Is SciFi ABOUT SciFi, or should it be?

UPDATED: Thursday, May 1, 2008 09:58
VIEWED: 1427
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Tuesday, April 22, 2008 9:19 PM


Do the fans here like Firefly BECAUSE of the SciFi, or DESPITE the SciFi?
Hopefully this hasn't been discussed already, I haven't seen it.

After Firefly was cancelled, the Pilot was aired, and it won and Emmy Award for Special Effects. Not because Special Effects was the reason for the show, but because Zoic found a way to use SFX to tell the story, rather than have the SFX BE the story. The persective of the personal was used extensively and innovatively. In other SciFi works, a dispassionate view of a starfield with spacecraft moving across it was often used, notably in Star Trek TV, and in the first Star Wars. A notable exception in this verse was in Out of Gas, when the 2 shuttles take off from disabled Serenity. Many fans, including cast and crew have said this scene makes them cry, and perhaps this is because this dispassionate, staid view of our BDHs is used so rarely in the show. Sort of like a droll documentary of a dissection of a loved one.
Likewise, sometimes SciFi creations are just about the Science Fiction, or the pseudo Science, and other times Sci Fi only uses the SciFi template or setting to tell a story.
Which is most appropriate?
Many here feel watching Firefly should be in rotation with their Buffy and Angel watching. others feel Firefly should be in roataion with Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate.

If you respond to this, please classify your views among one of the following (in regards to film/TV only, not written form):

A. SciFi should be a good story, with the Sci Fi only being the setting or circumstances surrounding the story.

B. SciFi should be ABOUT the SciFi, and the story should be ABOUT the SciFi.

C. SciFi is merely a showcase for Special Effects. The story is unimportant in real SciFi, and the setting and use of SciFi is only an excuse to show new SFX.

Further examples:
In Out of Gas, when Serenity breaks, Mal needs it in Captain Dummy talk, he doesn't care about the reason the dilithium crystals aren't doing their thingamajig, or how the catalyzer does it's job normally, or anything about the "Science" part of the SciFi verse. Other shows would often delve into this "Science" aspect of the fiction, making the story ABOUT the SciFi.
The most this verse refers to technical science is regarding whether some things are more reliable than others, or faster, or more maneuverable, and not about the quasi-science involved with these characteristics. Just like most people have no idea how their car works, just that some are more reliable, or cheaper, or faster, or better handling, or look cute.

In the early episodes (Serenity and Bushwhacked) the concepts of Reavers need to be explained a little bit, but are not in depth. In other shows outside this verse, each abnormal entity must be investigated thoroughly, so the story is ABOUT the Scifi.
When Star Trek has episodes about Spock's heritage, or genetics, or family, t5he story is ABOUT the fiction of the Science. Same thing with the alien crew of Stargate and Starwars. In OoG, Mal doesn't care about the upbringing or issues of the Pirates of SS Walden, he just wants them the hell off Serenity.

The genre of Science Fiction in book form is different. Many new facets of the existence of the characters in the future, distant past, etc must be explained to the reader. Film and TV allow the visual message to convey most of what would need to be expalined in written form. Therefore when a visual story centers around some component of the fictional science, the SciFi story is ABOUT the SciFi. Firefly/Serenity avoids any story lines of this sort, and I think that is why so many love it. I have seen that when a story revolves around some crewmwmber's (or alien's) SciFi background, many people who are not really science-oriented are turned off. personally, I like Science, but I understand that the majority do not. Even though we understand that these 'species interaction' are flimsy veils of racial interaction, many cannot (or will not)follow the story when it drifts off in SciFi focus, when the story becomes ABOUT the Sci Fi.
Joss uses SciFi as the medium, the setting, the circumstances, just as other shows/films are set in the Old West (western), Vietnam, other Wartime, Biblical times/Roman Empire, The 50's America, Medeival Times, The Spanish Inquisition, The English Empire, The American 60's, etc.

Which do you prefer? Which do you think best serves the genre of SciFi? Not that a work should have a weak story, and not that the Fictional Science should be flimsy and outrageous, but which is more important, or which should have better box office or ratings?


