Like to poke holes in science fiction? Take Princess Elsa’s advice

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A former colleague of mine, every time Star Wars was mentioned (which, since I was in the office, was pretty often) would automatically go into a diatribe that he can’t get into the movie because there’s no sound in space. That the entire saga was ruined for him because he couldn’t get over the fact that TIE fighters and the Millennium Falcon made noise when they traveled through the vacuum that is space. I was sad for him. Sad because he was so caught up in minutiae that it was so easy for him to dismiss one of the greatest tales of heroism, destiny and good vs. evil.

It can be difficult, though. For an analytic mind, it’s hard not to let reality creep into your enjoyment of a story. It’s hard even for a dedicated science fiction fan like myself to not appreciate the science-of-science-fiction specials on the deep cable channels – the ones that tell us that Superman hurtling his “man of steel” body at a falling Lois Lane at 30,000 mph would do far more damage to her than if she actually hit the ground. It’s hard to not let your mind wander to the very low probability that the mosquitoes that InGen found in pieces of amber actually bit various varieties of dinosaur before landing in tree sap.

Consequently, we all know that science fiction often provides real-world scientists inspiration to challenge the status quo in the search for innovation. Amazing how that works.

To enjoy science fiction the way it’s meant to be enjoyed, you have to – in the words of Princess Elsa and every little girl in America – let it go. “Suspension of disbelief” is a key to enjoying fiction, but especially to enjoying science fiction. And if science fiction offers holes for people to poke their fingers through, time travel takes the idea even further. Because time travel is all about interpretation. Forget about whether or not it’s possible – if you had that big a problem with it you wouldn’t be watching Looper in the first place, right? But how it happens, and what happens when you do it… Those things are easy topics of debate.

But the responsibility is not only on the viewer/reader to just deal with it. A great deal of it falls on the writer. There must not only be an air of believability in the science of the story, but there must be consistency. If the writer asserts something early in the story – no matter how debatable that assertion is – it’s her responsibility to stick to that assertion throughout. Having written three novels and a bunch of short stories involving time travel, I am a big believer in this, even as I read and watch other science fiction works. I actually want the “science” in my science fiction to be thought-provoking, and actually don’t mind if people disagree with what I’ve presented. But I don’t want people to let that debate distract them from the story and the characters. I’ll take the responsibility to be logical and be consistent. It’s the reader’s responsibility to accept that it’s science fiction.

Interestingly, I think professional wrestling is a great model. Millions of people across the world will accept and even ignore the fact that what they’re watching is scripted and the outcomes predetermined as long as the product is believable. Professional wrestling writers will have a performer get “injured” in the ring, though the entire world knows he’s actually taking six weeks off to film the next Avengers movie. No big deal. But if in the ring a punch misses the opponent by a foot and the guy still goes flying to the mat… The blogosphere will ignite with criticism.

Of course, some people like my former colleague can’t let it go and get past things like sound in space, which makes me think that perhaps science fiction just isn’t for them. Good thing there are other things to read.