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If you enjoy sci-fi do you need it to be a logical society/situation?

(42 Posts)
TimTamTerrier Thu 24-Nov-16 15:05:09

For instance in Station Eleven the author had clearly thought about how society and the economy might function after a sudden and massive drop in population and what she came up with was a version of medieval society with small towns, agricultural based economy, peddlers going from town to town and wandering actors/minstrals. It seemed sustainable and logical.

One of the most annoying stories was Wayward Pines. It just seemed completely unsustainable to me. There was no explanation of where food came from, and people had weird jobs allocated to them that didn't seem to contribute to the economy. There was also no explanation of what the genetic mutation was that caused humanity to rapidly devolve, nor any explanation of why the same thing wouldn't happen to the recently revived human population. And he seemed to have a huge technical team that knew what was going on and had volunteered to be frozen and revived in the future, so why didn't he just go with volunteers instead of kidnapping random people?

slightlyglitterbrained Thu 24-Nov-16 21:47:29

Yes. Solid worldbuilding is an essential part of the pleasure of science fiction for me. It has to fit together. It has to make sense.

I actually don't think the author of Station Eleven had thought through enough of the society - for instance, the mention that they'd stopped using cars when the gasoline ran out. But you can convert cars to run on ethanol, and running a diesel car on vegetable oil doesn't require high tech.

TimTamTerrier Thu 24-Nov-16 22:01:03

Would the information on how to convert an engine to run on veg oil be easily accessible? Given that the internet would have failed fairly early on.

TimTamTerrier Thu 24-Nov-16 22:15:26

Did she say in the book what percentage of the population had died? It did seem as though there were only enough people left to get by at just above subsistence level. I was surprised that it was only at the end of the book, so decades after the flu, that a town got electric lighting working. I would have thought that generating electricity would have been relatively low-tech and worth the effort for how useful it was. I suppose the thing with letting cars go was that maybe there was no advantage to being able to travel long distances in a short time, given that the whole country was subsistence farming and therefore didn't have much of value to trade.

slightlyglitterbrained Thu 24-Nov-16 22:39:08

It'd only be impossible to convert cars to run on veg oil if all the engineers and all the car mechanics had all died of the flu. There are enough people already doing it that there would already be some knowledge, and if anyone from either of the two groups above survived they could work it out from first principles. The main reason more people don't do it in the UK is that you need to arrange to pay tax on it or your car can be impounded by Customs & Excise.

Working it out from first principles is important: you couldn't figure out enough that way to run a nuclear plant or a semiconductor fabrication factory, but how a combustion engine works? There are people all over the world cobbling together old bangers and keeping them running with no more than a very modest toolset and the ability to look at a part and say "right - I've got this, this and this - I can put them together and make a new one." They don't get to look stuff up on the internet or pop down to Halfords, but they still figure it out.

mmack Thu 24-Nov-16 23:26:18

Station Eleven made no sense. People got sick, the mobile phone network went down and then society as we know it just ended. Idiotic. All the infrastructure was completely undamaged so after a few weeks of chaos everything would have gone back to relative normal with even 10% of the population surviving. The people in the airport in particular drove me mad. Why didn't they just use radio?
Brave New World is my favourite sci-fi book. The world Huxley created makes perfect sense.

TimTamTerrier Thu 24-Nov-16 23:31:32

Damn, can I change to Wool as an example of a logical sci-fi society? I really like Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space series too, but he's not very forthcoming about exactly how the economies of the different planets work. I'm not convinced that the profits from trading between planets would outweigh the costs.

mmack Thu 24-Nov-16 23:40:37

I read very little sci-fi so I probably shouldn't be in this discussion. The complete lack of logic in the film Dr. Strange annoyed me even more than Station Eleven so I strongly agree that a logical situation is critical to the genre.

CoteDAzur Fri 25-Nov-16 21:01:03

I agree, Station 11 was VERY far from credible and had a near-complete lack of worldbuilding. A viral flu kills off most of the world's population and the the ones left alive somehow manage to find food, shelter, and clean water very easily which leaves them free to procrastinate and whine all day long. That's pretty much all the book talks about anyway.

