What makes for good SciFi?

Discussion in 'SciFi & Fantasy' started by 1DIEM, Mar 1, 2005.

  1. 1DIEM Registered Member

    I have been very interested in Star Wars since I was a boy. I also grew to love Star Trek: TNG.

    I also like some fantasy material. I was wondering, what is it that makes some SciFi great and others just average or even poor?
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  3. madanthonywayne Morning in America Registered Senior Member

    A combination of good writing and an interesting premise. Either one alone can make a good book, but great SciFi needs an idea that just grabs you, an idea you've kinda wondered about yourself. Then it needs to be well executed. I've read books where the back cover sounds fascinating, but the writer doesn't do the idea justice. Conversely, some writers are good, but without that initial concept, you don't get that sence of wonder, that sence of limitless possibilities that defines great sciFi.
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  5. Dru DP Registered Member

    The same things that make any other good movie - writing, acting, directing, etc... The differences though are that sci-fi typically places more emphasis on the story and the writing than on the acting, although it doesn't have to, and the really great sci-fi won't. Also good sci-fi requires great special effects, costumes, makeup, props and set design. ST and SW wouldn't be anything without those 5 things. For sci-fi in particular though, the writing is of upmost importance, since it has to be original and science-fiction enough to draw the viewer into a tale of fantasy, and yet at the same time be believable enough so that the viewer doesn't just pass it off as rediculous.
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  7. 1DIEM Registered Member

    Thanks for all of your comments.

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    I fully agree with you here, but I have seen some SciFi that is totally unbelievable and absurd. Some issues of Star Trek come to mind for some reason.

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    So I guess it is more difficult for a writer to make a good SciFi book over other fiction books.
  8. Disco-neck Ted Registered Senior Member

    What makes good sci fi? Explosions. Lots and lots of explosions.

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    Unless you *don't* live in Hollywood.

    No, good sci fi explores what it means to be human. More generally, it should be original, imaginative, and have good characterization. And scintillating dialogue, or at least believeable dialogue, is also nice.
  9. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member


    Better writers makes the big diffference.
  10. Thor "Pfft, Rebel scum!" Valued Senior Member

    A great SciFi is one that is full of ideas, one that allows the viewer/reader/gamer think of the possibilities outside of what they're seeing. Making them want to know more about something.

    Not only do the ideas have to be interesting, they have to have some fact in them. Something that has been researched and screened to be factually flawless. No matter how small a niggle. A good SciFi writer is one who can accept that a 'cool' idea cannot be true and must be sacrificed for the greater good. It'll be like a WW2 movie where the Allied soldiers can take 50 bullets in the chest because you want them to win. It just doesn't happen in real life and real life isn't here to please us all. So we have to accept what's given and lump it.

    To me, a good SciFi movie builds itself on people's culture. Be it cyberpunks or noble space knights. Also, having a kick-ass futuristic special forces unit doesn't go amiss either (Spirits Within, Aliens, etc).

    On a final note. A good SciFi stays clear away from time travel completely. Andromeda being my only exception to the rule. Stargate be damned!
  11. Beryl WWAD What Would Athelwulf Do? Registered Senior Member

    Stargate didn't involve time travel, precisely...
  12. Thor "Pfft, Rebel scum!" Valued Senior Member

    I'm not sure I understand your post, Beryl. It can be taken in quite a few ways, could you please elaborate?

  13. onewiththeuniverse onewiththeuniverse Registered Senior Member

    And don't forget the explosions
  14. 1DIEM Registered Member


    You all are funny. I like watching SciFi movies if they are believable too. I just can't get into a lot of this stuff because it is too far fetched.

    What about aliens that look different? Things like Star Trek where they had dozens of different life-forms? If done well, do they make for good SciFi?
  15. Thor "Pfft, Rebel scum!" Valued Senior Member

    Well we can't argue that the Xenomorphs in Alien/s/etc are among the best designed aliens of all time. Why? Because at the time it was unique and very, very scary. The ultimate killing machine in a bipod form but not at all humanoid.

    Most of the aliens in Star Trek or Star Wars are extremely cliched and have as much imagination in them as a George Bush joke.

    Ah, just thought of something. The Thing. Very original and invoked such a sense of emotion...incredible.
  16. Xylene Valued Senior Member

    I agree with Thor; most of the aliens in Star Trek just have something done to their ears, or have strange coloured skin, or horns--now E.T., he (she?) looked alien. Some did some of those wierdos from the Star Wars cantina scene. I mean, there are creatures on Earth which look more alien than anything you see on Star Trek.

