Woes of SciFi Writers

The problem with stories like Battle Star Galactica, Lost, etc. is that they don’t make sense to begin with.

BSG: The Cylons are an artificial race. They don’t need air, water, food. They can live everywhere. Unlike the humans, the few life-supporting planets in the galaxy mean nothing to them. So why bother attacking the humans when you can just go away, start hundreds or thousands of civilizations all over the galaxy and ignore the 13 human worlds?

They might attack one day? So what? By that time, the Cylons will outnumber them a billion to one. They could even simply ignore any human attacks without any noticeable loss. Humans killed a million Cylons? Meh …

So the core issue in the story (human vs. Cylons) is buggy.

And that’s the core problem of all SciFi stories: they simply don’t make sense to begin with. It’s an intrinsic problem.

The motto of the human race is boundless growth. What’s going to happen when we can travel to distant stars? We put colonies there. For what end? We will accumulate more knowledge but each individual being will know a lot about a tiny fraction of all the lore. There will be people who will have to split their bank accounts over several institutes because the numbers will be too big for their ancient mainframe software to cope with. For what? What’s the point of endless growth? Our greedy parts say “go-go-go” but our ratio asks “why?”

Life’s answer: There is no boundless growth. Natures rules make sure that everything that got too big gets killed or kills itself. In a way, the climate skeptics are the next big stumbling block on the road to the future (after the bankers failed a few years ago). Life is in cycles.

Of course, this doesn’t make a good story. People are disappointed when their love doesn’t grow out of all proportions after they marry. Well, duh. How did you plan to fit epic emotions into your tiny skull? How did you plan to love someone more than “with all your heart”? Get a second one? Get a brain!

So as a writer, I’m stuck between a stone and a hard place: I can make the story realistic but that’s boring. Imagine getting the Galactica battle ready. Thousands of people have to do millions of things. Getting that into the story would fill 5-10 episodes just to get an overview. Finding the right kind of ammunition. Hauling it to the Vipers. Fitting the Vipers. Looking through 517 pages of preflight preparation checkpoints. It would bore people to death. So they get to see Adama yell “BATTLESTATIONS” + 10 seconds of pure panic on the flight deck.

If you know a bit about physics, then you know that the only reasonable weapon in space is a laser. If you can move a ship the size of the Galactica, you can power one big, mean laser (or ten). With that laser, you can slice and dice a Cylon battlestar before it comes close enough to fire any projectiles on you. Even if it manages to fire its projectile weapons, you can easily evade them after cutting the damn platform to bits. Afterwards, you take the same laser to fry the small fighters which the battlestar dropped long before they can get to full acceleration. And the torpedoes and rockets, too. Without deploying a single Viper. Vipers are stupid, physically speaking. They are slow, they need to take fuel and bullets along, they have a human pilot (fragile and slow), they need to waste space on a cockpit, air recycling. And they are easy to find: They have a long trail of the stuff that comes out of the exhausts. That trail is pretty easy to make out in space where there is nothing else (oh, yeah, radiation from stars a few light years away). It’s like a big pointer for the enemy radar saying: “HIT HARD HERE!”

Looking at this from an angle of reality and physics, a space battle would work like this: Everyone would be invisible because the monent you get noticed, you’re dead (try to outrun a laster that travels with 300’000km/s and possibly an angular velocity that is even greater). In a TV episode, you’d see space, full of stars and nothing else. No ships, no heroic battles, no impressive last stands, no dodge-fights. Several minutes, nothing would happen. Then suddenly, something would blow up. All survivors on the other side would fire on the spot where that shot came from. 13 seconds later, everyone would be dead or dying. How does that sound? Boring. Oh, and no survivors. The first space battle would also be the last. A TV show with one episode. A book with ten pages.

That’s why SciFi stories have to be unrealistic.

One Response to Woes of SciFi Writers

  1. Julian says:

    Hello. While I very much enjoyed reading your article, I don’t agree with you about sci-fi stories having to be unrealistic in order to be entertaining. You are correct that Vipers are stupid, but so are the Cylon Raiders, especially the one from the original series. Why does it take three Cylon Centurions to pilot a Raider? Heck, you don’t even need one Cylon Centurion when the Raider can pilot all by itself in the first place! Space fighters such as Vipers and Raiders don’t make sense at all because all those fancy-pansy maneuvers waste unnecessary fuel and the battle would be over in mere minutes. To get an idea, just look at the NASA space shuttle to see why it requires two boosters and a huge fuel tank just to get it into space. Anyway, my point is, it is possible to write realistic space combat scenarios while still making it fun and exciting, but to do that, we have to steer away from the old WW2 tactic mindset. Heck, we don’t even use it anymore and dogfights have become a thing of the past for over 60 years, and now fighter jets can destroy each other well outside visual range. The film “The Hunt for Red October” is a prime example of how space combat will really be like: outside of visual range with stealth using passive sensors. It proved that it can be realistic and just as exciting as any Hollywood movie, it all depends on the writer. Speaking of which, I’m currently working on my own version of Galactica which ditches the vipers and raiders altogether. :)

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