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(io9)   The worst errors people make when inventing fictional alien worlds   (io9.com) divider line 148
    More: Interesting, aliens, Small Solar System body, tidal locking, desert planets, SETI Institute, Seth Shostak, greenhouse effect, plate tectonics  
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8594 clicks; posted to Geek » on 20 Feb 2014 at 9:22 PM (21 weeks ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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ZAZ [TotalFark]
2014-02-20 08:01:59 PM
Hal Clement came up with an interesting world in Starlight, a class of planet that was neither earthlike nor gas giant. Since the setting was an expedition to figure out how it came to be and how it worked, he didn't have to explain it and make himself look silly in hindsight.
 
2014-02-20 08:09:47 PM
Often the books are worlds better than most things you will find on TV.  I'm especially looking at you Star Trek where most planets seem to look like California.  (I mean for obvious reasons of cost but still.)
 
ZAZ [TotalFark]
2014-02-20 08:44:40 PM
Makh

I have been to California and I did not see many foam rocks. Other than that, I agree.
 
2014-02-20 08:52:10 PM

ZAZ: Hal Clement came up with an interesting world in Starlight, a class of planet that was neither earthlike nor gas giant. Since the setting was an expedition to figure out how it came to be and how it worked, he didn't have to explain it and make himself look silly in hindsight.


He makes it look easy, but the science of Mesklin was pretty tricky.

He also did a waterworld, as mentioned in TFA
ecx.images-amazon.com
Haven't read it.
 
2014-02-20 08:58:34 PM
Is reading i09 one of them?
 
2014-02-20 09:02:32 PM

Makh: Often the books are worlds better than most things you will find on TV.  I'm especially looking at you Star Trek where most planets seem to look like California.  (I mean for obvious reasons of cost but still.)


Technically there would be relatively few "class M" planets and relatively few alien species that look like humans with some latex on their face for the aforementioned budget reasons and they only have 40 minutes to tell a story and can't waste a lot of it talking about how weird everything is.
 
2014-02-20 09:11:59 PM
Breathable atmosphere
Earthlike gravity.


Makh: Often the books are worlds better than most things you will find on TV.  I'm especially looking at you Star Trek where most planets seem to look like California.  (I mean for obvious reasons of cost but still.)


Or in the case of Stargate, Vancouver.
 
2014-02-20 09:24:15 PM
Picking an improbable accent color for the v-neck jumpsuits the entire population wears?
 
2014-02-20 09:29:09 PM

fusillade762: Breathable atmosphere
Earthlike gravity.


Makh: Often the books are worlds better than most things you will find on TV.  I'm especially looking at you Star Trek where most planets seem to look like California.  (I mean for obvious reasons of cost but still.)

Or in the case of Stargate, Vancouver.


I always loved SG-1's forays into planet British Columbia
 
2014-02-20 09:29:43 PM
Plot comes first?

Or, "oh, another pointless world inhabited by slime and microbes! Yay!"
 
2014-02-20 09:36:08 PM

GreenAdder: Is reading i09 one of them?


No. That's a much more general mistake.
 
2014-02-20 09:38:12 PM
The biggest problem is assuming aliens would have anything to discuss with us.  We've been around as a technological civilization for about 200 years, as one with a written language for 6000 and in modern form for a few tens of thousands depending on what you count as modern.  The universe is 13.6 billion years old- even if you assume life could only evolve fairly recently (need a decent selection of metals for planets) you'd be lucky if the aliens were within a few million years of our civilization.  We'd have a hard time talking to people a few thousand years back- what happens with 10-20 million years of advancement?

James Alan Gardner has a great line in one of his books that comments that the older civilizations in his League of Peoples have billions of years of advancement over us-- "To call them Godlike would be demeaning"
 
2014-02-20 09:45:51 PM

Glockenspiel Hero: The biggest problem is assuming aliens would have anything to discuss with us.  We've been around as a technological civilization for about 200 years, as one with a written language for 6000 and in modern form for a few tens of thousands depending on what you count as modern.  The universe is 13.6 billion years old- even if you assume life could only evolve fairly recently (need a decent selection of metals for planets) you'd be lucky if the aliens were within a few million years of our civilization.  We'd have a hard time talking to people a few thousand years back- what happens with 10-20 million years of advancement?