    I dunno that time travel is such a bad idea; OK it's hackneyed as hell, but so are most other things about sci-fi. Once the main story-lines of the genre were worked out, the rest was essentially repetition with variations. What I suggest is that if the Galaxy gets filled up with Humans, the next expansion of Humanity don't all leap out into the Great Deep Beyond, but they travel back in time and take over different versions of the galaxy--in some of which they haven't yet left Earth, or may not even have evolved.
  17. Thor "Pfft, Rebel scum!" Valued Senior Member

    Seriously, if you've seen the series finale of season 8 of Stargate, you'll understand why time travel should not be dealt with in SciFi. Most SciFi writers can't grasp the concept well enough to do it.

    Also, in the graphic novel, Glimmer Rats (2000AD), humanity gave up on space travel since it was deemed impractical (which makes sense, nearest star with the potential for life nurturing variables is how many light years away?). So instead of expanding into space, they expanded into dimensions. Downfall is they wiped out most of the UK and opened a doorway to what seems like hell. Anyway, this was a good step for SciFi. Took a new direction.

    That last sentence of yours, Xylene, reminds me of the Kromags from Sliders

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  18. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member


    Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five a great SF book.

    I suppose that once upon a time, this novel must have seemed terribly arch or ironic. Perhaps it is simply a function of living in the Decade of Irony, but now it just seems fairly sophomoric.

    Billy Pilgrim, a WWII vet & optometrist, has come loose in time. He pops back & forth from Dresden during the fire bombing, to the planet Tralfamadore--where aliens have placed him & film star Montana Wildhack in a zoo, to the future where he is assassinated. This all provides Vonnegut with a hip & trippy way to comment on life, but becomes pretty tedious. Vonnegut is one of those authors, like Robert Ludlum, where the first book of his you read is always your favorite & you gradually realize that every subsequent one you read is identical to the first--we'll call this the Ludlum Factor.


    If you're going to read one Vonnegut, this one should be it.
  19. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    I agree: What do you think of the following idea, which also has a serious purpose, trying to help the western world?

    There have been many "cosmic disaster" stories, some made into movies. Unfortunately, most require something from space (usually an asteroid or comet) to hit the Earth and this is not very probable, in the time period of interest to us.

    Dark matter excepted, perhaps, the most common objects in the universe are small black holes. The cores of stars bigger than about 6 solar masses end up as stellar-core black holes. There have been many generations of stars before the sun was born. Back in the early history of the universe, it was much smaller. Then the gas clouds, from which stars form, were much more dense. Then as now, most gas clouds formed pairs of stars. (If only one were formed, it would need to rotate too rapidly to collapse enough to gravitationally heat to fusion temperatures. Also the density within the gas cloud is not uniform, so typically the two most dense regions eat up most of the gas to form a pair of gravitationaly bound stars, rotating about their common center of mass. Being big, they rapidly age into Black Holes pairs.)

    Thus, probably at the present age of the universe, the most common objects in the universe are gravitationally-bound, small, black hole pairs. (all those prior generations of big stars are now "stellar core" BHs with typically a few solar masses each.)

    What would happen if one with 3 solar masses should pass "near" our solar system, say five times more distant than Pluto is from the sun and in the same azmuithical sector of the sky as Pluto, just to take a specific example? Well, since Pluto is in a relatively weak gravitational field of the sun, it could be strongly disturbed. Perhaps even its orbit plane would be tilted from the ecliptic. Neptune is also far from the sun. If not in too different a sector at the time of the BH's passage by our solar system, it too would be distrubed.

    To cut to the chase: In the late 1920s Neptune was distrubed. Based on this distrubance Perceivle Lowell predicted a unknown planet, "planet X," many times more massive than Earth, would be found roughly where Pluto was found a few years later. (He founded the Flagstaff observatory and hired someone whose sole task was to hunt for Planet X, and he did find Pluto.)

    For years it was assumed that Pluto had mass much greater than the Earth, as this is necessary for it to make the observed perturbations to Neptune (from Pluto's orbit, which is always at least 17AU from Neptune). We now know Pluto is in fact smaller than the moon. It was hard work searching a specified region of the heavens plus luck that found Pluto. It would not have taken so long as it did to find if Pluto's orbit plane were essentially in the ecliptic, like all others are.

    Now back to the fact that stellar-core BHs come in pairs: The thesis of Dark Visitor is that the second memeber of this "1928/2008 pair" of stellar-core BHs will pass thru solar system in 2008. The good news is: it has only 2.2 solar masses. The bad news is: it misses the Earth by only 12 times the distance to the sun (A 12 AU miss is much more likely than the "direct hit" concept of other "cosmic disaster" stories.)

