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You have to carefully think things through. The main MacGuffinite for a hard SF universe is something valueable enough to make an extensive manned presence in space a paying proposition. The ratio of Unobtainium to Handwavium to Technobabble defines how "hard" your setting will seem to be to the reader. One of the reasons why I Ken Burnside love Mote in God's Eye is that they authors Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle have only two blatant pieces of handwavium the Drive and Field and they quite carefully worked out the ripple effects of them before using them.

Mote has a very high Unobtainium quotient, as does a lot of Heinlein's space fiction. The Exordium series has a lot of well reasoned out Handwavium that's applied consistently, but has very little that's directly constrained by Unobtainium A chief example of Unobtainium is the Tenno glyphs. It also uses very little technobabble, though it uses some mostly when dealing with aliens. Most of the Lensman series can be seen as Pure Technobabble with a bit of Handwavium thrown in to anchor it in plausibility.

Star Trek and most television SF is a mixture of pure technobabble and some handwavium. Things work because they make the plot work. Things fail because if they don't the plot fails. Written SF that adheres, or tries to adhere, to plausible science and technology. For obvious reasons, plausible is pretty much in the eye of the beholder.

It is also a moving target. In fact, you can usually date Hard SF particularly well by its technology, which will lean heavily on whatever technical or scientific speculation was fashionable about five years before a book's publication date. If this did not pan out and mostly it hasn't , the resulting Hard SF will sound very dated within a decade or so.

Chris Israel Barker put it this way: "Every problem is new when one stays ignorant of history. The point is, since the historical past can predict the future, science fiction authors can save lots of world-building effort by adapting history to their science fiction backgrounds. And since history actually happened, it will automatically make your scifi background much more scientifically hard.

My standard example is the invention of the telegraph system, as explained in the book The Victorian Internet.

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It is truly scary how accurately the telegraph predicted many of the exact same problems that happened with the advent of the internet. Disruptive effect on business, rise in the use of secret codes, national governments frantically trying to regulate it and getting all touchy about messages crossing national borders, the appearance of a new high-tech geek culture, crooks using it for totally new methods of scamming people out of their money, it all happened with the telegraph first.

Amusingly, this has happened in the real world. After pounding their heads against the wall for a time, it occurred to them that some of the problems they were having might have been already solved. Medieval suits of armor had similar design problems. Meaning the armor had no gaps in the covering, necessary for space suit design. The Tower sent Garrett photos and data on the armour, which proved to be invaluable.

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But science fiction authors should be careful not to fall into the Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp" pitfall, or your readers will point their fingers at you and laugh. There was a crowd in what remained of the hall. As Moist had remarked, the citizens had an enthusiasm for new things. The post was an old thing, of course, but it was so old that it had magically become new again. Two more rules of the internet:.

For every kilogram of handwavium you remove from a setting, you add about 10 cubic meters of impossible to maintain plumbing. That is, while it might make more logical sense to have an interplanetary battle waged between groups of computer controlled spacecraft, it would be infinitely more boring than a battle between groups of human crewed spacecraft. For more details go here. Yes, there are exceptions to Burnside's Zeroth Law in science fiction, but they are few, far in between, and the result of exceptionally skilled authors.

These are the "exceptions that Test the rule" the original aphorism is from the Latin, and the word "probat" in this context should be translated as " test ", not "prove". It only matters how long you want to wait for maximum damage. As an example, a spacecraft with an ion drive capable of doing a meager 0. However, to most of the audience it will not be interesting. How boring! The author, not wanting his book sales to go flat, hastily re-fits the hero's spacecraft with a fusion drive.

The good news is that the ship can make it to Mars in twelve days flat. The bad news is that the ship's exhaust is putting out enough terawatts of energy to cut another ship in two , or make the spaceport look like it was hit by a tactical nuclear weapon. The author can still use the drive, but must consider the logical ramifications of the wide-spread civilian availability of the equivalent of thermonuclear weapons. Consider: the more energy the drive contains , the worse the damage if an accident occurs. How would you like to have the captain of the Exxon Valdez skippering a tramp freighter with an antimatter drive?

