Weird Science

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"From my heart and from my hand
Why don't people understand

My intentions..."

Weird Science is the name for the style of storytelling made famous by the Science Fiction "pulp" (named after the poor quality paper on which they got printed) magazines of the 1930s and '40s. By the '50s, sales fell off, probably because of the advent of television. A few of these magazines had covers far trashier than the contents, others reveled in cheese with the writers entertaining no delusions that they created great art.

Astounding Science Fiction (later Analog), Unknown (also known as Unknown Worlds), and Galaxy published generally high quality fiction. Amazing Stories, Weird Tales and Startling Stories and others occupied the middle strata while Captain Future, Planet Stories and many, many others published the more shamelessly trashy material. (Unknown and Weird Tales actually published mostly fantasy and horror, though individual Science Fiction stories and elements would get incorporated in the stories too.) They specialized in imaginative stories of Science Fiction, with the less highbrow magazines in particular having a good deal more "Boy's Own Adventure" flair. The actual name Weird Science comes from EC Comics Comic Book, which tended to use the Karmic Twist Ending or, more rarely, the Cruel Twist Ending. (EC also published Weird Fantasy, actually another Science Fiction comic, and merged the two titles later.)

The stories featured exotic worlds and gee-whiz gadgetry, buxom space babes, two-fisted heroes and, most important, plenty of gee-whiz gadgetry; it is this last that can be called Weird Science. Many of the most notable names in science fiction and fantasy got their start writing in these magazines, and, as the century progressed, the standards both for storytelling and scientific plausibility increased, although an exciting story was always more important than a realistic one.

Their influence is still widely felt: any Science Fiction that involves derring-do with robots, rocketships and rayguns and doesn't worry about technical realism can be said to use Weird Science, but it is especially likely to be found in Planetary Romance.

Note also that Weird Science is not the same as Hollywood Science; the former throws realism to the wind in order to create spectacle whereas the latter comes from not bothering to get things right that could have been. They often have similar effects, but different causes; Weird Science springs from Rule of Cool, whereas Hollywood Science grows from Did Not Do the Research. (The extreme case, most often found in comedy, is It Runs on Nonsensoleum.)

The movie, series and song of the same name all serve as this trope's namesake and premise.


Weird Science tropes:

Settings where Weird Science is likely to be found:

Examples of Weird Science include:


Comic Books[edit | hide | hide all]

  • As noted above, the Trope Namer, EC's Weird Science. EC also published Weird Fantasy. They later merged the two publications into Weird Science-Fantasy (because sales had flagged). Later on they published the short-lived Incredible Science Fiction.
  • DC Comics' anthology titles Mystery in Space and Tales of the Unexpected.

Film[edit | hide]

  • The Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials, and subsequent television or film remakes, are archetypal.
  • Star Wars famously draws from a tremendous range of influences, many not even from Speculative Fiction, but all held together by a distinct Weird Science sensibility.
  • Mom and Dad Save The World somewhat parodies Weird Science, but in an affectionate way.
  • Stargate: the movie had a lot to do with Weird Science, the series somewhat less so.
  • The Core: the idea of taking a giant drill vehicle into the depths of the planet is pure Weird Science; unfortunately, everything else in the entire movie is particularly bad Hollywood Science.
  • The Godzilla films (and the entire Tokusatsu genre, for that matter) tend to be full of this. In Godzilla versus Megaguirus, the humans have developed a hilarious new weapon to deal with Godzilla: The "Dimension Tide" is a gun that will generate a small black hole and launch it at Godzilla. The hole will suck up Godzilla, sending him into a parallel dimension, and then vanish. (In the real world, in addition to being monstrously heavy and difficult to create, black holes are also fucking dangerous. Possibly more so than a giant lizard loose in your city. And they don't just vanish into thin air... at least not peacefully.) At one point, Godzilla tries to defend himself against the Dimension Tide by shooting the hole with his energy beam breath. Given the tone of the film, this editor half expected it to work.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • As mentioned above this was a staple of the 30s and 40s pulps. Doc Savage lived off this in particular.
    • Odd example, Conan the Barbarian encounters a lost civilization in "Shadows of Xuthal" which has radium lighting and an elixir that both prologed life and healing just about any wound or injury that wasn't immediately fatal.
  • Tarzan sometimes encoutered lost civilizations that used this.
  • The Lensman stories, originally published in Amazing Stories and Astounding Stories.
  • Empire City in A. Lee Martinez' The Automatic Detective runs on this.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Star Trek: The Original Series had an uneasy relationship with Weird Science, striving for something believeable, yet at the same time not having as much concern for being accurate. Gene Roddenberry's famous dictum to never actually explain any technology but just use it and let the audience accept it, fits right in with the nature of Weird Science.
  • Doctor Who, in its "classic" phase, had an ambivalent relationship to it as well, usually reveling in it, though at various times Creative Differences and Genre Shifts would affect how much the creators acknowledged it. The new series (and its spinoffs) under Russell T. Davies embrace it.
  • Farscape has lots of Weird Science.
  • Lost in Space of course, especially in the bizarre alien gadgets and the Monster of the Week.
  • The "Captain Proton" adventures on Star Trek: Voyager were an unabashed celebration of Weird Science (somehow fitting for the Star Trek that tended to veer away the most from scientific plausibility).
  • Homaged in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Far Beyond The Stars" where Captain Sisko falls into a coma and dreams that he's a science fiction writer for the 1950s Pulp Magazine "Incredible Tales".
  • Power Rangers occasionally falls into this in its technology-based seasons.
  • While the movie was this to a lesser extent, the TV show Weird Science was this trope.
  • This is one of the main features of Fringe, with everything from travel between universes to Nazi biological weapons that kill everyone who is not blonde and blue-eyed.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Fallout. The apprant fact that intense radiation makes scorpions twenty feet long is only the beginning of the insanity.
  • Portal and Portal 2.

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Warhammer 40,000.
  • GURPS IOU had the skill, Science!
    • So does Spirit of the Century, a celebration of the 20s pulp era.
      • Weird Science and Mad Science are playable advantages in the game - the former allows you to make advanced gadgets that would be possible by modern technology while the latter covers pretty much anything you can come up with (although the GM can make a Game Breaker prohibitively expensive...)
    • GURPS 4e actually has a skill called "Weird Science" which lets you invent ridiculous devices. Whether you are believed or they work is entirely dependent on the setting.
      • GURPS 4e also has "Science!" as a Wildcard skill, which can be substituted for ANY science skill but costs a ton to buy.
  • Gnomes in many Dungeons & Dragons settings, including Dragonlance and Spelljammer.
  • Deadlands has Weird Science as one of the sets of player skills. This being an explicitly Faustian setting, the knowledge to make the gadgets comes from less than heavenly sources, and every new gadget you invent makes you a little more insane.
  • Genius: The Transgression has both Weird Science and a sort of deconstructed take on Hollywood Science; Geniuses are capable of building Wonders, devices that should not work by the principles of proper science, but do anyway. Until a mortal touches them, anyway...

Webcomics[edit | hide]

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Futurama combines Weird Science with tropes from more realistic influences.
  • Danny Phantom is pretty weird with its science... well, more silly than weird, but still.