Wednesday, April 23, 2008 1:11 AM


Firefly is the Bonanza in outer space. The scene at the end of Safe after the rescue of the Tams puts it in a nut shell. They come to dinner at the big wood table where the Tams are given the seats smack in the middle. I go for the A for story. I can enjoy B also. C would not keep you interested in the movie. I do love scifi. I watch alot of asian scifi. The ones with story lines not relying of special effects are good.

"Battle of Serenity, Mal. Besides Zoe here, how many-" "I'm talkin at you! How many men in your platoon came out of their alive".


Wednesday, April 23, 2008 1:37 AM


There's no place I can be since I found Serenity.

I go with number 1 on this one. Story (and character) first and foremost. Of course that should apply to any other genre as well. If the story and characters are not well developed it doesn't matter how scientific the speculation or how flashy the special effects are. Witness the travesty of the Star Wars prequels.

wo men ren ran zai fei xing.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008 1:51 AM


I have to go with 'A' also.
Kaylee surrounded by adoring men as she reaches the punchline "It's the same thing with a different cowling...", or her rant at the Alliance officer about how /his/ ship is the piece of fei yu because of the cludge needed to not suffocate the crew, Simon using the whizbangimager to pull up a hologram of River's innards; these are plenty of science to establish that we, the viewers don't understand the details without making the episode about the science.
It's the story that gets you to come back. Believable characters, interactions, and story within the given setting. The science is just there as a plot device & in some cases doesn't work at all (as science. Excellent as plot device). When Joss needed a new world he used one. Led us to believe it was all one solar system, but never checked a map to see if Sihnon was on the far side of the sun from Eavesdown at the time. He just used one.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008 2:11 AM


Too much technical mumbo-jumbo usually ruins it for me. The original Trek was a lot like Firefly.....good story-telling with strong character realtionships; but all the subsequent Treks relied too much on techincal jargon to make the stories work, and therefore for me, were not as good.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008 3:07 AM


What I liked in Firefly was how people had their own areas of expertise. Nobody was an expert in everything. ('Cept maybe li'l crazyboots, but meh...) Mal can just about fly his own ship, but he doesn't have an encylcopedic knowledge of the workings. Same way he doesn't have the medical know-how.

Trek seemed to have too many folk who were pretty damn expert in everything all the time.

The 'Verse works because you feel that these are real people. You don't go through life in the here and now expecting everyone you meet to know how to fix the car they drive (or even know how to drive)

Though I can stand a bit more of the hard sci-fi myself, being a Gibson fan. I would love to have seen a bit more of the inner workings of the Core 'verse. Computers and lovebots and holograms, oh my...*

(*okay, so keep watching the BSR...)


Wednesday, April 23, 2008 5:24 AM



Originally posted by Jongsstraw:
Too much technical mumbo-jumbo usually ruins it for me. The original Trek was a lot like Firefly.....good story-telling with strong character realtionships; but all the subsequent Treks relied too much on techincal jargon to make the stories work, and therefore for me, were not as good.

I groove on technobabble as much as the next guy, but yeah, later Treks did clog the drain with it a little...maybe it was easier than writing actual character-driven dialogue...

The original series was bestisall


Wednesday, April 23, 2008 6:39 AM


It's somewhere between a and b in my estimation. The thing that separates science fiction from literature in general is the focus on how people adapt to different circumstances. Sometimes those changes are related to technology but can just as easily be about social or meteorological in nature. So you need the science (not necessarily explicitly shown) to explain the changes that people are reacting to but you need the stories of the people doing the reacting in order for the exploration of the adaptations to have any real meaning.

So for Firefly you have the exploration of a society with a strong central core who's malcontents are driven to the frontier after a long bitter war. For Star Trek you have weekly examples of humans learning more about themselves while coming into contact with the aliens of a galaxy teaming with intelligent bipedal life forms. Total Recall asks questions about identity in a world where memory is easily changed.

Sadly outside of the specific science fiction fandom (and amongst TV and movie executives) most people think scifi is mostly about C. Which is why there are countless very bad Star Wars clones and not so many movies in the vein of 2001 A Space Odyssey.


