science fiction - general discussion

Recommend, review, and discuss science related books that you have read, movies/tv programs you've watched, or Podcasts you listen to.

science fiction - general discussion

Postby Braininvat on November 23rd, 2014, 5:50 pm 

A couple newbies asked me about sci-fi chat here, and this looked like the best forum for that.

Open the pod bay doors, HAL!



Just to get the ball rolling...what are sci-fi works, of any format or genre, that sparked your interest in a field of science or triggered specific questions on some aspect of science (or metascience)?
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby dlorde on November 23rd, 2014, 8:27 pm 

I was a voracious reader of hard science fiction as a youngster, and it's tempting to think it sparked my interest in science - but I also grew up during the space race, so NASA probably takes most of the responsibility for it. Asimov's robot and Foundation stories were a major influence in my interests in robotics, AI, and behavioural psychology, but I think the genre was equally useful in making me think about the sociology and ethics around science and technology. Star-Trek, with its simple characterisations and moral dilemmas, probably also made some contribution there too.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Paralith on November 24th, 2014, 3:46 pm 

I read a lot growing up, but I was always more of a fantasy reader, and I'd say most of the sci fi I read was also more space fantasy than sci fi. My scientific leanings are towards understanding humans and other animals and their behavior and their sociality, and there wasn't much science fiction out there which really catered to that kind of science, at least not that I was aware of. I think some of what I read was the closest I could find, for example a series of novels about humans bonding with dragons, or a series of novels about humans discovering sentient alien races and learning about them and how to get along with them - or even the Dinotopia picture books, where stranded humans discover and chronicle the behavior and society of sentient civilized dinosaurs.

I didn't really encounter books/movies that gave me a scientific kind of excitement and inspiration until I was in college. And there are only three that I think really thrilled me in that way - the book Rendevous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, which really had no plot other than pure exploration and discovery, but for all that was still exciting and gave me a similar feeling to when I really started getting excited about research biology. Andromeda Strain was similar, though I only ever watched the movie, and I think even the recently released Interstellar accomplished some of that feeling too, which is a big part of what I liked about it.

The only books I've read that really appeal to me on a scientific and biological level are the Exogenesis/Lilith's Brood books by Octavia Butler. They feature aliens who seek to save humanity from itself, deeming them to have a combination of behavioral traits that doom them to self destruction, but during the course of the books the aliens have to come to grips with those aspects of human nature which drive many of us to keep trying anyway, biological doom be damned. But even more so these aliens were able to sense and manipulate life at the genetic level, and had a third gender whose role in reproduction was the art of gene mixing. Aliens of this gender delighted in discovering, "tasting", and storing away genetic bits of different life forms in their body. Their homes and their space craft weren't mechanical but organic, immense organisms engineered to provide the aliens with everything they needed. Great stuff.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Braininvat on November 29th, 2014, 10:28 am 

Both Clarke and Asimov got me interested in hard SF (Clarke for space, Asimov for robotics). And the potential of science. Haven't read Butler but now I want to - SF fans speak of "the killer B's" of the genre, a reference to the disproportionate number of accomplished authors whose surnames begin with b. Brin, Benford, Bova, Bear, Baxter, et al. Traveling further up the alphabet, I've been wowed by the imaginative reach of Robert Sawyer and Robert Charles Wilson. For the possibilities of AI, there is Charles Stross.

The mention of Andromeda Strain reminds me that Crichton wrote a scary and well-researched novel bout nanotech, "Prey."

Back later, when we're home and I'm not fighting with a tablet touchscreen.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Dave_Oblad on December 1st, 2014, 7:50 pm 

Hi all,

Managed to see "Intersteller" over the holiday on the Imax Screen. Was well worth the money. Great movie. Dialog was a bit off but the Science was dead nuts on. Including a trip through a Wormhole and a Visit inside the Event Horizon of a huge Black Hole. A group of Physics Experts produced the massive equations that were fed to the Graphics Arts people to produce the most realistic and accurate experience of both Wormhole and Black Hole traversing.

Wikipedia had this to say:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstellar_%28film%29

In a nut shell:
The future Earth is doomed due to a biological poisoning of the atmosphere. Science is all but outlawed and Farming is the pinnacle of achievement. A race of 5th dimensional creatures has taken to helping the Human race to survive by making it possible to explore and locate a suitable new home planet via a Wormhole placed near Saturn. One prospective place is near a super massive Black Hole. To migrate a few large ships to a remote planet required the mastering of Gravity. A unification of GR and QM. To accomplish this feat required a visit inside the Event Horizon of said Black Hole and the relay of information to the outside Physics guys to complete their Equations.