James Alan Gardner has a great line in one of his books that comments that the older civilizations in his League of Peoples have billions of years of advancement over us-- "To call them Godlike would be demeaning"


Your fictional alien world is boring.
 
2014-02-20 09:47:36 PM
Kes's species always bothered me.  Live 9 years and only have 1 kid.
 
2014-02-20 09:49:53 PM
Dear all of science fiction:

The fictional make-believe worlds you use in your books as settings offend my Aspie anal fixation on exactitude based on the limited, speculative facts we surmise today which will be all proven wrong by next week.

Therefore I demand that all science fiction admit they suck and I am awesome.

Signed,

A. coont
 
2014-02-20 09:56:15 PM

fusillade762: Breathable atmosphere
Earthlike gravity.


Makh: Often the books are worlds better than most things you will find on TV.  I'm especially looking at you Star Trek where most planets seem to look like California.  (I mean for obvious reasons of cost but still.)

Or in the case of Stargate, Vancouver.


If you lower the production quality and charter some buses / semis you can afford more scenery.

I do remember Stargate tossing out "looks like they picked mostly planets like this" in the first episode or two. If there are tens of thousands of planets you can be picky.
 
2014-02-20 09:57:11 PM
Vonnegut is probably one of my favorite authors, and he has a quote which goes something to the effect of: "Like most science-fiction writers, Trout knew almost nothing about science."

I swear it ended with 'Because no one cares and it's not the point of the story anyway' but can't find the whole quote.

But the point is, Sci-fi isn't about 'science', otherwise we'd have nothing but 400 pages of scientific method and peer reviewed journals.  It's about science style magic as a medium for the story telling. And as such, the less you explain the science-magic-shiat, the better.
 
2014-02-20 09:57:29 PM
Solution to like 90% of that biatching:

Terraforming.  Typically you'd do it to force the planet into an earth-like state before putting people on it, and if you have the energy for mass resettlement across multiple light-years you pretty definitely have the energy and tech to send some robots to hard-set the climate and geology to oceans and wide-band temperate zones first.

You're welcome.
 
2014-02-20 09:59:05 PM
Gee... Science Fiction does things for the sake of looking good or sounding good, but isn't necessarily true in the real world?

And here I thought it was real, like wrestling, but instead it's fake, like boxing.
 
2014-02-20 10:09:18 PM
alien races being overtly similar to races/cultures of Earth.  too many distillations of asian, jamaican, european, african, etc. cultures as how Aliens act, sound, look.  comparison is inevitable but the not-even-trying-to-hide-the-association is done far too often.  that or im just always looking for it and don't realize it.  anyway, its the kind of thing that can instantly take me out of submersion into the story.
 
2014-02-20 10:11:33 PM
Forget screwing up the science about alien worlds, The Core manages to do it for own planet! Good job, Hillary Swank!
 
2014-02-20 10:11:59 PM

Sheseala: Kes's species always bothered me.  Live 9 years and only have 1 kid.


Thank you!  Every generation should be half the size of the one before it.

Kes was, what, 2 when the show started?  If the actress had stuck around she'd have died of old age during the finale.
 
2014-02-20 10:15:43 PM

Bondith: Kes was, what, 2 when the show started?  If the actress had stuck around she'd have died of old age during the finale.


She looked about 90 when she came back for one episode in the last season. Kind of a sad character really.
 
2014-02-20 10:16:17 PM

Bondith: Thank you!  Every generation should be half the size of the one before it.

Kes was, what, 2 when the show started?  If the actress had stuck around she'd have died of old age during the finale.


They handwaved it away as being an effect of the array FYI.


What they never explained is why they had a romantic subplot with a 2 year old.
 
2014-02-20 10:18:02 PM
Making the entire planet have a single, homogeneous climate?
 
2014-02-20 10:19:09 PM

Mugato: Makh: Often the books are worlds better than most things you will find on TV.  I'm especially looking at you Star Trek where most planets seem to look like California.  (I mean for obvious reasons of cost but still.)