'Geeks can't admit that anything worthwhile was invented before 1981. Soon, "making cocoa" will be called "milk hacking."' - Lore Sjoberg

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008 8:27 AM


I think it's a mix of A and B. I don't mind a little technobabble in order to make what we're seeing up on the screen or reading on the page somewhat realistic and not something that the writer's are pulling out of their asses. But yes, I agree that Sci-Fi should have good stories and characters at the heart of the matter. And if they can blend both the head and the heart together, then you really have something incredible.

Like in the beginning of the "Godfellas" episode of FUTURAMA when they accidentally shoot Bender out, Leela makes the comment of "we shot him out going at top speed, so he's going faster than we are". With that bit of scientific accuracy, we realize how impossible it's going to be for the Planet Express ship to catch up with Bender, thus fueling Fry's and ours heartbreak for Bender being lost in space.

When the AFI released the 50 sci-fi titles that they were considering to be the best sci-fi movies ever made, only three of those titles are from this decade, and I think they were the best choices. The three were A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND and CHILDREN OF MEN. These are great choices since they successfully take the science aspects of the story (robotics, artificial intelligence, what it is that makes us human, man's relationship with machines, memory erasure, human infertility and oppressive governments) and intertwine it perfectly with strong characters and an emotional story. It made you think about the world around you and various scientific impacts on society while engaging you with characters you identified with to tell a sotry that impacted you.

"And it starts with a sentence that might last a lifetime, or it all might just go down in flames. If I let you know me, then why would you want me? Each day I don't is a shame. Each day I don't is a great shame."

Loudon Wainwright III - "Strange Weirdos" off the "Knocked Up" soundtrack


Wednesday, April 23, 2008 5:38 PM


The plot is important to me. You can take any story and make it Science Fiction. I have been told that "Forbdiden Planet" is taken from Shakespeare's "Tempest". I will have to read the Shakespeare play and see how they match up. But you can go past the limits of Earth's gravity and create new ideas to explore. In Star Trek you often run into the dilemma of interfering with other sociaties that have not advanced enough to take in the idea of life beyond their on world. They actually created laws in the Federation about interfering with societies that had not traveled beyond their own solar system. But we have all seen how they bent those laws around.

I lost interest in the later Star Treks because they buried me with technobable that really added no value to good Science Fiction.

You can imagine the joy I felt when I discovered Firefly and Kaylee would say the engine is broke. That is all I needed to hear. When she walked up to that God awful looking engine and showed Mal that the part didn't fit anymore.

My point being that when you tone down the tech bullshit you are able to focus on the plot.

In "Out of Gas" you have a story about people dealing with a common problem. They must work together or die. This plot has taken place on a boat at sea, and airplane in the sky. It just so happens this one takes place in outerspace.

I like the idea of a story taking place in a Science Fiction genre because you free of historical or contemorary facts. I often watch a western and find myself criticizing something as not historically correct. I am free from that with Science Fiction. True there are natural laws that still apply. But they can be handled as is seen in Firefly. Firefly is one of the few shows to have no noise in space. This has proved a problem for other TV shows and films, but Joss handles it well. Actually using the quiet to add to the suspence.

I'm sorry if I go on about Firefly. But it did break the catiron mold being forged by Star Trek and Star Wars; that needed to be broken. This may be the true reason Firefly has not succeeded. People were looking for another grand starship like Galatica or Enterprise. Instead we get Serenity with a engine that looks like it was attacked by rampaging space monkeys. God bless you Joss.

I see I am rambling and will stop.

Take Care;



Wednesday, April 23, 2008 9:57 PM


Another part of this question, and the reason I placed it in Other Science Fiction Forum.
How much do you think Other SciFi should progress? Not written form, but visual medium.
Will Firefly/Serenity be a warning/caution agauinst intelligent scripts without aliens, monsters, fantasy technobabble?

I do not like SciFi which completely ingores basic scientific laws, just as I fault Titanic for being the first film about that disaster which had the opportunity to tell the truth about the cause, had the cause fully known from the work of Ballard (who was really the Paxton role), and yet refused to be historically accurate.
When stories focus on why the latex forehead piece causes abnormal activity, then the story is ABOUT the fantasy fictional science the writer created of whole cloth, I'm ready to move on. I know many fans, even a pop singing duo named T'Pau, eat this stuff up, but not me.

I liked Waterworld. The SciFi portion was easy to understand, and the rest was the normal trials and tribulations of humanity.