I don't want to spoil the movie for you.. so I won't explain how they pull this off...lol.

But most folks won't leave the theater without some new found appreciation for Relativity and Time Dilation. I would imagine half the folks that see the movie won't understand half of it. But the storyline is fairly simple and the graphics are freaking awesome. Must see.. if you fancy yourself to be a science buff.

Best wishes,
Dave :^)
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Dave_Oblad on December 2nd, 2014, 11:24 pm 

Hi all,

One of my first exposures to Science Fiction was through Comic Books. As a kid I spent every dime on them and had a huge collection. Superman to Xmen.. all were great. Then my mother made me toss them out when we moved to SoCal. Today I could buy a new house from the sale of those comics, if I still had them.

But I became infatuated with Doc Savage novels by Kenneth Robeson (Lester Dent). Over a few years I manage to acquire an almost complete set of about 170 paperback books. He was my Model (Doc Savage) and I aspired to be just like him. I was about 17 then.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doc_Savage

Then I got drafted into the Army and my mother made me toss my collection. But this time I donated them to the local Library where others could enjoy them as much as I had. They promised to protect my collection. They Lied. On return from Vietnam I went to the Library to see how they had fared and found them all gone. The Library did not consider them to be real literature, being paper back books and all. They instituted a book exchange.. check out a paper back and return a paper back... that's all.

Almost overnight all the great Science Fiction paper back books (including my whole Doc Savage Collection) were exchanged for copies of Jane Eyre.. that specific story students were forced to purchase from the school's bookstore for English class. All those novels by some of the greatest minds, that influence kids like me to take an active interest in Science, Technology, Cosmology and such.. taken out of circulation by a plebeian minded Librarian. Not that I'm knocking Jane Eyre of course. I don't even remember that story (that I was forced to read in high school). It had no lasting impact on me nor most of my fellow students.

Anyway, imagine my thrill when years later I got wind they were making a Doc Savage movie. Yippie! Once again, the plebeian mindset prevailed and the movie was a joke. It totally failed at the box office. Had they treated it seriously, they could have made a fortune. But you can't fix stupid. Like comparing the Joker from the Batman TV series with the Joker played by Jack Nicholson in the Movies. They could have done it right but the Movie turned my beloved hero into a shallow cartoon.

I was very excited to see my favorite comics (sorry.. Graphic Novels.. lol) brought to the big screen and treated well. Hollywood made a fortune. At least the TV series of "The Hulk" was given some respect. "You don't want to make me mad.."

I hear another one of my favorite novels is in the works heading for the big screen.. "Have Space Suit, Will Travel." by Heinlein. I hope they do it justice.

But my most favorite all time Science Fiction series has to be E.E. Doc Smith's Lensmen series.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lensman_series

When reading those, my mind was totally blown. I thought about what kind of impact that series could have on a receptive audience. I knew they could never do those books justice so many years ago.. too complex to portray on the big screen. But today.. I have high hopes!

Ok, enough of a rant for now from yours truly...

Best wishes,
Dave :^)
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Braininvat on December 3rd, 2014, 12:45 pm 

I hear another one of my favorite novels is in the works heading for the big screen.. "Have Space Suit, Will Travel." by Heinlein. I hope they do it justice.


Me, too. Heinlein has had some fairly good adaptations to the big screen, e.g. Starship Troopers and Destination:Moon. I also saw Puppet Masters, in the 90s, don't recall liking it much - it seemed to leave out several key elements of Heinlein's novel.

Never read the pulp novels you mention, now you make me wonder if I missed something.

That sci-fi trade for Jane Eyre story is kind of funny and sad, though I don't suppose those old paperbacks with the high-acid paper would have lasted for too long, anyway.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Braininvat on December 13th, 2014, 10:25 pm 

Just saw the 2013 british film, "The Machine," a solid effort at the AI thriller, with a heartfelt and touching consideration of the first AIs that will pass the Turing test, and how they may respond to human attempts at exploitation. If you liked Blade Runner, you may find this of interest. Streams on Netflix.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby life_sucks on December 14th, 2014, 1:53 am 

Nobody mentions Iron Man........ :C
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby msklystron on December 15th, 2014, 9:50 pm 

If any author could inspire any reader to delve deeper in an area of science, it's Robert J. Sawyer. He knows how to explain complex concepts in lay terms better than anyone.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Braininvat on December 16th, 2014, 11:58 am 

Agree.

