Sci-fi Shows for Skeptics and Freethinkers
#1
I was wondering if we have some sci-fi fans here. I have many favorite sci-fi shows and books. Despite a spate of new shows on TV, and a bunch of new sci-fi movies, I still place Star Trek at #1 when it comes to my scientific accuracy (for the day it was made). I must say that the new shows are so much more interesting to watch from an aesthetic point of view, but I find the nothing compares to ST when it comes to the core philosophy and attention to scientific accuracy.

This sort of topic would usually be discussed in the arts sections, but I'm approaching this from two angles. Not only is this about good entertainment, but also about what constitutes good science fiction. I'd love to discuss specific shows, but I'll wait for other sci-fi fans to come forward.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#2
I am a major sci-fi nerd. But I'm mostly into books and not TV shows. My favorite authors include the usual suspects - Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Frank Herbert, Larry Niven. Some of the more recent authors that I like are Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Vernor Vinge and Charles Stross.

For me good sci-fi is something which increases your wonder for the Universe. While reading a book, I often find myself researching on topics dealt in the book. I owe most of my cursory knowledge of Jupiter, Saturn and their wonderful moons, celestial mechanics, technological singularity and genetics to sci-fi.
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#3
I guess this might be a bit wrong thread to discuss movies too.

But here I go ... smile

Last year I watched Gattaca.

I must say that I really liked the movie.
Don't read about the movie. You will like it only if you see without knowing its plot.
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#4
(02-Apr-2010, 11:26 PM)shobhitg Wrote: Last year I watched Gattaca.

I must say that I really liked the movie.

+1 to that. It is a thought provoking movie.

Contact is another good movie. It is based on the novel of the same name by Carl Sagan. It has an interesting perspective on belief and skepticism.
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#5
I am a long time, loyal sci-fi fan. I watch sci-fi anime regularly, I am fascinated by sci-fi movies even the bad ones. I read sci-fi novels until I fall asleep and I dream of another, distant world.

[Malware content removed - Lije]
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#6
Gadgets in Future URL is executing javascript trojans. Please do not include that in future posts.
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#7
Thanks for your replies, everyone.

Lije, I am a big fan of sci-fi books too! I actually have read some Asimov. I've also read the entire Dune series by Frank Herbert and the ones by his son Brian (although those weren't as good). Thank you for the other names. I am not familiar with most of them and your list is a good resource for me. Unfortunately, time for reading is a big problem these days :(

So, I'm more into sci-fi TV shows to get my fix of fantasy. I watched the entire Battlestar Galactica series and Babylon 5. I've also watched a good bit of the original Star Trek and TNG. Currently I'm watching Caprica (on break), Flash Forward and occasionally an episode or two of Doctor Who.

Shobhit, I liked Gattaca too, although for some reason it doesn't come to mind immediately when I think of sci-fi (of course it certainly is sci-fi).

One interesting question I've grappled with often is what constitutes sci-fi. Of course, like most genres of creative fiction, the borders are often blurred, but I have trouble with some forms of work that go under the label. For me personally, anything that makes claims about scientifically impossible (for example, breaking the known laws of physics) phenomena are not sci-fi. But it's not just that. For example, I wouldn't consider The X-Files as sci-fi, although they clearly are categorized as such in pop culture. More extreme cases abound, of course. For example, people think movies about vampires, zombies and so on constitute sci-fi.

What do you guys think about this? Am I being elitist about the label?
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#8
(08-Apr-2010, 09:58 PM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: One interesting question I've grappled with often is what constitutes sci-fi. Of course, like most genres of creative fiction, the borders are often blurred, but I have trouble with some forms of work that go under the label. For me personally, anything that makes claims about scientifically impossible (for example, breaking the known laws of physics) phenomena are not sci-fi. But it's not just that. For example, I wouldn't consider The X-Files as sci-fi, although they clearly are categorized as such in pop culture. More extreme cases abound, of course. For example, people think movies about vampires, zombies and so on constitute sci-fi.

What do you guys think about this? Am I being elitist about the label?

Labeling sci-fi is not at all elitist. It has been happening from a long time, at least within sci-fi literature.

Physically impossible stuff has always been part of even very good sci-fi (ex: faster than light travel). But where I draw the line between between good sci-fi and bad sci-fi is with consistency. Does the author use a few impossibilities which are made known upfront and work the story within those impossibilities along with some valid science? Or does he introduce new impossibilities whenever it suits him? The former is good sci-fi. The latter is bad sci-fi. It has the garb of sci-fi but the science in it is extremely superficial (like the X-files you mentioned).

Two common labels in sci-fi literature are hard sci-fi and soft sci-fi. Hard sci-fi is one which takes very few liberties with known facts and takes extreme care to justify the story within scientific theories. Some Asimov stories, most of Clarke's and Niven's works are examples of hard sci-fi.