Friday, April 25, 2008 3:23 AM


Sci-Fi (like all Storytelling) needs to be about the story first. I almost said "characters," but I know some people write more for plot; more power to 'em, I just tend toward characters; point is that the Sci-Fi aspects can never be more important than the drama.

In writerly terms, there's something called a "conceit," the conceit is the element (or elements) that defines the story and sets it apart from reality. In the Buffyverse, the conceit is the Hellmouth (and the linked concepts of vampires, demons, and the Slayer). Everything else is based on the real world --except where the conceit directly changes it (take the real world, factor in the existence of demons, and Wolfram & Hart and the Council of Watchers become kinda inevitable).

In CSI (as a counterexample), the conceit is simply that these particular characters (as opposed to "actual persons living or dead") work in the CSI department of a particular city (and that the CSI dept actually has access to good equipment that always works, but that's a whole other type of fiction ).

For me, Storytelling is based around finding the most interesting characters I can, then finding the worst possible thing to happen to them (knowing that death isn't necessarily the worst thing that could happen). For me, SF just opens up new possibilities of interesting characters and horrible things.

As for the relative importance of tech, that depends on the circumstance. Hell, I could have jagon-filled conversations with fellow film/TV students that'd probably leave Kaylee's head spinning (about synching a Timecode Gen to a Avid capture base just to avoid the extra work of having to re-synch AV files because the clock speed has slipped, or about having to neutral gel on top of hard spun, all via gobos, because the only lights we have are 5Ks and we don't have a neutral wall to bounce from).

For instance, My current favourite Star Trek is the Starfleet Corps of Engineers eBook series. It's heavily character-driven, but with wall-to-wall technobabble, which fits since all the characters are engineers --it's not random crewpeople spouting off about the warp field manifolds being misaligned across the coils' field vectors (meanwhile, Tev is an asshat, Pattie and Soloman are developing a friendship [both outcasts from their people], Abramowitz and Hawkins are suddenly an item, Corsi and Fabian are doing their Zoe & Wash impressions, Gomez has to regain Gold's trust, etc)

We applied the cortical electrodes but were unable to get a neural reaction from either patient.


Friday, April 25, 2008 5:55 AM


I have to say that story is paramount. Without a good story or plot all the technobabble in the world or CGI will not save your movie/TV show. I've sat through many a high grossing movie that was absolutly horrible. It was just CGI for CGI's sake.

It's not exactly Sci fi but the latest incarnation of "King Kong" was awful. No plot or characterization. It was "Look what we can do with our computers and a piece of film." I wish I had my money back from that movie and "Pirates of the Caribbean 2". "I Am Legend" approached these two in CGI with the zombies masses horribly rendered but was saved by the beautiful damage to NYC.

"Children of Men" was fantastic, good story and characters and there was little or no technobabble, the differences in the society were conveyed by the news on TV, ads etc. All very subtle and in the background. There wasn't any CGI that shouted "CGI HERE". It was all about the story.

That's why I love Firefly and Serenity. It could have taken place out west, on a tramp steamer in the South Pacific etc

And BTW Joss makes liberal use of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" via "Forbidden Planet".

I also love trying to find all the references to classic movies, Shakespeare, Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology, pop culture and everything else he throws in his blender.



Friday, April 25, 2008 12:53 PM



Originally posted by jewelstaitefan:

A. SciFi should be a good story, with the Sci Fi only being the setting or circumstances surrounding the story.

That's one of those them there false dichotomy things! Other forms of SciFi can have good stories too...


B. SciFi should be ABOUT the SciFi, and the story should be ABOUT the SciFi.

There's two ways of interpreting that - do you mean "Hard SF" - i.e:

"Fiction in which the exploration of a real scientific concept; logical speculation about fringe or fictitious science or speculation about the effects of new or imagined technology play a central role in the plot."

...and which I happen to quite like... or do you mean Star Trek on a lazy plotting day where they allow major plot points to be resolved by Geordi/Scotty/Torres/O'Brien re-directing the starboard EPS conduit through the ventral sensor array and generating an inverse tetrion pulse to restabilise the space-time anomaly?