That brilliant mushroom cloud you see marks the former location of Clinton-Sherman spaceport. The more devastation a propulsion system can wreck, the shorter the leash the captains will be on. So one of the logical ramification is that if drives are too powerful, there won't be any colorful tramp freighters or similar vessels.

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As a matter of fact, civilian spacecraft will probably by law be required to have a remote control self-destruct device that the Patrol can use to eliminate any ship that looks like it is behaving erratically or suspiciously. Now, keep in mind that the author could use Jon's Law as an opportunity instead of a liability. If an evil interplanetary megacorporation is callously oppressing its blue-collar employees, the corporation could be in for a rude surprise when the blue-collar truckers piloting the fusion-drive transport spacecrafts realize they are in control of the functional equivalent of strategic nuclear weapons.

This could make a labor strike for better working conditions most entertaining.

Most of the nasty effects of Jon's Law are due to the propulsion system's exhaust can you say " Kzinti Lesson? The presence of an exhaust is because rockets use Newton's Third Law the one about action with equal and opposite reaction. Canny SF authors postulate some kind of hand-waving reactionless drive in an attempt to avoid Jon's Law.

Reactionless means no exhaust is required. You feed electricity in, and the ship is magically accelerated. You see, a reactionless drive does prevent the Kzinti Lesson. But the problem is a propulsion system that needs no propellant will turn the entire ship into a freaking relativistic kinetic energy weapon because you just shot the tyranny of the rocket equation in the gluteus maximus.

The good news is the ship can no longer accidentally slice another ship in two, the bad news is the ship can now single-handedly cause the apocalypse.

The trick is making a reactionless drive that doesn't give you the ability to shatter planets with the Naval equivalent of a rowboat which would throw a big monkey wrench into the author's carefully crafted arrangement of combat spacecraft. If you have a reactionless drive, and stellar economics where most of the common tropes exist privately owned tramp freighters , you also have gravitic drive missiles.

And avoiding Planet Crackers Done Real Cheap is almost impossible to justify on logical grounds, the SF author is faced with quite a daunting task. I often bitterly complain about the lack of scientific accuracy in TV and movie SF shows. This is a business venture - you put money in with the expectation that more money will come out.

The general audience is historically happier watching space ships woosh by shooting glowing bolts of energy than they are watching a slowly rotating spaceship lazily drift across the screen. If you're putting tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, you go for the shooty-wooshy space ships every time, pure and simple.

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If what's on the screen looks good, and the storytelling is sufficient, then scientific accuracy rarely if ever matters. If they don't care that cars don't blow up when shot with bullets, why should they care about the theoretical effects of FTL travel. Once production on a movie is started, it is an unstoppable steamroller with a tight deadline.

If the script says a spaceship wooshes by, the people working on the film don't have time to work out what kind of propulsion it uses — they just make the engine glow, push it across the screen in an interesting way and move on to the next shot. A jet fighter shoots missiles at a big space ship hovering above a city.

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The director tells the visual effects supervisor to make it happen. The visual effects supervisor tells the digital effects supervisor to make a space ship and to make a jet fighter woosh by and shoot some missiles at the space ship while he goes off and directs the on-set pyro effects. The digital effects supervisor tells the modeling supervisor to have his team make a space ship and jet fighter and tells the FX supervisor to have his team make some missiles shoot, engine effects, vapor trails, smoke trails and whatnot. The modelers build a jet fighter and give it harpoon missiles.

The modeling supervisor says it looks good. The digital effects supervisor says it looks good. The modelers are done with their job and get put on another production. The FX supervisor hands the model to the FX team who look at the fighter and say "um Can't change it now" is the response. So the FX team launches harpoon missiles at the space ship.

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It's approved and put into the film. You're probably sensing that this is a true story and know what movie I was working on at the time. Writers use descriptive language to express action in their script. They don't often get into technical details because each page of a script is supposed to represent roughly one minute of screen time.

A writer who spends his time describing the intricacies of a space ships propulsion system is a writer who finds his scripts in the script-reader's trash can. People who write heavily technical novels are almost always terrible script-writers as they have difficulty working within the confines and limitations of that medium.