Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mallomar SF

Mallomar SF has a superficial shell of crunchy hard science, but when you bite into it’s full of fluffy, gooey magical science and bad science.

Take Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, which I loved when I was twelve. Heinlein lovingly calculates the kinetic energy of the lunar bombardment, while completely omitting the amount of energy lost as the projectiles go through the atmosphere. Or the glaringly obvious heat signature of the second catapult’s radiator.

Or the economic absurdity of growing wheat in lunar caves with fossil ice for export to Earth. That’s pretty silly even before the ice starts running out.

Given the presumption of competitive fusion power, that would would be hopelessly more expensive than, for example, growing wheat underneath Antartica.


Anonymous said...

Then there is the old crack about hard SF which is very careful about physics and chemistry, but careless about human behaviour as individuals and groups. But is there any fiction set in imaginary worlds which is equally careful and knowledgeable about all the supporting details? As RAH put it in his talk at Annapolis, writing a novel set in the medium--term or long-term future which was plausible in every detail would require years of work by a team of professors (although he promptly spoiled that modesty by talking about how he did it anyways). I find the adjective "rational" more useful than "hard" in separating fiction which tries to rigorously extrapolate from a few premises from other kinds; "What Good is a Glass Dagger?" and "All You Zombies" are both rational fiction.

Will McLean said...

I think it is useful to consider hard and rational as separate dimensions. One can have rigorous extrapolation of premises that that involve lots of magic unknown to science, or science indistinguishable from magic or conversely, premises that don’t violate known science at all. The rigor of the extrapolation is one dimension, the degree to which the premises follow known science or fantastic speculation is another.

Anonymous said...

I agree that there are a group of stories set in the future which try to engage with what we know about physics, chemistry, astronomy, and engineering. And I agree that some are more scientifically accurate than others, and some more successful at building the science into the story. I am just not sure how to call the ones which are more accurate, especially since its usual to get some things right and let others fall by the wayside. The term "hard" has connotations which are not very helpful (like the idea that a story with accurate chemistry but fantastic sociology is "harder" than a story with fantastic chemistry but plausible sociology).

Given the nature of Heinlein's war work, I always wonder what he thought about the fantastic project management in "Rocket Ship Galileo." He was so proud of working out the ballistics by hand, but I have trouble believing that he did not consciously fudge the time, cost, and number of workers down.