(Sadly, Doctor Who - inventor of the phrase "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow" gets a dishonoruably mention here, although I offer "this is my timey-wimey detector - it goes bing when there's stuff" in mitigation!)

Now I think there's room for both in the world. I also think its very, very difficult to do "hard SF" on the screen because it does tend to rely on big slabs of exposition which you can get away with in books but not so much on screen.

"Hard-SF-ness" also tends to get stripped out when books are adapted. 2010 the novel, for instance, was principally concerned with exploring Jupiter and its moons - combining information from the Voyager probes with speculation about possible life forms while Russian and American astronauts all got along swimmingly: in the film, most of the exploration was gone and they dropped in a cold war crisis to generate conflict between the crew.

Dune, the novel, had a hard-SF "worldbuilding" strand, plus a "how would a future society which rejected computers develop?" theme. It also had a non-hard "Macbeth in spaaaaaaccceee!" strand which is what the screen adaptations have concentrated on (you might just catch references to the others if you've read the book first!)

However, I suspect that the natural medium for Hard SF is the novel - or even the short story. The "hardest" SF show on TV is, I suspect, Futurama with its quite highbrow scientific in-jokes.


C. SciFi is merely a showcase for Special Effects. The story is unimportant in real SciFi, and the setting and use of SciFi is only an excuse to show new SFX.

I think that makes it a false trichotomy! Providing a visual spectacle seems like perfectly reasonable entertainment to me. Jurassic Park was really about "look - we can do convincing dinosaurs now" and thoroughly entertaining (although, again, lots of the science and tech stuff from the book got cut).

Plus, at least 2 of the 6 Star Wars films did pretty well on a fairly innane story plus spectacular effects (lets just pretend we all agree on which two ).

(Ugh, need sleep. That wasn't very eloquent - sorry folks).


Monday, April 28, 2008 9:21 PM


I think 2 examples of good SFX I like are Braveheart and Gladiator. Except for the glitches in the Oliver-Reed-after-he-died parts, you hardly notice the CGI, and I don't think the CGI should be obvious.

i do like "hard SF" as you described - in books, and even contemporary pop works. But the translation to screen seems to lose much of the audience, and even tho I might like it, does it do the medium more harm by disenfranchising these viewers?
Your description of Star Trek lazy plotting days is exactly what I was talking about - those, plus the details of Spock's puberty - are also what seems to repell many potential fans, largely because they have a phobia about science (and even math, gasp).

My biggest gripe with the lack of "hard SF" is merely the flimsy excuse for the basic princiles of physics that many projects build their SciFi upon.
I did like StarGate the movie because of how well much of the known history of humankind was covered and connected, which is normally hidden and disguised. But the TV show seems to have just made it a dumbed down vehicle for commercials.


Thursday, May 1, 2008 9:58 AM



Originally posted by jewelstaitefan:
i do like "hard SF" as you described - in books, and even contemporary pop works. But the translation to screen seems to lose much of the audience, and even tho I might like it, does it do the medium more harm by disenfranchising these viewers

Well, I think hard SF books have always tended to be a bit of a minority taste - most of what you'll find in bookshops is either fantasy or tends towards the "space opera" genre (which has been made respectable by the likes of Iain Banks but is still, basically, stories about the himan condition, love, war etc. on a space ship). There's not a lot of really "hard" hard SF about (e.g. Greg Egan, Stephen Baxter)...

One problem is that science is inconvenient - especially on the screen: the problems of zero gravity, the unlikelihood of aliens conveniently speaking English and the sheer times and distances involved in space travel and the annoyingly strong possibility that FTL travel really is impossible. You'll notice that a lot of written SF is now not only avoiding FTL but acknowledging that even sub-light interstellar travel in non-geological time will require something a bit more than a fusion drive.

Firefly is unusual in TV space opera in that they don't have FTL - but even flitting around a super-sized solar system within days or weeks without turning the crew into a rather fetching pink glaze on the rear bulkhead implies some unobtanium-fueled WeHaventThoughtOfItYet drive. Yet (e.g.) in the pilot, when they cross the path of the Reaver ship they seem to have a relative velocity of about 20 knots...

More worrying than bad TV SF, though, are "realistic" shows like CSI - in which I doubt the science is much better, but which people are liable to expect to be true.






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