Welcome back, MsK.

I think many here would really enjoy Sawyer, who is Asimovian in his clarity, and explores cutting edge trends in science.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby msklystron on December 16th, 2014, 1:00 pm 

Robert J. Sawyer is also alive and prolific, writing stories exploring current science.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby wolfhnd on December 16th, 2014, 4:02 pm 

Not exactly science fiction but I watched the first episode of Black Mirror

The story line is > Princess is kidnapped, kidnapper demands that the prime minister have sex with a pig on live TV in return for her safe return.

I found it profoundly relevant to issues like the effects of social media and social mores and values.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby msklystron on December 17th, 2014, 2:46 am 

12 Monkeys...the TV series? Loved the movie. It's a work of art. So I'm really hoping THEY (no 'showrunner') don't wreck it.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby dlorde on December 17th, 2014, 5:36 am 

William Gibson has a new futuristic novel out called 'Peripheral'. Not quite as sharp as his early work according to a review I read; I'll wait for the softback.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Braininvat on December 17th, 2014, 3:12 pm 

I liked his early cyberpunk - Neuromancer, Count Zero, Johnny Mnemonic, Virtual Light, but then kind of lost interest. His characters were often too opaque for me, and the overall feel too stylized. Really, there are passages in his work that are so stylish and slick, that they kind of distract me from what's really going on. Yeah, I'm going to wait and see on any more WG stuff.


Only SF tv I've checked out lately is Warehouse 13 which seemed like a ripoff of the The Librarian series of tv movies, the same blend of Indiana Jones and the X-Files. The male lead seems to have emotional makeup of a 10 year old. It does have the always watchable Saul Rubinek, but that's not enough to hold me.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Braininvat on December 17th, 2014, 3:18 pm 

Black Mirror - oh this looks good, some nuanced techno-paranoia. And i see it's being added to Netflix streaming, so will mos def check it out. And the nutshell I read suggested it has some resonance with the old Twilight Zone series, so I think it qualifies for this thread, Wolf.

Sci-fi threads and fora always end up loosening their boundaries a bit, anyway.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Braininvat on January 23rd, 2015, 11:35 am 

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/j ... est-review


Utterly absorbing. Priest doesn't wrap up the mysteries in a tidy package for you. I'm not sure but what the use of quantum mechanics is
bogus, but the possibility of a quantum weapon is thought provoking.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Paralith on January 23rd, 2015, 2:01 pm 

I think many of you would greatly enjoy The Martian by Andy Weir, if you haven't heard of it already. It's a hard science survivor story on Mars. It was originally self published by the author, and much to his surprise it blew up on Amazon and he was approached by a big publisher and offered a movie deal in rapid succession. The reviews on the jacket are full of extreme praise, which I'm not sure I would say the same, but it's certainly a fun read. And many of you will no doubt appreciate the good science in it.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Braininvat on April 3rd, 2015, 11:44 am 

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=OTfBH-XFdSc

Another excellent selection from the Honest Trailers series.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby vivian maxine on April 3rd, 2015, 12:22 pm 

Asimov and Clark were instructive but the one I truly enjoyed for just good old-fashioned fun was McCaffrey's Dragon Riders of Pern. Light, fast reading but also within the realm of possibility a few generations from now. I like scifi that has a possibility of happening in the future. Ben Bova and Greg Bear were very good at that and I learned a lot about the planets at the same time. Especially enjoyed Moving Mars.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Moonguy on April 8th, 2015, 11:44 am 

Asimov and Clarke had talent for telling entire stories that were engaging within formats of about 176 pages. I usually read these in a day. In contrast, Kim Stanley Robinson's Red/Green/Blue Mars trilogy failed to hold my interest as it was so full of unneeded details.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby vivian maxine on April 8th, 2015, 11:49 am 

Moonguy » April 8th, 2015, 10:44 am wrote:Asimov and Clarke had talent for telling entire stories that were engaging within formats of about 176 pages. I usually read these in a day. In contrast, Kim Stanley Robinson's Red/Green/Blue Mars trilogy failed to hold my interest as it was so full of unneeded details.



