Speculative Fiction/Headscratchers

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  • Why bother with Plausible Deniability and The World Is Not Ready in the first place? Isn't it just easier to set the story either in the near future or an alternative universe? While I love Stargate just as much as any other sci-fi geek, I feel that sometimes the protagonists come across as jerks when they try to protect their secret from the public as much as possible. While it is true that the revelation that not only aliens exist but also that they have interfered with human civilizations in the past would probably have a major effect on society, but the writers could pretend that most of Earth's people will get easily adjusted within a year or two.
    • Many SF writers did use the near future; it's just that their "near future" is our present, or else looks very like their present. And, until the late 1980s, the greater public was not ready for real AlternateUniverses.
    • Stargate is about the military, the military are jerks about a LOT of things that they want to be secret. Moreover, the protagonists are mostly just following orders about secrecy, the policy comes from above, and “above” in the SGC's case are REAL jerks (Kinsey et. ali.) Speaking of jerks, the main reason for TWINR is to show that a-holes setting up their own private playground or burying their private screwups are the reasons for most secrecy. Read James Hogan's Giants' Star for a good example.
    • In some cases it makes sense; take the real life example of a number of nuclear properties. Even with the caution involved in informing people of the exacts and capabilities, there were a lot of people doing a lot of stupid stuff, as the radioactive boyscout thing shows. You do end up making the heroes look a bit like assholes, but that having people face hard interactions like that is good characterization, if you pull it off right. Beyond that point, it's a useful Deus Exit Machina -- it keeps things focused on the small number of focus characters fighting off vampires over a period of weeks through most of New York City without having to detail and explain why we don't see police officers or the army getting involved. Beyond that, just as Most Authors Are Human, most authors and readers are least remotely familiar with the real world (or something somewhat like it). Stargate features faster-than-light communication, easy fusion power, stupidly compact energy sources (staff weapons), dozens of things that could easily change the , and that's before we get to the really dangerous or rare stuff like naquadriah. Any honest version of Stargate without the Masquerade would have stopped being Near Future or Hidden Present, but look like far future tech by Season 3.
      • Tropes are useful? Yeah, of course they are. But you can't just let the heroes off the hook without them at least acknowledging what they're depriving the world of (Men In Black did a decent job.)
      • Given how people have reacted to things like the Large Hadron Collider, Nuclear Weapons, etc. and how many misconceptions exist about nuclear energy and what the LHC is capable of, it's understandable why you would want certain information to be private. I mean, people have burned others at the stake for suspicion of being a witch. Now that may seem like something you wouldn't expect of modern people but imagine witches are actually real and the populace knows about them or replace witch with "alien in disguise" and suddenly those hunts seem a lot more reasonable to the average person who is afraid their next door neighbor is one of those evil aliens they heard about on the news. Sometimes the world genuinely is not ready.
        • Here's the catch, though: these fears are caused by misconceptions, as you said yourself. Thus, the actual problem isn't knowledge, but ignorance -- the very thing you badly need appropriate knowledge to combat, and so attempts to keep said knowledge secret "because the world is not ready" actually run counter to the goal of ever making it ready. (That is presumably your long-term goal, after all...isn't it?)
      • Realistically, even with the Masquerade, the Stargate Verse should have by now looked a lot less Like Reality Unless Noted than it actually does.
    • Budget and scheduling. Can you imagine having to write a world that is supposed to be ours right now, except with all the effects that technology we probably wouldn't invent for centuries foisted on the populace in general, and how that affects culture and politics? And if you can, can you imagine doing a good enough job with that that it's plausible to do in a show produced 22 times a year? The real problem is that even the military, which had access to all of this technology, went about business as usual, treating weapons and tech as little more than bigger guns and better planes, while the real-life space program produced velcro.
  • Dragons. They're really, really huge, they would have to weigh several tons. How do they keep themselves alive? It makes sense if there's other dinosaur like beings around, but oftentimes they're just tacked on into Medieval England. How do these creatures survive on one sheep a week? That would be like a human surviving on one mouse. Why don't they just destroy and eat everything in sight? They'd have to be pretty hungry.
    • For most fantasy universes, magic.
      • Then it would make more sense for them to not eat at all.
        • Elves are often presented as highly magical. Does it make more sense for them to not eat at all?
        • Dungeons & Dragons makes it clear that dragons don't need to eat very often, often sleeping for decades if undisturbed, and can subsist on anything, including their own hoards. They just prefer meat because of the taste. They are also mostly meat and bone, but have a unique organ that suffuses their bodies with magic, which apparently makes them able to fly, strong and graceful even for their size, allows them to cast spells, and so on.
      • Perhaps their magical properties (fiery breath, etc…) are fueled by the mystical essence of their prey, while their merely physical properties are fueled by the bodies of their prey. Still, I'd imagine that while they'd eat quite a bit of mutton, that there would probably also be larger prey than sheep for them to nibble on too.
      • Some sources claim that fantasy-style dragons are not full o meat like us; rather, their body acts much like a blimp to allow them to fly. This style of dragon has very little flesh and bone for weight reasons.