Technically there would be relatively few "class M" planets and relatively few alien species that look like humans with some latex on their face for the aforementioned budget reasons and they only have 40 minutes to tell a story and can't waste a lot of it talking about how weird everything is.


Having them look similar makes sense if the story involves a master alien race progeny.
 
2014-02-20 10:21:30 PM

Nemo's Brother: Having them look similar makes sense if the story involves a master alien race progeny.


Yeah, that's Star Trek's excuse.
 
2014-02-20 10:29:15 PM

Suckmaster Burstingfoam: Dear all of science fiction:

The fictional make-believe worlds you use in your books as settings offend my Aspie anal fixation on exactitude based on the limited, speculative facts we surmise today which will be all proven wrong by next week.

Therefore I demand that all science fiction admit they suck and I am awesome.

Signed,

A. coont


You get a 'smart' and a 'funny'.

Honestly, if the planets in most sci-fi stories looked like 90% of the planets that probably exist, there would be no story.

I mean really. Aliens the characters can't interact with, much less understand; barren landscapes with poison atmospheres; no useful FTL or even convenient intra-system travel....

Even James Cameron knows how to make more interesting space movies than that.
 
2014-02-20 10:37:48 PM
I thought it said "inventing fictional alien words". jIQIp
 
2014-02-20 10:52:12 PM
I have to say, "Who farking cares?"

My wife used to train and raise horses. She would get a little upset when she would see movies where  horses would be running and whinny'ing at the same time, which they can't do.
It didn't bother me because I didn't know to know.
Same with this article.
As a past firefighter/EMT, I see people giving fake CPR on tv, but I don't farking care. Makes me laugh a little, but I wouldn't get all pissy if my wife didn't get mad also because it was wrong.

I've seen a lot of Farkers all butthurt about certain aliens on TV and movies, like Aliens having acid for blood, and I just think, you know, they're aliens. Maybe it has something I don't know about or something science doesn't know, and then I live my life and go on.

/Who farking cares.jpg
//not saying it was aliens, but...
 
2014-02-20 10:52:23 PM
With helpful picture of the CW's Star-Crossed
/Yeah that show sucks
 
2014-02-20 10:55:21 PM

legion_of_doo: Plot comes first?

Or, "oh, another pointless world inhabited by slime and microbes! Yay!"


It's entirely possible to leave those worlds out and spend time on the worlds where intelligent life makes sense. Written science fiction has been doing it for a long, long time.

I don't see this as a necessary feature of a good story, but it is entirely possible to tell a good story within logical constraints. All you have to do is leave out the boring parts.
 
2014-02-20 10:56:35 PM

WorkingInParadise: I thought it said "inventing fictional alien words". jIQIp


gregkihn.com
 
2014-02-20 11:00:02 PM

Zombie DJ: I have to say, "Who farking cares?"


I agree.. mostly. I don't give a shiat if the worlds in Star Trek don't make sense. I enjoy reading science fiction set on worlds that make sense, though. It would be nice to see a movie here and there in the same kind of setting. I won't pretend I don't enjoy the normal sort of thing, but I'd like to see something new.
 
2014-02-20 11:02:05 PM
I enjoyed Larry Niven's writeup in "N-Space" about how he and Pournelle built the worlds of "The Mote In God's Eye".

"MOTE is probably the only novel to have a planet's orbiatchanged to save one line."
 
2014-02-20 11:06:32 PM
Also, "orbit [space] changed" is now my favorite Fark filterism.
 
2014-02-20 11:09:08 PM

kroonermanblack: Sci-fi isn't about 'science', otherwise we'd have nothing but 400 pages of scientific method and peer reviewed journals.


That's called 'Hard' SF

Can't find an image, but one I remember was by Harry Turtledove and the cover had these blue space-werewolves on it. They had names like Thegun-Thegun Nug and it was virtually unreadable


/My rule of thumb: If you need to include three pages of names, locations and definitions before you start the story, I'm out
 
2014-02-20 11:10:00 PM
Jesus, they aren't "mistakes"... We need something we can relate to, otherwise, we'll think that they are too far off base, the planet will be uninteresting, or there just won't be enough habitable area to make the whole story worthwhile.

