to each other. Everything else was very well done.

      February 29, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  25. Bob

    It may be nit-picking, but I don't consider Star Wars to be "science-fiction". Trust me, I truly enjoy it (I own the latest blu-ray collection, of course), but I personally class it as "space-fantasy", a sword and sorcery tale that happens to occur in space (in a galaxy far, far away, to be precise). And.. talking about venturing into "the impossible", just watch "Armaggeddon". (side-by-side deep space capable shuttle launches put together in 18 days (WITH training)). As a young boy, I read Heinlein, Asimov, Harrison, Crichton, Clarke ( I never totally got Kubrick's 2001 until I read the book) For sheer fun, I recommend Asimov's compilation of The Golden Age of Science Fiction" short stories from the 30's pulp mags... great stuff.

    February 15, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Alex

      I've thoguht the exact same thing about Star Wars. It is fantasy, not really sci-fi. It gets so many things wrong that good sci-fi isn't supposed to get wrong. Same with Avatar. It's fantasy, essentially. It's slightly more sci-fi than Star Wars, but is still pretty much just fantasy.

      Especially since gas giant planets give off tremendous amounts of radiation that would kill all the people in the vicinity rather quickly and change the nature of life on the moon to be not so much like earth life.

      February 15, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
      • Bob

        What I can't believe is that the "Prophets" show is going to try and connect Lucas with energy weapons? Really? ray-guns were used in the Flash Gordon serials with Buster Crabbe, for cryin' out loud. Lasers existed long before Star Wars. They're going to try and base a whole show on a light-saber? Watch "The Science of Star Wars" for that deflating. To credit someone a prophet is for that person to have foreseen something that EXISTS, nothing of which Lucas has done. I give the man great credit as a filmmaker (except where Ewoks, Jar-Jar (gotta sell those dolls to the kiddies), and Anakin casting (Jake Lloyd way too young, and Hayden Christensen just sucked as an actor) are involved... ;-P). But I digress... ;-)

        George Lucas as a prophet of energy weapons? They either don't exist yet, or were envisioned by others long previously. BZZZZZ! Sorry, thanks for playing...

        BTW, Sy-Fy should be renamed the Gory Horror,Ghost Hunting, Wrestling Channel. They got rid of Eureka, dag-nabbit!! They should burn eternally for that alone... :-(

        Excuse me... carry on...

        February 16, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
      • Bob

        oh yes... we can make it to see Lando in another star system before we die of old age without any faster-than-light drive... ;-P

        And I'll pick this nit... Star/planetary systems are just that.. STAR systems... The only Solar system is our system (the system of the star named Sol). The Solar system is a star/planetary system, but not all star systems are Solar systems... THERE... go away you nit! you've been picked! lol ;-P

        February 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Bob

      BTW, I recommend that people complete the space odyssey by reading 2010:Odyssey Two (forget the movie), 2061:Odyssey Three, and 3001:The Final Odyssey.

      February 17, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Hiren

      There are many other disasters that will kelily kill us off long before the sun does. We're due for another meteor strike like the one that killed the dinosaurs (or bigger). The last really huge one was 65 million years ago, but about every 5 million years or so mass extinctions are caused by large meteors.Mars is believed to have no atmosphere because it is smaller than Earth, so its molten iron core cooled and solidified quicker than Earth's is doing. The movement of the molten iron core of Earth generates its magnetic field, which acts as a shield from solar winds. It is believed that when Mars' core solidified, it stopped generating its magnetic field, and solar winds gradually tore away its atmosphere. This is one of the ways Earth will eventually become inhospitable.The moon is slowly moving away from the Earth, and its gravity is responsible for our 24-hour day, the tides, the seasons, and our stable rotational axis. Eventually, if the moon were to eventually break free of its ordit, we'd be screwed.Of course, none of these thing are kelily to happen any time soon, and geologically speaking, not for a very long time, but I think they will happen long before the sun burns us. With the possible exception of the moon scenario. And some believe the moon will stabilize at 1.6 times its current orbit, leaving us with a 55 hour day. I guess as long as it is still there to keep us stable on our axis, we might be ok. And we'll be able to get more done by noon then we get done all day right now!

      March 5, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  26. Dave

    Next time you flip open your cell phone, consider that the very first one ever depicted was on Star Trek in the 60's. Now, as soon as I can get my hands on a phaser...

    February 15, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Bob

      As a person with Type 1 diabetes, I was excited when ST:TNG used an actual Medi-jector ( a hand-held,spring-powered compressed air insulin injection device) as a prop. The hypo-spray brought to life (without the "gun").

      February 15, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Gene Apperson

      Actually, the main character in Robert Heinlein's novel Space Cadet (written in 1948) uses a cell phone in the first chapter. He is wating in line to sign up when he gets a call from his parents on his cell phone.

      February 15, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
      • doughnuts

        Respect!

        /no hotcakes for breakfast

        February 15, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • JenniferUCD

      How about Uhura's original bluetooth ear piece?

      February 15, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
  27. Al Dente

    Very good article. I've got one question though – when did the term Sci-Fi become acceptable in the science fiction community?

    February 15, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • A.G. Pym

      You well know, Al, that we have Forry Ackerman (of blessed memory) to blame for that term. It was made in the early days of fandom, a time still full of whimsey and playfulness. It used to really, REALLY gripe my fleen, but nowadays, I just smile ruefully and go about my own fannishness when I hear some neo use it.

      February 15, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • jj

      Better than Sy Fy

      February 15, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
      • Manel

        :That is such a perfect rersuoce that you are providing and you give it away for free. I love seeing web pages that understand the value of providing a quality rersuoce for free. It is the old what goes around arrives around routine. Did you acquired plenty of links and also I see many trackbacks??

        September 15, 2012 at 1:42 am |
    • Rbnlegnd101

      When we found out that if we let marketing tinker with it, we got something worse, and somehow, it includes pro wrestling.

      February 16, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Liseth

      Not real sure that Disney took the lead . although it might well be auegrd that he brought up the end of the parade, when the mechanism was already clanking along in full gear. You can go back to the GM display at the '39 Worlds Fair, which in turn borrowed from Buckminster Fuller, who in turn borrowed from early 20th century visions of megalomania.Even if I could view what presumably is a video (check your post, Frank, I don't see anything at all where there normally is a blank icon for videos I can't download), I think it might be more Disney taking the lead in explaining the present to us. I watched the construction of 405 quite intimately, but with no understanding at all of what I would see when I returned 40 years later. To us, as kids, Futureland was where we would get to drive the cars and ride the Monorail.

      November 14, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  28. M.E.

    Few things are better than a nice chunk of sci-fi and few people realize just how much of it is in their world. Books and movies are an obvious source, but did you know when you hear Duran Duran on the radio you're actually listening to a bunch of sci-fi nerds who got their name from Barbarella? There's always something there under the cheery neon and pastels, ranging from the lightest hint of creep to outright paranoia. In fact, when you listen to pretty much any synth-pop, especially the late 70's to early 80's stuff, it always comes with a really big dose of science fiction. The artists positioned themselves as cold alien type outsiders working with complex new machines which lends itself brilliantly to creating sci-fi story lines.

    February 15, 2012 at 12:18 pm |