    • MST3K Mantra
    • See Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real for a good attempt to justify dragons as plausible creaturs. It must also be pointed out that Western dragons started out as large serpents that became highly exaggerated over time.
      • Exactly, so like a snake, they snack on the 5 humans and 6 or so horses that raid the lair, then lounge around for a while till the next smack shows up. Look at today's 'dragons', Komodo Dragons can survive on as little as 12 meals a year of only 80 percent of the body weight. Very slow metabolism seems to be the norm.
    • The Aperture Speculative Enrichment Center is pleased to present an amusing fact: All dragon myths in Eurasia had them as snakelike. Myths of pyroprojectile quadropeds with wings (or bipeds, in the case of wyverns) are found only the regions of (a) medieval (b) Europe that (c) had been conquered by the Roman legions, which (d) frequently used images of winged dragons flown from the legion's flagbearer as a crest.
      • "Pyroprojectile" is the best word I've read all day.
      • And were rather good with pryomania. See Greek Fire and its precursors.
    • If you're gonna look for a scientific explanation, maybe dragons have a way of converting matter directly into energy (ala matter/antimatter collision), so when they eat a sheep or a princess, every possible speck of energy in it is used, rather than being mostly waste.
      • That's not remotely scientific. Where the hell would a dragon get large supplies of antimatter? creating your own trakes as much energy as is released in destruction (and some of this will inevitably go to waste). How does it contain it? Our proposed methods are both very dangerous (if it was happening inside your body, that is) and very expensive in terms of energy.
    • Depending on the universe, some dragons may be ectothermic, meaning they would need to eat much less.
    • Dragons in the Temeraire universe have internal gas bladders--and this is not mere air, but lighter-than-air mixtures. This makes dragons who want to be excellent swimmers, as well, as well as much lighter than they should be (imagine something the size of a blue whale weighing fifty tons, for comparison), though their wings are still realistically far too small for them to fly with.
      • Novik's dragons have their own problems, though. For one thing, they grow far too quickly. Also, I don't care how big it is, putting stress on any young animal's bones is a Very Bad Idea--that's why smart people don't ride yearling horses even though they look pretty big, and why most agility trainers will not jump a dog under eighteen months of age. Pushing a young animal too far physically is a good way to permanently cripple it. And these are considerably smaller animals with much less of a growth difference than most of the dragon breeds we're shown, particularly the heavyweights. Now, taking this into account, Temeraire is approximately two months old when Laurence first rides him in the storm. For reference, this is about the same age puppies are when you're allowed to take them home from the litter. Good god!
    • Maybe they have really high metabolisms, so they wake up, fly around, eat a lot of sheep (not one, some were rumoured to eat hundreds a day) then go back to their cave to sleep really, really deeply (like daily hibernation). The shiny objects around them could be to attract mates.
      • Simple, they're either omnivores or herbivores. Smaller species might be more carnivorous. The whole idea of them being terrible monsters could be exaggeration (look what they did to gorillas), misblame due to the actions of the smaller, carnivorous species, or omnivores just have a taste for anything they can get their mouths on (grizzly bears are omnivores, after all).
    • The problems people have with Dragons is that they assume they're carbon-based lifeforms, let alone being made up of DNA/RNA. They could be made of lighter and stronger material(s) than humans or any other life on this planet, and have a far more efficient means of processing matter to use for energy (and the occasional fire breath).
  • Somewhere on a distant planet, do aliens write stories about human invaders?
    • Assuming literacy, there is no reason why they wouldn't write stories about alien invaders, where "alien" is relative to them. Successfully describing an existing alien species would be a long shot. Also, consider that few people have written stories about alien invaders who aren't capable of efficient space travel.
  • In stories with robot civilizations of some sort, why do they bother having genders? They reproduce asexually, right?
    • Males have the connection parts sticking out. Females have the holes to hold them. Even our non-sentient electronics have genders.
    • Damn man-bots always trying to keep a fem-bot down.
    • Robots had to come from somewhere, meaning an organic race built them at some point. The original race had a gender, and when they made the fully sapient robots, they probably just made them in their likeness. Also it makes sense for reproction, I mean personalities anyway. Unless they'd be millions of copies of the same AI, it'd make sense to have the AI meld with another AI, and might as well make them male and female at that point.
    • Maybe it's just part of them. I mean, most humans feel the need to identify as male or female, if a robot was sapient then it might feel the same. They might feel they lose something in genderlessness.
    • Or the robots are built to "reproduce" in some fashion and evolve. For some reason multiple genders (or just flat out hermaphroditism) seems to be the most effective manner of reproduction that we know of, though scientists are still trying to figure out exactly why.
      • In organic terrestrial lifeforms, sex would seem to have the advantage of helping spread beneficial mutations through a given population faster over multiple generations and thus being a survival trait. Whether or not the same logic should hold true for reproducing machines is debatable, especially if they're intelligent and creative enough to short-circuit the process by just deliberately adjusting the next generation's specs as needed...
  • Why is it that we see lots of stories with robots and lots of stories with fairies, but almost never stories with both? Seeing beings of pure science encounter beings of pure magic would be awesome.