These people act like some of the best SciFi writers aren't actually scientists and engineers IRL.

What a stupid article.

And for the record, there are PLENTY of stories out there on worlds that can't support life, can barely support life, can only support it in a very limited zone, etc. These assholes need to read more.
 
2014-02-20 11:16:45 PM

Makh: Often the books are worlds better than most things you will find on TV.  I'm especially looking at you Star Trek where most planets seem to look like California.  (I mean for obvious reasons of cost but still.)


If you were in orbit of a planet would you choose to land a) somewhere that looks like Topanga Canyon Sate Park or b) Nome?
 
2014-02-20 11:19:14 PM

Good Behavior Day: Making the entire planet have a single, homogeneous climate?


George Lucas hates you.

As compared to the errors people make when inventing real alien worlds?

Naboo, please...
 
2014-02-20 11:28:14 PM

Mikey1969: Jesus, they aren't "mistakes"... We need something we can relate to, otherwise, we'll think that they are too far off base, the planet will be uninteresting, or there just won't be enough habitable area to make the whole story worthwhile.

These people act like some of the best SciFi writers aren't actually scientists and engineers IRL.

What a stupid article.

And for the record, there are PLENTY of stories out there on worlds that can't support life, can barely support life, can only support it in a very limited zone, etc. These assholes need to read more.


Kurt Vonnegut suggested some of the best sci-fi authors were horrible scientists.
 
2014-02-20 11:28:23 PM
To me, the biggest issue is gravity.

So many alien planets have earth-level gravity in films just because they cant afford the expense of shooting the entire thing in gravity that isnt 1.0.


Also, light color. Earth light is a very specific color, but people would be annoyed watching a move that was entirely in red or blue spectrum, so the cinamatographers just say "fark it, make it 5800 kelvin".
 
2014-02-20 11:29:56 PM

Brainsick: Can't find an image, but one I remember was by Harry Turtledove and the cover had these blue space-werewolves on it. They had names like Thegun-Thegun Nug and it was virtually unreadable


Your first mistake was picking up a book by Harry Turtledove.
 
2014-02-20 11:31:33 PM
img65.imageshack.us

A favorite.
 
2014-02-20 11:31:58 PM
Most alien planets with animal life would have gravity different from Earth's, and on a planet with 1/6th Earth gravity, or 6 times earth gravity, you'd have very very different looking animals.

On a low gravity planet, most everything would probably fly, since flying would be easy to do.  Your intelligent life form could be a 50 foot butterfly.  On a high gravity planet, everything would be small and squat and close to the ground, nothing would probably fly.
 
2014-02-20 11:32:18 PM
I love Doctor Who, but I hate the fact that everyone in the Universe is of British descent.  Ok, not everyone, but damn close.
 
2014-02-20 11:33:09 PM

LemSkroob: Also, light color. Earth light is a very specific color, but people would be annoyed watching a move that was entirely in red or blue spectrum, so the cinamatographers just say "fark it, make it 5800 kelvin".


Wellllllllllllllllllll... humans are going to be most comfortable with their colony worlds if they're around a K, G or F primary, because too much ultraviolet is bad and M stars are really dim. I think having the alien sunlight being close to 5800K is the least of many many other problems with live-action sci-fi.
 
2014-02-20 11:33:09 PM
Hence why Ringworld rocks.
 
2014-02-20 11:35:57 PM

LemSkroob: So many alien planets have earth-level gravity in films just because they cant afford the expense of shooting the entire thing in gravity that isnt 1.0.


Or worse, In Avatar Pandora is specifically stated to have lower gravity than Earth, but everything moves the same.

/And also higher atmospheric pressure
//Which is weird given the gravity, but somewhat plausible
 
2014-02-20 11:40:13 PM
Yeah, I always just assumed that was because humans would only be interested in planets that are very similar, or can be made to be very similar to Earth.  Same with the Aliens, we're probably not going to be that interested in lifeforms that aren't compatible with us.
 
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