    I used the Dark Visitor story as a vehicle to teach a lot of physics, without the reader being aware how much he / she is learning. All the physics and a lot about climate is all woven into the story. For example, Keppler's three laws are explained and used but never even named, certainly not taught like you will find in a normal text book. The Earth's orbit will be changed by a bout 10% after 2008. A permanent ice age developes, but unlike all prior ones, it is confined to the Northern Hemisphere. We Southern Hemispere dewellers get to live, no ice, but you would not believe the floods that wash away most of our cities.Explaining why all this is so is the vehicle I used to painlessly teach about the mechanism of climate.

    I am trying to recrute students to study physics. The western world has already lost technological leadership to hard working Asians and is process of losing scientific leadership as well. (Not because of cheap wages - people who can design a robot that can walk while playing a buggle don't come cheap.) Visit site www.darkvisitor.com to learn more, to get list of physics and climate painlessly taught, and see how to read entire book for free. (My motive for writing it is as stated, not profit of fame. - Billy T, the primary author of Dark Visitor, is not my real name.

    The book's astronomer, Jack, provides most of the physics as he explains it to Billy T. The climate information comes from their mutual friend, George, brother of Jack's wife, who worked for NOAA. (Jack is too busy looking for slight deflections of background stars as the approaching BH passes in front (to refine the trajectory of approach) to write the book himself.) Jack and Billy T were college roomates at HARVARD, etc. Billy T tells about Jack's Ph.D astronomy project - another vehicle to painless teach physics, etc.

    It is called Dark Visitor because being a BH, it reflects absolutely zero sunlight - telescopes do not see it coming. It may be, and someday will, but probably not in 2008. The unexplained late 1920 disturbance of Neptune, may have been the first indication that our solar system would be visited by two gravitationally bound BHs, the most common objects that exists in the universe! If Neptune's pertubation was something else, it is still true that someday we will be visited by a pair of "dark visitors."

    PS Hope you do not think this spam. I am not trying to profit. At site www.DarkVisitor.com I tell how to read entire book for free. Also I am not trying for fame - Book's author is Billy T which is not my real name. I am only trying to give my grand children a choice of some jobs other than cutting someone's hair, selling fast food, etc. as by the time they join the adult workforce all the good jobs will have been exported to Asia if present trends continue.Tht site will list all the physics etc yo can painless learn by reading Dark Visitor and further explain /document my reasons for writting it.
  20. Nivao Ghost of Mirkwood Registered Senior Member

    Not the movie. SG-1 did dabble in time travel in a couple of episodes. Needless to say, those were the worst of them.

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    Except for 1969.

  21. psikeyhackr Live Long and Suffer Valued Senior Member

    STAR WARS is not science fiction. It is SPACE OPERA. FLASH GORDON level stuff.

    There should be some science or intellectually meaningful content to qualify as science fiction. STAR TREK fails this test often enough but it also includes valid information. There was an episode in ST:TNG called SOLITON WAVE. I learned to look things up from reading sci-fi for years. A soliton wave is used in data transmission. A long cable can distort the wave sent down it with varying attenuation and phase shift at different frequencies. This can be analyzed and electronics designed to put inverse distortion into the wave before it is sent and the cable takes it out leaving the original waveform. This is called a SOLITON WAVE.

    I've been in electronics for 30 years and I had never heard of it.

    That is GOOD sci-fi.

  22. Closet Philosopher Off to Laurentian University Registered Senior Member

    There are several elements that must go into any TV show or movie that will make it great. Star Trek broke some racial and stereotypical views and it was ahead of its time. I agree than some of the plots were completely ridiculous but it was a low budget show. Sci-fi will explore possibilities that are plausible in the future if the technology that is used was invented. It also needs a good balance of plots: come for character development, some to advance the story line, some where it will make the viewer say "cool" and out-of-the-box ideas as well. I think that one of the many reasons why Enterprise failed it bacause of poor plot balance.
    Good graphics, innovative storylines, believable aliens (not just the "evil for no reason"), decent sets, mediocre to good acting and good scripts and casting.
    Since I'm such a geek, I like SciFi that pulls real theories of physics, quantum mechanics and astronomy into the show and plays around with the what-ifs. I think that Enterprise (since it was cancelled) did not appeal to the intellectual viewer. It never asked too many questions about the nature of humanity, it didn't get into theoretical science, the scripts were geared toward a different type of people. One thing that I learned it that you need a hell of a good SciFi show to get non-Scifi watchers to enjoy it.
  23. jennyRater Luck B me 2nite Registered Senior Member

    Id agree with everything Closet says. Problem is theres so much shit + bad rep attachd to watching lots of sci fi that people often dont want to own up to it.. the ideal sci fi would become so popular, like daytime soaps but much brainier, that youd be thought ignorant for NOT watching it. No show could be designd that way + work.. its just a certain something that makes a TV series catch on with the public overall, like what some wanabe actors have + others dont. You might call it 'stardust' (or even 'spacedust'...)

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