    • I'd like to see sci-fi and fantasy combine, without the sci-fi Doing In the Wizard. This troper is working on such a story with elves, dwarves, etc. in an interstellar setting. Though I haven't seen anything similar.
      • There is the Shadowrun universe that combines fantasy and sci-fi although more cyberpunk than interstellar. It does include elves, dwarves and other fantasy elements however.
    • Because "pure science" and "pure magic" are stupid terms and thinking of them as some sort of opposing force is a way to ruin a perfectly good story concept. Read Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series. (The science is utterly, utterly woeful -- we're talking "cannot read howstuffworks.com" level of woeful -- but it's got a fairy nation of elves and pixies with virtual matter weaponry and magma-flare-riding subterrainian aircraft.)
    • You should watch Gargoyles. Robots, gargoyles, and The Fair Folk, plenty of magic and science to go around.
    • Gunnerkrigg Court. Fairies and robots.
    • It's a fine line between "Our time has come" on the place of the magic (or, rarely, the technology) and fully-melded Magitek, and most writers can't think of the justification to keep them separate but parallel without keeping them completely separate, like the borders in Peirs Anthony's Split Infinity or the "magic makes tech go haywire" "rule" in Harry Potter.
      • Harry Potter didn't invent that rule. Not sure who did, but it's in a lot of places (The Dresden Files, for one). Some people might say that's because magic makes tech go haywire in real life ...
        • Never said it was invented in Harry Potter. Just said it was used there. Same goes for the Split Infinity borders.
      • It kinda makes sense. If you could generate energy that allows you break the laws of physics, then theoretically some of that ambient energy might affect nearby electronics. Sometimes other electronics mess up different electronics.
    • Probably because there is a very thin line between science and explained magic. Basically, once you start explaining how stuff works, you jump off the slippery slope towards science. Because after all, science is basically just process of finding out what makes the world around us works. For example, The Dresden Files could easily redefine magic as the process of creating (through emotions) and manipulating energy. Its basically the lack of Expospeak and lack of explanation on why magical creatures work the way that keeps it rooted firmly in the "magic" area. A better rule of thumb would be if "its magic" is the standard explanation for why crap happens in the story, its pure fantasy (in the sense of fantasy being magic and such). If it starts asking/explaining why, its moving closer and closer to science, even if the rules of said universe may be different from our own.
    • Warcraft actually does this pretty well, in my opinion. Yes, it's still basically steampunk tech, but they do have sentient robots and technomages, and a lot of the Titan constructs seem to have an interesting blend of technology and magic.
    • Because would you let a bunch of fairies get the opportunity to program robots? I'd run for the goddamn hills.
    • Because we have different words for robots run by magic. We call them golems or constructs or elementals. So, if the setting is more magical, then it makes sense that people would make those things rather than mucking about with electricity and programming languages and the like.
    • I'd advise you to have a look at Science Fantasy.
  • Why is it that whenever some production shows a character reversing the flow of time, all that happens is...the Earth rotates in the opposite direction? First off, just stopping the planet would result in 1000+mph winds destroying nearly everything on the surface; nevermind what reversing it should do. And second, Earth's rotation does not work that way.
    • No, no, Earth is still rotating in its normal direction, but you're viewing it in backwards time. That is this troper's take on what's going on in the climactic scene in Superman and you'll not convince me differently.
  • The Divided States of America. There is always a Deseret, and it is almost always a theocratic hellhole. This troper lives in Utah and was raised Mormon, and he honestly can't see how that would happen. Do people just assume the Mountain Meadows Massacre to be the inevitable end of Mormon governance?
    • Not really. However, the common perception of the general population of Mormons, is that they are, to quote The Simpsons, "America's most powerful weirdos". This troper disagrees with that sentiment, but it's basically the reason that Deseret is common in most works featuring a divided America.
    • This troper, looking at America from an ocean away, thinks of Mormons as the nicest bunch of fundamentalist survivalists one could hope to meet, and expects that Deseret would:
      • Be some sort of mixed democracy/theocracy, and more tolerant than a lot of theocracies.
      • Legalise polygamy, but ban anyone from preaching that it was in any way compulsory.
      • Overall be an okay place to live... unless you were gay. What is it with fundamentalists and homosexuality anyway?
      • Well, with Mormons and Muslims I can't say, but the fundamentalist Christian attitude towards homosexuality is rather easy to explain. The premise of it is that Jesus of Nazareth made a second pact of worship to GOD and response from HIM(or 'covenant'), after showing how strict the first covenant had really been. In the first covenant, recorded in the Book of the Laws(Lectivus), which contained the declaration that GOD considers lying with a man as one would with a woman(i.e. sodomy) to be an abomination. As Jesus never so much as mentioned this law, it is thought to mean that no change was made to it. But an important distinction must be made: it is never said the homosexuals themselves are abominations, only sodomy and other 'improper' use of sexual organs. So yeah, hating the sinner for the sin is grossly immoral and un-GODLY. I hope that explains it.
        • There's a difference between hating homosexuals and considering homosexuality wrong.
          • Just as there is a difference betwen hating minorities and considering whites superior.
            • More like the difference between shunning liars and disliking the act of lying.