SFNF: Heinlein addenda from The Science Fiction Novel

Addenda to previous post.

Every time I write up notes based on my reading, something else lingers in the back of my mind that seems especially significant a day or two later. Here’s a couple from the Heinlein essay in THE SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL.

On page 19, he mentions among his examples of fantasy, “any story based on violation of scientific fact, such as space ship stories which ignore ballistics…” Star Wars, anyone? What would Heinlein think?

On a similar note, p29, he cautions that a writer of speculative fiction needs to keep himself informed.

It is not enough to interlard an old plot with terms like “space warp,” “matter transmitter,” “ray gun,” or “rocket ship” with no knowledge of what is meant (if anything) by such terms, or how they might reasonably work.

This was perhaps a fair statement in 1957 — yet, on what bases did anyone in 1957 think a space warp or matter transmitter might work? Star Trek, anyone, only a decade later?

But the true point is that, here in 2017, we are surrounded by technology which virtually no one knows, except for the technicians who built individual items, how they work. This is another theme I’ve been teasing: in a sense we live in a world of magic. In Heinlein’s era, technical guys tinkered on their cars, or on radio transmitters, and might plausibly have repaired their TVs. Today? No way. Everything has gotten too complex. Technical guys tinker with apps, or play video games, but how many of them can fix their own cars?

A consequence of this is that all science fiction, especially the popular enterntainment SF Heinlein thought would never happen, depend on technological tropes, assumptions of technological devices that may or may not every appear, and no one pretends to understand how they might actually work.

On the other hand… we do see occasionally speculative physics developments that tease at the plausibility of matter transmitters and space warps. I’m not able to judge whether or not these are merely wishful thinking… based on reading and watching the science fiction of decades ago.

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