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Old 09-01-2010, 09:39 PM   #1
Steven Lake
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The Laws of Science Fiction

Recently another member here started a thread on the laws of zombionics, which of course dealt with all the laws about zombies and the like. So here's my spin on it for science fiction. What do you believe are the top rules of science fiction? Now, to make it more interesting, I'm looking for a top twenty list, but this will be broken down into two categories: Sci-fi Do's and Don'ts. IE, what things should always happen (or they are things you highly recommended should happen) in a scifi book, and what items should NEVER happen in a good sci-fi book. Let's hear your thoughts.
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Old 09-01-2010, 10:27 PM   #2
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Kind of a meta-law, but...

Never leave a well-loved and best-selling series idle for more than a decade without a new book (I'm talkin' to YOU, David Brin!)

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Old 09-02-2010, 10:03 AM   #3
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Never invent a set of rules for how exotic science works in your story, then change it in mid-stream (or, in a series, from book to book). Consistency is vital, especially because SF readers key in on that stuff like red flags waved at bulls.

It is considered "bad form" to have aliens reveal hidden traits or powers at way-too-convenient moments, like when it looks like the protagonist is about to die at the climax. If it happens early in the book, when characters are still being established, it can be forgiven.

Try not to pattern aliens too closely after stereotypes of Earth nationalities. It usually comes off as racist. (Sorry, Star Trek.)
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Old 09-02-2010, 10:09 AM   #4
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Exotic science doesn't make up for bad writing: Don't hide a mediocre story behind gee-whiz gadgets and explosions.

Unless the explosions are planet-sized and have pretty expanding rings in them... in which case, it probably doesn't matter.
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Old 09-02-2010, 10:27 AM   #5
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If something has to happen to resolve the storyline make sure you set it up earlier on in the story and avoid the "god from the machine" syndrome. Rules can be bent if the framework is set up ahead of time, but otherwise once set the rules should be followed by the author.
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Old 09-02-2010, 11:30 AM   #6
Steven Lake
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven Lyle Jordan View Post
Exotic science doesn't make up for bad writing: Don't hide a mediocre story behind gee-whiz gadgets and explosions.

Unless the explosions are planet-sized and have pretty expanding rings in them... in which case, it probably doesn't matter.
lol! Well said! That's one of my pet peeves as well! My biggest thing is I've been accused of always appearing to bring the cavalry in a little too late to save the heroes.
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Old 09-02-2010, 01:06 PM   #8
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Great list!

Remember that planets usually have complex weather systems. Writing "It was raining on planet Flabizoo when the aliens arrived" makes me think that's a very small planet.
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Old 09-02-2010, 01:30 PM   #9
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lol! Well said! That's one of my pet peeves as well! My biggest thing is I've been accused of always appearing to bring the cavalry in a little too late to save the heroes.
That must be tough on your heroes!

If the cavalry comes in on time, always make them descend with the sun behind them, or out of a deep cloud or fog bank, for best dramatic effect.

If the cavalry arrives too late, make them look incredibly oversized for the job, then look stupid when they realize they don't have to do anything.

Deadly alien monsters MUST be taller then the hero/heroine.

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Old 09-02-2010, 01:39 PM   #10
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In sci-fi, everyone is in great shape, because fat has been defeated. The only fat people are rich eccentrics who don't care how big they get.

In SF, most people are skinnier, paler, less-athletic versions of ourselves.

Humanoid robots better than men and women in every way are easy.
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Old 09-02-2010, 01:44 PM   #11
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Sci-fi-acceptable technology that, in all honesty, we will probably never crack:

FTL drives

Anti-gravity

Immortality

Universal Translators
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Old 09-02-2010, 04:18 PM   #12
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Good points Steve. Those are some things that seem like well accepted cliches that nobody bats an eye at. A few try to break the norm and look at things different, and they usually get labeled as eccentrics or fools for doing it. Oddly though, I've actually taken just as much away from those as other more traditional sci-fi's. One that comes to mind is a sci-fi novel (forget the name) where there was no such thing as shields, artificial gravity, FTL and the like. It was all traditional rocket ships which had to accelerate over a period of time, and then decelerate and they fired lasers, you wore space suits inside the ship in case the hull was breached from laser fire, and you had to use gravity folds in space in order to jump between stars.

Very fun book despite not using more cliche sci-fi systems and technology. I almost wish I could remember the book because I'd read it again.
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Old 09-02-2010, 04:44 PM   #13
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Remember that planets usually have complex weather systems. Writing "It was raining on planet Flabizoo when the aliens arrived" makes me think that's a very small planet.
Yes, SF author Larry Niven put it "It was raining on Mongo, that day"
Which makes about as much sense as "It was raining on Earth that day"
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Old 09-02-2010, 04:47 PM   #14
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Sci-fi-acceptable technology that, in all honesty, we will probably never crack:

FTL drives

Anti-gravity

Immortality

Universal Translators
Hard science SF stories generally do not have any of those EXCEPT for FTL drives. The author thinks "You want it, they want it, everybody is doing it..."

So even though it is probably forbidden by the laws of physics, a hard science author will use it, or be faced with the grim prospect of setting their story in the limited confines of the solar system.
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Old 09-02-2010, 06:33 PM   #15
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If you want to write hard sci-fi, a 5 minute glace at this page should tell you all the DOs and DON'Ts about spaceships, with the rest of the site serving to elaborate if you care to learn more about a subject. There's also a good essay on respecting science in science fiction.

Vonda N. McIntyre's "Pitfalls of Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy,
General Useful Information, & Other Opinionated Comments" is also neat. Read it here or here.

As for my own contribution, all I can say is that please, for the love of God, avoid what TVTropes calls a "planet of hats": having all members of a species be defined by a single trait. If the majority of your alien species have a single one-note culture, like being logical or being warriors or being greedy, chances are you are doing something wrong.
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