The Science of Fiction
Science fiction is a lot like religion – you propose the fantastic and present it in a way that sounds more or less plausible, and you’re able to package it and sell it like magic beans. For example, if a movie scientist with glasses and a white lab coat invents a shrinking ray that can reduce the size of a human (and their pants) to the size of a tampon, if said machine has enough knobs and dials and a cool wiggly ray beam, you’re likely to believe it. (I did, because wiggly ray beams make perfect sense to me.) This is referred to as suspended disbelief. [Wikipedia™: Suspension of disbelief or “willing suspension of disbelief” is a formula named as such in English by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge to justify the use of fantastic or non-realistic elements in literature.]
Same thing with religion. An educated smooth-talkin’ guy stands on a church podium wearing an official shiny robe and an even shinier crucifix, tells us our immortal soul is going to the ultimate Freddy Krueger boiler room for all eternity if we don’t “believe.” And because we don’t want to see our souls roasting like sinful hot dogs for ever and ever, and because he looks like he e-mails The Lord every day (where do you think OMG came from?), we abandon common sense and buy into the concept as if it was a clearance-priced donut. Think about this for a second: If some raving street bum with Old English Malt Liquor Aftershave wearing a dumpster suit was preaching the exact same message, you’d probably throw vomit on him. It’s all in the presentation.
But what if we’re talking actual facts and figures based on the undisputable Laws of Nature as opposed to a fantastical shrinking ray with wiggly beams or a book interpreted and re-interpreted by morally uptight stink humans? Kelly Parks, science geek/author of the fascinating !!!SCIENCE MOMENT!!!, an annex of Feo Amante’s (Eddie McMullen, Jr., actually) decade-long horror/sci-fi website, Feomante’s Horror Thriller (feoamante.com), does just that. And in his words, “helps separate the science from the merely sci-fi.”
In an interview with TheScientist.com, he describes himself as plainly as the science fiction he dissects: “I’m a lifelong science geek,” says Parks, whose analyses range from why there can’t be sound in space, to why a virus-infected zombie should die if you blast out its heart (why should you have to shoot it in the head?). Thanks to a background in aerospace engineering and an insatiable appetite for biology literature, Parks rarely finds himself lacking the requisite knowledge for a critique. But he claims to be nothing more than an “educated layman” who occasionally consults online resources. “But not Wikipedia,” he adds.
That he applies his knowledge to all things horror and science fiction makes Parks one of the Internet’s true hidden treasures. Here’s a few of his amazing dissertations…
EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956)
“This movie has lots of scientific sounding jargon and most of it is used incorrectly like you’d expect. For example the aliens tell their human captive that their ships use a powerful magnetic field to overcome Earth’s gravity. That’s not as impressive as it sounds. Consider that if I use a refrigerator magnet to pick up a needle then the magnet is overcoming the gravity of the entire mass of the Earth, which is pulling the needle the other way. Magnetism is a much stronger force than gravity.”
THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES (1956)
“The ‘Phantom’ is only shown in water less than 30 feet deep, not 10,000 leagues. That’s a long way, in case you failed seamanship. A league is 3 statute miles so 10,000 leagues equals thirty thousand miles! That’s almost four times the diameter of the Earth. Presumably they were thinking of fathoms but a fathom is 6 feet so 10,000 fathoms is just over 11 miles and no part of the ocean is anywhere near that deep.”
ATTACK OF THE 50 FT. WOMAN (1958)
“Living things are built for their size. Just making something bigger usually doesn’t work. For example, the 50 foot woman in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. If you take a 5 foot tall woman who weighs 100 lbs and somehow make her ten times her size, how much will she weigh? 1000 lbs? No, because weight is a function of volume, which increases as the cube increases (this is the square-cube law). Thus if you’re ten times bigger, you have 10³ or 1000 times the volume, so she now weighs 100,000 lbs (50 tons!). But how much stress your bones can stand is a function of their cross-sectional area, which increases as the square. So her bones are 100 times stronger but she weighs 1000 times as much – 10 times more than her bones can stand. She crumbles.”
20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957)
“I can say one good thing and one bad thing about the science here. First, the way Venus is described (but never shown) here is perfectly accurate for 1957. After nearly a century of study using the best telescopes and scientific minds available, it had been determined that Venus was a rain forest version of Earth, hot and humid and perpetually shrouded in clouds. Images of jungles and mists and endless rain seemed about right. Then NASA launched the first interplanetary space probe, Mariner 2 (Mariner 1 had a launch failure) in 1962. In one brief fly-by everything we thought we knew about Venus was shown to be wrong. It wasn’t hot and humid, it was hot enough to melt lead and bone dry. The clouds are mostly sulfuric acid, the atmosphere almost entirely carbon dioxide and the air pressure at the surface is 80 times greater than on Earth. Oh, and no lizard men. Astronomers can do a lot but you really never know about a place until you go there.”
You might consider reading Kelly Parks’ columns. Some sort of all-powerful invisible being who lives in outer space (past the moon but closer than Uranus) and who keeps us in moral check, commands you to do so.