In soft sci-fi, quite a few liberties are taken with science, but the story stays consistent within those distortions of science. Books like Dune would come under soft sci-fi. In Dune, spice consumption leads to prescience, but the idea has no scientific basis. But the story assumes it as true and examines how would a society look in such a world. Another example is Asimov's robots. They have positronic brains which are impossible as per our current understanding of science. But his books are concerned with: given a positronic brain and the three laws, how would a robot behave in a particular environment/situation? His stories are remarkably consistent in that regard.

And finally there is what I call junk sci-fi. Sciency ,but nonsensical, sounding stuff is used to advance the story. Most hollywood sci-fi movies are junk sci-fi. They may be good entertainers, but are bad sci-fi. Movies like Independence Day, Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow are some examples of junk sci-fi. On the other hand, the movies 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Blade Runner, Contact, Gattaca are examples of good sci-fi. (2001 also has the distinction of being a hard sci-fi, owing to the writing of Clarke. Most of the space scenes in it are quite accurate - no sound in vaccum, effects of micro gravity, inducing artificial gravity through centrifugal force etc...)
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#9
[quote='Lije' pid='186' dateline='1270830287']

[quote]Labeling sci-fi is not at all elitist. It has been happening from a long time, at least within sci-fi literature.[/quote]

That's good to know. I still feel elitist, though :dodgy:

[quote]Physically impossible stuff has always been part of even very good sci-fi (ex: faster than light travel). But where I draw the line between between good sci-fi and bad sci-fi is with consistency. Does the author use a few impossibilities which are made known upfront and work the story within those impossibilities along with some valid science? Or does he introduce new impossibilities whenever it suits him? The former is good sci-fi. The latter is bad sci-fi. It has the garb of sci-fi but the science in it is extremely superficial (like the X-files you mentioned).

Two common labels in sci-fi literature are hard sci-fi and soft sci-fi. Hard sci-fi is one which takes very few liberties with known facts and takes extreme care to justify the story within scientific theories. Some Asimov stories, most of Clarke's and Niven's works are examples of hard sci-fi.

In soft sci-fi, quite a few liberties are taken with science, but the story stays consistent within those distortions of science. Books like Dune would come under soft sci-fi. In Dune, spice consumption leads to prescience, but the idea has no scientific basis. But the story assumes it as true and examines how would a society look in such a world. Another example is Asimov's robots. They have positronic brains which are impossible as per our current understanding of science. But his books are concerned with: given a positronic brain and the three laws, how would a robot behave in a particular environment/situation? His stories are remarkably consistent in that regard.

And finally there is what I call junk sci-fi. Sciency ,but nonsensical, sounding stuff is used to advance the story. Most hollywood sci-fi movies are junk sci-fi. They may be good entertainers, but are bad sci-fi. Movies like Independence Day, Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow are some examples of junk sci-fi. On the other hand, the movies 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Blade Runner, Contact, Gattaca are examples of good sci-fi. (2001 also has the distinction of being a hard sci-fi, owing to the writing of Clarke. Most of the space scenes in it are quite accurate - no sound in vaccum, effects of micro gravity, inducing artificial gravity through centrifugal force etc...)
[/quote]

Thank you, Lije, for that very well written breakdown. I see your point about consistency as a key feature of 'good sci-fi'. The hard and soft categorization also makes complete sense. I guess most of my favorites are soft sci-fi, although I do appreciate a scientifically more accurate sci-fi fantasy once in a while.

If you haven't already, you should check out the new American TV series Flash Forward.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#10
If anyone is considering watching the new sci-fi show 'Fringe', the science is terrible but the action is pretty thrilling. As science fiction, I guess this show would be generally considered a pretty bad representative of the genre.

I've just finished the first season. It is like a cross between the X-files and CSI.

I put up with a lot of fantastical claims throughout the series, but the thing that finally got to me was when they channeled Deepak Chopra's 'consciousness creates its own universe' misinterpretation of quantum indeterminism.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#11
(10-May-2010, 04:09 PM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: If anyone is considering watching the new sci-fi show 'Fringe', the science is terrible but the action is pretty thrilling. As science fiction, I guess this show would be generally considered a pretty bad representative of the genre.

I've just finished the first season. It is like a cross between the X-files and CSI.

I put up with a lot of fantastical claims throughout the series, but the thing that finally got to me was when they channeled Deepak Chopra's 'consciousness creates its own universe' misinterpretation of quantum indeterminism.

That female puts me off completely. Otherwise it is a timepass.
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#12
(11-May-2010, 03:23 PM)uglyhunk Wrote: That female puts me off completely. Otherwise it is a timepass.

Hmm, I actually find her the only tolerable thing about the show. It's an hour long game of 'count how many "woo" claims'.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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