None of it made much sense. A viral infection that becomes symptomatic in several hours and kills in a day is the easiest disease in the world to contain, since it would burn itself off very quickly. Just broadcast everyone to stay indoors for 1 day - what seems to be the problem?

The post-apocalyptic world rings completely false, as well. All of it falls apart too quickly, and the author has given no thought to what such a world of few survivors would actually be like. "Schools" where kids are taught about the lost world and its comforts made me laugh. Surely, you would try to preserve knowledge of math, chemistry, physics, biology etc rather than stories of past comforts.

CoteDAzur Fri 25-Nov-16 21:09:27

" can I change to Wool as an example of a logical sci-fi society?"

No, you most certainly can't grin

In Wool, a group of people live underground for over 10 generations, and there is no adaptation whatsoever... how, exactly? No increased sensitivity to light, for example? No decreased stature?
- How come they don't suffer at all from Vitamin D deficiencies?
- Where does all the energy they consume come from? Are we really supposed to believe that it's all from burning coal from nearby deposits? (not drilling laterally at all but always down, no less)
- Where does the oxygen they breathe come from?
- How come they seem to have absolutely everything that we have now? How can they have production facilities for everything in that silo?
- Where does human waste go to?

Most importantly, how is it possible that they still have the same values, same worries, same topics of conversation, and overall same attitudes as we do now? It feels like the author was a bit lazy and didn't feel like imagining realistic details for such long term underground confinement.

(One book I thought pulled this off well was Coalescent by Stephen Baxter. Although I didn't think it was a great book overall, it was very interesting in its credible detail of how human life underground may evolve over many generations.)

NameChanger22 Fri 25-Nov-16 21:11:06

Some sci-fi isn't thought out very well.

Wayward Pines was terrible, completely full of holes. Where did the cars come from? the toasters? Surely they would have rusted up and stopped working after all that time.

I think all fiction needs to hold together after a few questions, not just sci-fi. My all time favourite is Twelve Monkeys.

Eolian Fri 25-Nov-16 21:15:24

I ned it to 'feel' real in the sense of feeling three-dimensional enough to feel convincing, but I don't spend much time thinking about the actual logistics of whether it would all really work. Unlike dh, who is currently punctuating our re-watching of Battlestar Galactica with shouts of "Where did they get those noodles from?!" "Why haven't they run out of whisky yet?!" etc grin.

StitchesInTime Fri 25-Nov-16 21:17:20

I agree, in a decent sci-if book, the society needs to be credible and have some sort of sensible logic to it.

Otherwise all the gaps threaten the suspension in disbelief to the point where I'm spending more time going hmm hmm "really?" than enjoying the story.

TimTamTerrier Sat 26-Nov-16 00:26:02

I used to like Asimov's Elijah Baley books when I was a teen. I particularly liked the way that he had different planets developing different societies and that they all viewed the others with deep suspicion. Although I was never completely convinced that the Earth dwellers would live underground willingly or that they would allow the population to get that massive. They were all realistic societies to me as a teen, although I'm not sure if I would find them as good if I read them now, as an adult.

I did re-read the John Christopher Tripod books recently when I was trying to introduce them to DS (he didn't like them, my son doesn't like sci-fi, where did I go so wrong?). I thought that they were pretty well thought through, it had to be reasonably simple to explain as they are children's books, but it was a fairly sustainable society.

BrownJenkins Sat 26-Nov-16 00:36:48

I love all sci-fi. It doesn't have to be logical, just entertaining.
As for running vehicles, any diesel vehicle engine will run on veg oil.
Doesn't matter if it's fresh or used, just pour it in the tank and away you go.

CoteDAzur Sat 26-Nov-16 08:46:28

I'm a big SF reader and have been for over 30 years.

Good SF is realistic and credible. The book leaves you convinced that all that only can, but quite probably will happen.

Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke were shining stars in their day but you would be shocked at how badly written their books are if you read then now. They were a head above the rest because they were scientists and engineers.

Brilliant SF was published in the many decades since Asimov. 1984 is as great now as it was when first published. For "modern" SF written for the Information Age and beyond, try William Gibson's earlier books (Neuromancer, Idoru, Mona Lisa Overdrive), Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash, Diamond Age, Anathem, Seveneves), Stephen Baxter (Flood), Cixin Liu (The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, Death's End).

