I’ve mentioned many times why I love science fiction as a genre, but the more I think about it the more broad the rules of the genre become. With other franchises, the rules are clear- the spy genre has espionage, the drama genre has real life situations, the musical genre has people spontaneously bursting into song etc etc. With science fiction, the rules are unclear. While the basic idea is that science fiction is using science as a basis to tell stories, many science fiction stalwarts like Star Wars bare little to no resemblance to real science. But does it matter?
In my opinion, absolutely not. I don’t really mind if a story is scientific or not; not because I hate science, but because I’m not watching Star Wars, Doctor Who or any science fiction story to be taught science. I like “hard” sci fi like Jurassic Park too, not because of the science but because of the story. I watch fiction for the story, the science is a framework for the story to be told around.
The problems occur when the science in the universe breaks its own logic. In Doctor Who, I accept time travel and Daleks, and the often inaccurate science doesn’t bother me. A recent example would be Kill the Moon, which apparently has poor science. I didn’t notice that because I was focusing on the (in my opinion not very good) story and the show had previously had bad science (Daleks in Manhattan anyone?) However, when magical fairy trees emerge in In the Forest of the Night without an alien explanation, it annoys me because suddenly there’s magic in the Doctor Who universe, when previously magic was established as being science from another universe, which I can accept.
In Jurassic Park, the science is more real. Cloning exists, as did dinosaurs, and Jurassic World explained why the dinosaurs in that movie lacked feathers (they look cooler without them, which is true). However, cloning in real life is hard, and from what I know very few animals have been successfully cloned, and when they have they’ve certainly not been dinosaurs (unfortunately). However, I can accept that within the confines of the fictional story. The Jurassic Park book is more scientific and contains more science mumbo jumbo, but it was streamlined for the film, which I’m grateful for.
This is ultimately called suspension of disbelief, one of the key factors of good fiction. In a story, the world needs to be compelling enough so that the audience can accept the fantastical elements of the world. Pure fantasy like Lord of the Rings has no rules concerning science; magic, monsters and overpowered elves exist without any semblance to reality. When I explain one of my many geek obsessions to my mum, she struggles to accept the non realistic stuff. I explain that the rules of the fictional universe justifies the non realism. That’s the joy of fiction, where the rules can be whatever the writer wants, as long as the rules are explained well.
So what about sci-fi? Some argue that Star Wars is fantasy, due to the fact that it has nothing in common with real science and the definition of sci fi is fiction which obeys basic science. So why is Star Wars considered a sci fi franchise? The tropes associated with it, like spaceships, robots, aliens and planets? But what established those tropes in the first place? Doctor Who? Star Trek? Something even older? I have no idea, and it’s funny how Star Wars is seen as quintessential sci fi when it’s basically fantasy. I still love it.
But in the end I don’t think it matters at all. Fiction is fiction, and real science is real science. If there’s bad science in a story, it’s only because it breaks the previous established rules of the universe. Science Fiction should be seen as different from reality, that’s why it’s called fiction. Science in the real world is important, but in the world of science fiction, anything is possible.