Saturday, January 24, 2015

Science Fiction With a Chewy Center

I have enjoyed SF in my time from every end of the Moh's Scale. If I had to name a preference I have a slight shying away from super hard SF. But that because some authors in my opinion spend too much time on the intricacies of the science they've written about. I like explosions better. Having said that I doubt I have the talent and knowledge to write a halfway decent hard SF story and I respect these authors immensely even if they are occassionally not my cup of tea.

But I do know a little science (in spite of the handicap of a liberal arts education). A story composed of pure handwavium is often dissatisfying to me. About the only exception to this is the Doctor Who series. Karen Gillian and Jenna Louise Coleman will excuse a lot of sins by themselves but the writing is awesome as well. I would shy away from running a Doctor Who roleplaying session though in spite of loving the series.

The reason is when technology can do darn near anything it's hard to create a good adventure (for me at least). You run the risk of railroading players on one hand or (worse) their getting hold of that magic tech and completely screwing up your universe.

So while I like handwavium and am sure we will create things in the future that look like handwavium today I think the magic tech should still have some bugs. It makes for interesting stories. Consistency would be nice too. If you have a handheld energy weapon that can vaporize a boulder fine. But if in the next breath you say the character's personal communicator is running out of juice I will cry bullshit, because that energy weapon must have energy storage up the wazoo.

Similarly if you have a miraculous device that bends the laws of nature, making it work perfectly under all conditions is a little greedy. So the Star Trek transporter doesn't work when the shields are up (in the original series anyway.) In Traveller we have the 100 diameter limit for jump drives (which lets us have exciting chases). Having a limit for a device and then talking your way out of it is lazy writing and lazy gm-ing. You're not being fair to your readers or players (it is also SOP for any of the Trek series after TOS.)

Engineering also has lots of ideas you can use for details. Maybe the blaster I design has radiator fins around the barrel to help with heat build up or a coolant tank under the barrel? Maybe your grav drive operates by thrusting against the mass of a planet and the farther away you are the more power it requires. Some attention to real world gadgets will make your magi-tech more believable.