Really, Wool and Station 11 are like the chick-lit of SF. They are nowhere near being the best or even just good example of the genre.

TimTamTerrier Sat 26-Nov-16 12:33:27

Well, it would kind of make sense that I enjoy the chick-lit of sci-fi as I read a fair bit of light-weight fiction too. blush I've never read any Cixin Liu, though I have read lots of the other three you mention. Stephen Baxter is probably my least favourite of the three of those, some books I've loved but some are lacking enough human interest for me.

I never liked Heinlein much, there was always something quite odd about the people in his books, as though I had a personality clash with almost all of his leading characters.

BrownJenkins Sat 26-Nov-16 17:53:39

Has anyone read Brian Lumley's books? His Vampire series is incredible but just as good are his others, excellent sci-fi.
What about Philip Pullman? I loved Northern Lights, the Amber Spyglass and the Subtle Knife but thought the film, The Golden Compass, was an abomination.

VestalVirgin Sat 26-Nov-16 19:35:22

Running cares on vegetable oil is not really sustainable - from what I understand it requires more gasoline to grow all the plants for the oil than you get gasoline out of the oil. So it only really works out if you use oil that is left over from frying potato chips or something.
(We could be well away from mineral oil if we could just use vegetable oil instead.)

So people might still use cars, but would use them only for emergencies, and not for agriculture, and not for everyday transport.

About the original question ... it needs to be logical only insofar as it should not be obvious to me that it makes no sense.

And some premises only work if one accepts something rather unlikely to be fact. (Like, "Egalia's Daughters" is a novel that just flips patriarchy on its head and makes men the oppressed class. That does not make much sense as women have no need to exploit men for childbearing.) If the ideas explored are worthwhile, I will read it in spite of that.

If the illogical thing is not needed for the plot to work, and is just kind of there for no reason, I am more likely to be annoyed.

TimTamTerrier Mon 28-Nov-16 13:42:42

My lack of knowledge of car mechanics is equalled by my lack of knowledge of agriculture, so this might sound like a stupid question, what oil producing crop could they grow in the area in which Station Eleven was set? I know rapeseed can be grown in quite cold climates, but wouldn't the man hours needed to grow and harvest a field crop like that mean that they would only get enough for food use?

Sadik Mon 28-Nov-16 16:26:30

I'm not going to argue in any way for the logicality of Station Eleven, but actually, non-animal fat is one of the hardest things to produce as an amateur certainly in the UK climate. Rapeseed and sunflower oil need a certain amount of technology and know-how to extract. Olive oil is fine - if you can't find an old animal powered olive mill just crush the olives in water and float off the oil, you won't get a huge yield but you will get something.

But actually the simple answer for home produced fat is lard or keep geese (latter obviously come in more conveniently sized packages). I don't think you can run a car on goosefat!

However, I think John Wyndam (sp?) did a much more convincing job in the Triffids of showing a society with only a small %ge of survivors.

Sadik Mon 28-Nov-16 16:27:48

But for sure in this day and age someone would hack together the many, many photovoltaic systems with car batteries and a home-made charger and have usable electricity. Frankly, I suspect given time and the motivation my 14 y/o dd could and would do so.

Sadik Mon 28-Nov-16 16:29:44

I fall somewhere in the middle regarding the need for logicality. If there's a good story, and the conceptual holes aren't too great, I'm ok with that. But I do prefer that the author has at least attempted to think things through.

TimTamTerrier Mon 28-Nov-16 16:45:33

I'm a lot more tolerant of massively illogical societies in films or tv series. I'm not sure if that's because the action keeps moving on so that I don't have time to pause and think in the way that I do with books or because there is just a lot less explanation of society because all the information the viewer gets has to be through dialogue or visual means and moving the plot forwards always takes priority.

CoteDAzur Mon 28-Nov-16 18:00:17

I don't feel like that, personally. Plot has to be believable in a book or film.

If not totally believable, at least internally consistent. Complicated is fine, as long as the author makes an effort to tie up the loose ends and build an internally consistent world. Unlike in Station 11 and Wool smile

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