I don't care for those books with so much of unnecessary detail. We seem to be getting a lot of that nowadays. Right down to describing the clothing they are wearing and the food they are eating. Maybe they get paid by the word?
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Darby on April 8th, 2015, 12:13 pm 

I've always gravitated towards high-brow hard scifi authors like Frank Herbert, Robert L. Forward, Issac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Larry Niven, Gene Wolfe, etc. However, I've found just as much enjoyment from action scifi and science fantasy like E.E. "Doc" Smith and the classic pulps by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I used to be a hardcore SF/F junkie for many years (2-3 books per week), but I no longer read anywhere near as much as I used to (only 1-2 per year now).
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Moonguy on April 8th, 2015, 1:05 pm 

Somehow the idea has taken hold among sci-fi writers that it is about the science. Star Trek never had a single 'hard' science moment in the entire series, but it succeeded because people THOUGHT it did. Many were enchanted by the story lines, the science being incidental.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Darby on April 8th, 2015, 1:44 pm 

Moonguy » April 8th, 2015, 1:05 pm wrote:Somehow the idea has taken hold among sci-fi writers that it is about the science. Star Trek never had a single 'hard' science moment in the entire series, but it succeeded because people THOUGHT it did. Many were enchanted by the story lines, the science being incidental.


I understand the point you're trying to make, but I feel it's only true for certain authors, not the genre as a whole. There always has been, and always will be, a spectrum of Scifi that spans from hard to soft, depending on the knowldge and stylistic preferences of the authors.

As for Star Trek not containing any hard science, I have to call you out on that. Granted that Star Trek doesnt fall that deep into the hard scifi end of the spectrum but overall it's not as soft as you portray, and every episode had its own set of writers so they ran the spectrum. It bears keeping in mind that some of the things we take for granted today were pure science fiction back in the late 1960's (when I was a kid) ... long range communicators being the predecessor of modern satellite-driven cellphones, medical telemetry devices, references to xenobiology & eugenics, computers with voice recognition capability and even artificial intelligence, shuttle craft able to transit between the surface and orbit, ion drive, collapsed states of matter, super viruses, deepspace interstellar navigation, etc ... and that's just the 1960's original series.

In TNG & DS9 & Voyager we see things like advanced cybernetics and AI, advanced holographics, a dyson sphere episode, an einstein-rosen bridge, binary star systems and type 1A supernovae (not just science fiction but science fact !), various theoretical spatial pnenomenoa, solar sail technology, et al.

Hardly soft ...
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Moonguy on April 8th, 2015, 2:27 pm 

I do see your point. Ironic too, as TOS was my favorite show when I was a kid - evidently the same time period when you were. Care should be taken to appreciate we are talking about a TV show(s) designed primarily to entertain and generate revenue. Not necessarily for teaching principle science. Something had to give. . . !
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Braininvat on July 24th, 2015, 6:13 pm 

Reading "Redshirts" by John Scalzi. Have ruined an entire drawerful of underwear. Hysterical. If you have ever felt the minutest urge to mock any aspect of the Star Trek franchise, you will enjoy watching a master at work.

(And check out Scalzi's "Lock-in," an engrossing sci-fi murder mystery which was my introduction to this author....)
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Darby on July 24th, 2015, 9:13 pm 

Star Trek parodies are right up my alley ... we did a lot of them on my old site. Some were pretty epic ... too bad a lot got garbled in a forum migration, or id link a few choice ones.
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Re: science fiction - general discussion

Postby Braininvat on July 26th, 2015, 4:54 pm 

Finished Redshirts. For me, it succeeds as metafiction as well as the classic (and immensely challenging) "Pale Fire" by Nabokov, sometimes considered as the model of modern metafiction. Scalzi doesn't break the Fourth Wall, he demolishes it with Semtek and blows off the roof of the theater while he's at it. Anyone who has suffered through badly and implausibly constructed tv sci-fi, not just Trekkies, will find Redshirts intensely satisfying and belly laugh inducing.

And parodists like Darby will no doubt find points of mockery already familiar to them, given rich new scope.

Wonderful read. The are 3 codas, after the novel, which could be viewed as optional, but I wouldn't skip them, either.
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