Unobtainium: It's Not Just for Breakfast!

When does Unobtainium become Handwavium? Is one the depleted form of the other? Are they related like Inertron and Ultron? Are they like different colors of kryptonite?

Most people consider FTL flight to be Handwavium (or Unobtainium YMMV). It runs through most SF stories. In truth there's a lot more handwaving going on than you'd expect. Here's a number of hand waves that are accepted and don't even strain disbelief for most people. This is because (and politicians know this) people will believe anything for a good story.

1) Reactionless Drives -I'm including Trek and SW drives in this. Your ships turn off the warp/hyper/shunt drive, go STL, and  decide to peel and ... they go fast. No blast, no exhaust, no trail. Option: you have artistically glowing drive ports. Also there is no evidence 'impulse' or 'ion' drives have to do the flip over maneuver to decelerate. Ships also have invisible reaction control systems.

2) Superdense Fuel - Where the hell do these ships keep all their fuel? Raymond McVay thinks they have fuel compressed to dwarf star densities. Why not?

3) Artificial Gravity -Spaceships are hotels! Gravity control makes shooting a movie or television show much easier. We are nowhere close to manipulating or shielding the effects of gravity unless you want to create and tote around megatons of ultra dense matter. While I'm at it The Cloverfield Effect completely nerfed spin gravity! Movie makers seem to think any part of a station spinning is enough to generate gravity through the whole structure at whatever direction is convenient. Nope.

 4) Where's the Heat? -I'm guilty of this myself. Given the power in some of these ships they'd need heat radiators the size of a small moon (area wise). Instead we have a few brightly colored panels for what might be -artistic effect! Heat management is not easy in space! While we have made progress with superconducting materials, those are for electricity. There are no known thermal superconductors and precious little theory to support them (my ships vent plasma into hyperspace.)

5) Aliens That Are Our Peers -Insert Empire State Building, Ruler, Postage Stamp analogy here (tl;dr Aliens will either be insanely advanced or the Mark 1 stick is their all purpose tool/weapon). We have aliens with similar tech to our own in almost every story I see. This same inability to work out the odds sends millions to Las Vegas and Atlantic City every year.

6) Humanoid Aliens -There are too many. I'm sure there are other designs that work equally well or better. A few more Space Whales would be a welcome change. This originally had to do with the fact most actors for tv and film are humanoids -but we have CGI now!

7) Star Fighters -Winchell Chung, William Black, Ken Burnside, and many others said it far better and longer than me. We have AI that are beating pilots  in simulators now. You can have your small fast attack craft. But pilots would be more like drone controllers, managing many such craft and allocating their missions and resources (more like breaking ties the AIs get into voting for different solutions).

8) Universal Translators -Okay this falls more under a pet peeve than violating laws of physics or economy. Everyone can talk to everyone just fine. I blame Mr. Spock for this. Sure, maybe he was raised in a bi-lingual household as a hybrid (which really tests point #6 to destruction). But everyone spoke galactic or basic or whatever perfectly and even seemed to get a lot of what they call deep context, which only arises from an understanding of the speaker's culture! Okay maybe they have tiny ear piece translators. maybe the translators can work that fast and that good ... but there seems to be no delay as aliens (human and non-human) hold conversations. Now maybe the translators are good enough to be able to explain everything (so there is no danger in saying 'When I nod my head you hit it!') but that may take a moment or two.

Speaking from personal experience, just reading manga, written by other humans, I find I miss things. Any communication, any message, has layers of meaning. The first layer is the meaning of the words used. The other meanings are given by grammatical context (where you place a word gives clues to its importance) and cultural context. Cultural context is very arbitrary and aliens and humans have more than one culture. Words have different meanings even within the same language. Knocking someone up means entirely different things to Americans and British folks.

There are many beautiful stories written with all these features. I love many of them. Spock is my all time favorite alien! I want to fly a starfighter! I want fast easy travel without bothersome radiation and neutron activation!

The really good stories in my opinion are the ones that have interesting ways around these problems. Me, I try to get around stuff by invoking hyperspace. I get around the galaxy of humanoids by saying a humanoid race with incredible biotechnology was alone, wanted to have sex with other species and wasn't into bestiality. Usher in the great Uplift! Really it's as good a reason as any and my guys get to actually fool around with catgirls*.

I hang (ridiculously small) heat radiators on my craft wherever possible. It's a little nod to people like Luke Campbell and Winchell Chung. I'm saying, yeah I know the ship is impractical here -please move on.

*A disclaimer: my Lurrans are not cat people. I hate the trope of making an animal/human hybrid and ascribing every attribute of that animal to them. So Lurrans have a number of differences to cats. For one thing they possess prehensile tails. They can't exactly hang from them unless they're very athletic but there you go. For another thing they are not comfortable with personal violence (when you have claws, personal combat has a disturbing tendency to result in lost eyes, ears, and scars). Riasi, at least, is also ticklish and I don't think cats are. Anyway Wouldn't try it. I saw one attempt that went very wrong.


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