The quest for original science in Science Fiction: Part Two

Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov (Source: US Library of Congress, public domain)

I’ve realized now that when I titled my previous editorial I left it too vague. I am looking for the originality in Science Fiction’s science. It’s been corrected.

I used an example that I thought relatable to people of all ages because I really prefer my sci-fi approachable (be aware that doesn’t mean dumbed-down just familiar), so I thought Alien would be current pop culture. That being said, there are other concepts that deserve mentioning, so I’ll go over a few.

I’m not going to number them because I don’t want to turn my blog into those clone sites that only makes lists. Also, please imagine everything I write is preceded by the words, “in my humble opinion”. It’s a blog, that is implied.

The best possible original concept in Science Fiction would be to create a science that doesn’t exist yet but seems like it could in the future. Examples abound, but a personal favorite is Isaac Asimov’s Psychohistory from his Foundation series.

PSYCHOHISTORY – … Gaal Dornick, using nonmathematical concepts, has defined psychohistory to be that branch of mathematics which deals with the reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli…
… Implicit in all these definitions is the assumption that the human conglomerate being dealt with is sufficiently large for valid statistical treatment. The necessary size of such a conglomerate may be determined by Seldon’s First Theorem which… A further necessary
assumption is that the human conglomerate be itself unaware of psychohistoric analysis in
order that its reactions be truly random…
The basis of all valid psychohistory lies in the development of the Seldon Functions which
exhibit properties congruent to those of such social and economic forces as…

– Isaac Asimov, Foundation

This concept is literally a fictional science. I remember the first time I read these words and thought to myself blown away by the possibility that such a feat could exists. Hari Seldon is the central character that envisions this science. Before someone tries to derail me here, I know he receives some help. Please don’t quote Prelude to Foundation to me.

I particularly love how Asimov goes as far as explaining an actual analogy, Using the idea of gas, he writes about how independant molecules of gas are impossible to predict but masses of the such molecules do have actions predictable with a high level of accuracy. He applies that to individuals and very large masses of people such as the Galactic Empire.

Making up a science is not difficult. Making it believable to the point that you can derive concepts from actual science to explain it, that’s Science Fiction to me.

Asimov is also responsible for another fictional science, robopsychology, introduced in his Robot saga. Also introduced in those books were The Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

– Isaac Asimov, Runaround (short story from I, Robot)

The Zeroth Law and the 4th law would be added later, as well as additional material – which only augments the value of this concept. You can draw parallels to human morals, you can envision artificial intelligence psychology, you wouldn’t be the first nor the last. Anything that remotely relates to artificial life either agrees, disagrees, challenge and modifies these. Any work of fiction that involves robots acknowledges the Laws of Robotics to a certain degree.

Arthur C. Clarke would take Science Fiction even further by expanding on ideas proposed by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Herman Potočnik regarding setting up artificial satellites in orbit around Earth. He described the use of satellites to establish a communication network, including launch logistics and orbits in detail in 1945. This is hard Science Fiction at its best. What blows my mind is that the idea of launching an artificial satellite was explored by Jules Verne back in 1879 and he was not the first one to do so.

As a matter of fact, the further we go back the more speculative science we find. H. G. Wells for instance, besides of dreaming of space visitors who travel to our world in War of the Worlds, was also exploring the possibility of time travel with The Time Machine and perfect camouflage with The Invisible Man. It was certainly wild, and seemingly impossible at the time yet visionary of him.

I have to mention Jules Verne here as well. Space travel and low gravity scenarios are depicted in From the Earth to the Moon and he even talks about the basics of underwater immersion and envisions the modern submarine in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In that novel he actually goes into electricity and batteries a great deal, further than many would have considered possible in that time. Try reading the Submarine Technology of Jules Verne.

Yes, we can go on and on. We would never grok everything… Yes, at least I had to mention that word and concept by Robert Heinlein. I would be a fool to mention Asimov and Clarke and not him.

I’ve barely skimmed the surface and probably skipped your favorite author. I’m sorry. But you do know what I’m talking about now. HARD Science Fiction in contemporary science fiction is scarce. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy other aspects of Sci-Fi like the way it’s used to bring light to current political and sociological aspects of our current society. I do enjoy the space operas of our time as well.

Taking all that into account, I wouldn’t mind seeing at least one element of something resembling a new scientific idea hit the mainstream anytime soon – or at least some level of exposure. If you’re willing to correct me and tell me I’ve missed one, you will be blessed if you give me a current example because I’m dying to know. Even if it lies in some obscure waters, I’m willing to swim towards it.

That will do for now.

(Sources: Foundation, Runaround, Arthur C. Clarke (Wikipedia), Stranger in a Strange Land, War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, From the Earth to the Moon, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Submarine Technology of Jules Verne (US Navy)

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  1. #1 by Tom Elias on September 9, 2013 - 11:51 am

    Good piece here. I like to think of myself as a ‘hard SF’ guy, but I’ve never gone to the Asimov level of inventing a science that doesn’t exist.

    • #2 by The Editor on September 9, 2013 - 11:28 pm

      Thank you!

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